I’ve spent 40 years studying Antarctica. The frozen continent has never needed our help more

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Patti Virtue

Dana M Bergstrom, University of Wollongong

After decades immersed in Antarctic science, I’ve learned that physical and biological changes rarely occur smoothly. More often than not, they unfold in sharp steps. Right now, Antarctica’s climate and ecosystems are experiencing disturbing changes.

Much of this winter’s sea ice is missing. A crucial ocean current is slowing down, and glaciers and ice shelves are disintegrating.

On land, fragile moss ecosystems are collapsing. Majestic emperor penguins may be headed for extinction. And pollution from human activity in Antarctica has left a toxic legacy.

It’s almost certain things will get worse. On Friday, hundreds of international scientists called for an urgent expansion – not contraction – of Southern Ocean science in response to the emerging climate crisis. This adds to the scientific chorus claiming we have only a narrow window to save the planet.

I’ve spent 40 years in Antarctic and subantarctic research. Some 22 of those were spent at the federal government’s Australian Antarctic Division; my final day there was last Thursday. No longer a public servant, I feel compelled, as a private citizen now, to publicly stand up for the icy continent and the benefit of Antarctic science to society.

Crucial to life as we know it

Antarctica matters. What happens there affects global weather patterns and sea levels.

But Antarctica’s climate is changing. Record-breaking stored heat is melting ice shelves from underneath, setting off a chain reaction. Without the buttressing of the ice shelves, glaciers flow faster to the sea. In West Antarctica, the Thwaites “doomsday glacier” is melting faster than predicted. In East Antarctica, lesser-known ice shelves have collapsed and glaciers are shrinking, adding to sea-level rise.

Antarctica is governed by the Antarctic Treaty, negotiated by 12 countries, including Australia, during the Cold War in 1959. Australia’s territory in Antarctica comprises 42% of the continent.

In my view, the treaty is magnificent. It represents a grand vision: a continent set aside for conservation, peace and science.

But Antarctica remains under threat. And the biggest threat of all is climate change.

In June this year, all treaty nations, including Australia, collectively stated:

changes in Antarctic and Southern Ocean environments are linked to, and influence, climate impact drivers globally.

They added “further irreversible change is likely” without “accelerated efforts” to reduce greenhouse gas emissions.

Scientific research is crucial in the face of these threats, to help better understand these changes now and over the longer term, and to feed into policy interventions.

Surprisingly a budget shortfall appears to be inadvertently curtailing plans for science this summer, according to the Guardian Australia.

In July, the ABC reported the Antarctic Division told staff A$25 million in budget savings was needed this financial year. This led to a review of plans for field research this summer. Reportedly, two out of three permanent research stations (Mawson and Davis) will not be filled with the normal number of scientists this season. That means some planned and approved projects will not be going ahead this year, including surveys on sea-ice thickness and landfast sea ice.

The Greens claim the $25 million hit to the Antarctic Division represents a 16% cut to its operating budget for the current financial year.

Seizing an opportunity, the Greens and Liberal Party established a Senate inquiry into what they refer to as funding cuts, to report by November 30.

Generally speaking, Antarctic activities receive overwhelmingly bipartisan support. For many decades Australia’s record in Antarctic protection has been impressive. For example, Environment Minister Tanya Plibersek recently tripled the size of the marine protected area around Macquarie Island.

Former Labor environment minister Peter Garrett advanced whale conservation. He was instrumental in the campaign against so-called “scientific whaling” in the Antarctic, backed by government scientists, which culminated in Australia’s successful challenge to Japanese whaling in the International Court of Justice in 2014.

Liberal prime minister Malcolm Turnbull funded Australia’s new icebreaker and feral pest eradication from Macquarie Island. And Labor prime minister Bob Hawke, with treasurer Paul Keating, collaborated with French prime minister Michel Rocard in 1991 to ensure a mining ban and sign the Madrid Protocol to protect Antarctic ecosystems.

Support for Antarctic Division activities contributed to curtailing the illegal toothfish fishing in Antarctic waters. A regulated, sustainable industry is now in place. Krill fisheries operate according to science-based decisions. Efforts to reduce albatross bycatch in longline fishing were also led by Antarctic Division scientists.

A photo of icy mountains looming over Ross Sea in east Antarctica
Mount Martin looms over the Ross Sea in east Antarctica.
Dana M Bergstrom

Cleaning up the mess in Antarctica

The story of Antarctica serves as a compelling reminder humanity must end our reliance on fossil fuels. We must also do a far better job of environmental stewardship – including paying for the scientific research so urgently needed.

