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Are We Ready for the Next Drought?

By Craig Simmons

After two La Niña summers, our level of concern about water security is inversely proportional to the water levels in our dams.

We’ve seen in the past 10 years or so that we are known as “a land of drought and flooding rains” for good reason. Over the first decade of this century, south-eastern Australia experienced its worst drought for 100 years. The reservoirs were emptying, there was daily press coverage and desalination plants began springing up across the country. And when you couldn’t water your garden every day, it felt real.

Professor Craig Simmons is Director of the National Centre for Groundwater Research and Training at Flinders University.

Global Outlook for Nuclear Energy

By Michael Angwin

Despite the Fukushima disaster, Australian uranium miners are confident that the growing demand for electricity in a carbon-constrained world will drive an increase in nuclear power generation.

A small uranium development company, Toro Energy, believes it’s worth spending 6 years and countless millions in remote Western Australia preparing to mine and export the radio­active metal that the industry needs for fuel. This signals the confidence some people have in the future of the global nuclear energy business.

Michael Angwin is CEO of the Australian Uranium Association.

Rise Up, Citizen Scientists

Climate change protest

Scientists must play an active part in informing and shaping the debate and in developing technology options. Credit: iStockphoto

By Peter J. Cook

What passes for debate over technological priorities to decarbonise energy production needs to be better informed – and scientists need to lead the discussion.

As a scientist and as a citizen, I have became increasingly concerned and frustrated at the ever-louder and less informed debate over climate change in which science and technology are often dismissed or denigrated.

Professor Peter Cook was the Chief Executive of CO2CRC until August 2011. His book Clean Energy, Climate and Carbon was recently published by CSIRO Press.

Lessons from Space Camp

By Jackie Slaviero

Fascination with space travel can launch primary students into a life of maths and science discovery.

In 1977 the head of NASA, Dr Wernher von Braun, was visiting NASA’s first visitor centre in Huntsville, Alabama. He noticed children studying the rockets on display and making notes.

“We have band camps, football camps, cheerleading camps – why don’t we have a science camp?” von Braun suggested to Edward O. Buckbee, then CEO of the centre.

Jackie Slaviero is Assistant Principal at Sydney’s Eastwood Public School and a councillor of the NSW Science Teachers’ Association. She and her pupils are currently raising funds to visit Space Camp later this year.

Shifting the Watermarks

By Tim Stubbs

The draft Murray-Darling Basin Plan is confused at best and deceptive at worst.

The latest draft Murray-Darling Basin Plan is part of a reform process that will cost taxpayers an estimated $8.9 billion to establish environmentally sustainable levels of take (ESLT) for the rivers of the Basin.

Science Is Sinking in the Murray–Darling Basin

By Tom Chesson

Applied research suffers cuts while science loses farmers’ trust.

Recommendation 14 is one of the most important yet largely ignored recommendations from the Windsor Parliamentary Inquiry into the Murray–Darling Basin water reforms: “that the Commonwealth Government focus greater investment into research and development to improve irrigation efficiency”.

If we do not substantially increase funding for agriculture research, development and extension services the nation’s food security will be severely compromised. We cannot keep doing more with less.

Cargo Cult Communication

By Roger Beckmann

Science communication necessarily focuses on outcomes, but what about the process?

It’s 2012, and it’s respectable to be a science communicator! Those of us who want to promulgate science don’t seem odd anymore. But while welcoming our escape from the closet, we need to be mindful of a pitfall.

Carbon and Forests: The Big Picture

By Jerry Vanclay

Energy generated by burning forestry waste and other biomass sources should be recognised as renewable.

As Australia prepares to pay for its carbon emissions, the challenge is to ensure wise behavioural change rather than “game-playing”. There is a danger that advocates for forests will over-emphasise their capacity for carbon farming, to the detriment of the overall carbon balance.

The two major pools of carbon – in the biosphere and the geosphere – have very different characteristics in terms of cycle time, natural ebb and flow, and reversibility.

Learning by Drawing

By Russell Tytler and Peter Hubber

Teachers need to encourage science students to develop their representational skills.

Scientists use a range of visual forms to imagine new relations, test ideas and elaborate knowledge, with digital technologies increasingly used to construct elaborate maps, 3D simulations, graphs or enhanced photographs. These visual tools are not simply passive communication devices but actively shape how we build knowledge in science.

The Progressive Education Fallacy

By Gerard Guthrie

The failure of curriculum reforms in Papua New Guinea prove that formal teaching practices are best for developing nations.

The primary and secondary schools of developing countries are littered with the remnants of attempts to change formalistic teaching. Half a century of conventional educational wisdom has generated progressive teacher education and curriculum reforms that are wrong in principle and widespread failures in practice. Professional educators, especially in aid projects, frequently attempt to introduce inappropriate discovery-oriented teaching styles despite widespread warnings from previous failures.