Senate debates

Wednesday, 4 March 2015


Raupach, Professor Michael, McMichael, Professor Emeritus Anthony

7:43 pm

Photo of Christine MilneChristine Milne (Tasmania, Australian Greens) Share this | | Hansard source

As a passionate believer in the importance of science and evidence based research, and especially in the need for strong and urgent action on global warming, which threatens the very life-support systems of our planet, tonight I pay tribute to the lives of two outstanding Australian climate scientists. I would like to start by talking about Professor Michael Raupach, who had a long career at the CSIRO and was the inaugural chairman of the Global Carbon Project. He died on 10 February this year aged 64. It is a very sad loss for the science community and for Australia, and I want to pay tribute to him and to his courage. I will talk later about Professor Emeritus Tony McMichael, but first Michael Raupach.

During his PhD studies, a long time ago, he built his own measurement and data-processing system, becoming a pioneer in a technology that is today replicated at hundreds of flux towers in a global network. He had a 35-year career in CSIRO as a great science leader, and he was also a contributing author to the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change's Fourth assessment report. He became the ANU Climate Change Institute director in 2014. During his career he published more than 150 scientific papers and 50 reports. He edited two books. In recent years he co-chaired the working group drafting the Australian Academy of Science booklet The Science of Climate Change: Questions and Answers.

Last year, Professor Raupach moved from CSIRO to take up the directorship of the Australian National University's Climate Change Institute. His work on the global carbon cycle and global carbon budget showed the rapid growth of emissions and declining efficiency of natural carbon sinks, explored current and future emission trajectories linked to economic development and devised ways to think about the responsibility of nations to address climate mitigation. He was an outstanding climate scientist but, more particularly, he had enormous courage in not only doing this research but in communicating that research to the public and having the courage to go out there and take this on.

In a speech to the Australian Academy of Science he said:

To pretend that science, and in particular environmental science, can remain at the side of that debate is simply no longer tenable, … and any statement environmental science chooses to make carries implications about those choices and there is a very important call for the scientific community to be fully engaged in that public debate, fully participating in it.

He had been doing that for decades and, in particular, in the early years he was part of the action against nuclear weapons, scientists against nuclear weapons, as long ago as the 1980s. He was a scientist committed to celebrating nature and the natural world and to alerting us—and future generations, of course—to what is going on with global warming. I want to particularly pay tribute to his passion and his intellect. He had enormous respect from the scientific community and he had great courage.

As Professor Will Steffen has said, he was:

… an outstanding scientist, always rigorous and insightful.

He demonstrated great leadership on the global carbon project and:

He was a wonderful human being. We are all going to miss him very much.

I would just like to conclude with his own words with regard to the late Professor Michael Raupach. When he was asked about his feelings about global warming, he had this to say:

My feelings about climate change are a mixture of awe, hope, despair, frustration and anger.

Awe: Climate change is part of climate and climate is part of the natural world that sustains us. It is majestic and beautiful.

Hope: Humans are incredibly smart. We have the capabilities to repair climate and to lighten our footprints to what the planet can sustain.

Despair: Humans are incredibly dumb. We find it very hard to think beyond me, here and now. Yet, our task is to fix a generation of problems that are global and centennial—to learn to share a finite planet.

Vale Michael Raupach.

I now move to talk about the late Professor Tony McMichael who died in September last year at the age of 71. He too was an outstanding, imminent Australian epidemiologist. He retired in 2012 from the Australian National University, where he previously had held the National Health and Medical Research Council Australia Fellowship. He was a very valued member of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, was a lead author, and since 1993 he had been out there on the issue of global warming and particularly on the impacts on public health. He had a deep knowledge of earth sciences. He had a deep knowledge across archaeology, geography, climatology and health. He did incredible work on epidemiology. He is interest in patterns of infectious disease emergence and spreading focused on emerging health risks to poorer populations, and he went on to talk about what was going to happen with global warming. He said the greatest impact of climate change in poorer populations will be:

… the sheer burden of disease, the increase in numbers of deaths from things like cholera and dysentery in a warmer world, in a world more prone to flooding, and the overloading of sanitation systems. That I think will be a major problem unless we can get seriously engaged in the eradication of poverty and the improvement of living conditions in these poorer parts of the world very quickly.

He was a very well published academic, including over 300 peer reviewed papers, 160 book chapters and so on in terms of a brilliant academic career. But I also wish to just refer to something that he said in 2013:

A shared public understanding of these potentially great risks to the human social-ecological system should now be reinforcing the urgent need to take national preventive action.

This will require an extraordinary trans-political response, comprising strong leadership from the Australian government via open and community-engaged discussion of this fundamental threat to human societies, their populations and the natural environmental systems that supports all life.

Professor Tony McMichael was regarded extremely highly not only here in Australia but right around the world as an epidemiologist, as a scientist and as a person who cared very much about this and future generations. In his own words, he said:

It's hard to imagine that people are doing so much damage to the natural world. It's sad when a society like ours can't see further than its bank balance—and stumbles blindly into a future when children won't be able to enjoy the flowing rivers, mountain snow, coloured birds and bush animals. Don't we have any responsibility for other creatures, forests and rivers? I'm rather ashamed of our behaviour.

It seems so silly to go on behaving like this—though, from hearing our politicians speak, it seems that making and consuming more and more is the point of life. Surely the dreadful heat we have suffered from in recent heatwaves, and the awful bushfires that have terrified rural communities in the past couple of years, are telling us that something is going very wrong.

He finished that statement by saying:

It's really sad that some of our local children seem quite puzzled and worried by what they see on TV about this, and hearing what adults say I hope my family and our community can try and help solve these frightening problems.

They both did do everything to try and solve these problems. In 2050 people will look back and say why in Australia did we not take the action we knew was necessary from the science, and I want to say to people in 2050 that people like Professor Tony McMichael and Professor Michael Raupach did tell everybody. They did have the courage to stand up. They did have the courage to speak out for now and for future generations. I pay tribute to them both for the courage and the scientific endeavour and the care that they showed in the time that they lived.

Senate adjourned at 19:52