Failing to fully support vital Antarctic science in a rapidly unfolding climate emergency, in my view, is unwise.The Conversation

Dana M Bergstrom, Honorary Senior Fellow, University of Wollongong

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

Continue ReadingI’ve spent 40 years studying Antarctica. The frozen continent has never needed our help more

Unions accuse multimillionaire Chancellor of ‘waging war on working people’

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Striking members of the National Education Union (NEU) on Piccadilly march to a rally in Trafalgar Square, central London, in a long-running dispute over pay. Picture date: Wednesday March 15, 2023.


THE Tories are “waging war on working people,” unions warned today as Chancellor Jeremy Hunt’s Budget coincided with a massive day of strikes by hundreds of thousands of workers nationwide.

Unions slammed the ex-Tory leadership candidate’s “fiscal event” for failing to tackle pay disputes across the country, with teachers, university lecturers, civil servants, junior doctors, London Tube drivers and BBC journalists all downing tools today.

As Mr Hunt delivered his speech, thousands of workers rallied outside.

They gathered as the Office for Budget Responsibility, which the former health secretary praised for predicting Britain would now avoid a technical recession this year, warned that people still face the biggest fall in living standards on record.


Chancellor of the Exchequer Jeremy Hunt leaves 11 Downing Street, London, with his ministerial box, before delivering his Budget at the Houses of Parliament. Picture date: Wednesday March 15, 2023.

Hunt’s Budget ignored pay and public services – it’s high time the Westminster bubble was burst

BRITAIN’S biggest strike surge in decades was the elephant in the room, almost ignored in the Chancellor’s Budget speech.

The huge strike march winding through Whitehall wasn’t referenced by either front bench. Yet the demands for proper pay rises and investment in public services it championed speak more directly to people’s concerns than any of Jeremy Hunt’s headline announcements.

Hunt referred vaguely to inflation as the cause of industrial disputes — before dishonestly citing it as the reason the government is denying workers the pay rises they need and deserve.

His dishonesty didn’t end there. The government is doing everything it can to resolve the disputes, the Chancellor claimed.

Hunt’s Budget ignored pay and public services – it’s high time the Westminster bubble was burst

Continue ReadingUnions accuse multimillionaire Chancellor of ‘waging war on working people’

OBR forecasts likely to show £60bn-£70bn hole after Kwarteng’s mini-budget

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Kwasi Kwarteng has been handed independent forecasts on the state of the UK finances that are expected to show a hole of more than £60bn left by his sweeping tax cuts and a sharply slowing growth outlook.

Sir Charlie Bean, a ex-member of the independent watchdog and a former Bank of England deputy governor, said the document would probably show a large shortfall for the exchequer.

“It will be in the order of £60bn to £70bn relative to its previous forecasts,” he said, adding that Kwarteng would face three options: further U-turns on his tax-cutting plans, deep cuts to public spending, or risking the ire of already rattled financial markets by substantially adding to the national debt.

“What he’ll be confronted with, and I don’t think to be honest most observers and MPs have really woken up to this yet, is the extent to which the public finances has deteriorated since the spring,” Bean said.

Continue ReadingOBR forecasts likely to show £60bn-£70bn hole after Kwarteng’s mini-budget

Liz Truss pursues bonkers economic theory

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Liz Truss has replaced Boris Johnson as prime minister of UK. The first obvious step intended to show the direction the new government intends was a budget presented by new Chancellor Kwasi Kwarteng on Friday. Kwarteng fired the Treasury's permanent secretary in the preperation of this budget.  

There is a cost of living crisis in UK driven by runaway inflation and massive increases in energy bills. Despite this, Truss and Kwarteng's budget benefitted the already stinking rich. The top rate of income tax of 45% for the highest earners was abolished so that the highest rate is now 40%. Clearly that's going to benefit the rich and the very rich most. 

Despite denials, this is trickle-down economics with the idea being that the economy will be stimulated by the highest earners and that benefits will trickle-down to all. There is a simple, logical argument against trickle-down economics. It is that the rich already have money that they can spend to stimulate the economy and they're not doing it, if they're already not spending their wealth, why should they now start? 

There is also an alternative, logical argument that to stimulate the economy it's best to instead help the poor. The argument is that the poor are desperate and that any money they receive to alleviate their wreched situations will be spent and therefore stimulate the economy. 

It appears that Liz Truss and her Chancellor Kwasi Kwarteng are pursuing outdated, discredited and abandoned economic theories which are the exact opposite to what is needed. Markets responded poorly to the budget. 

Continue ReadingLiz Truss pursues bonkers economic theory