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Lowe Tech

Lowe Tech column

Back to the Future

By Ian Lowe

Light rail systems are finding favour more than half a century since Sydney, Brisbane and Adelaide scrapped their tram networks.

Light rail systems seem to be the flavour of the month. When I was young, Sydney, Melbourne, Brisbane and Adelaide all had extensive tram networks. Sydney, Brisbane and Adelaide all scrapped their systems in the 1950s and 1960s, principally because it was felt that buses were more flexible and tram lines on the roads impeded other traffic. Adelaide retained one tram line from the western end of the CBD to Glenelg. Transport experts at the time criticised Melbourne for failing to follow the trend.

Australia Remains Two-Faced in Climate Negotiations

By Ian Lowe

Australia is adopting double-speak as UN climate negotiations become more urgent.

While the Australian government has senior ministers in denial about the science of climate change, work is continuing internationally toward a global agreement to slow down the impacts. Some are sceptical about a new treaty to replace the Kyoto Protocol, but others think that only global agreement can avoid disastrous consequences.

The Ad Hoc Working Group developing the so-called Durban Platform for Enhanced Action met in Bonn in March. While there was predictably more talk than enhanced action, I found some of the reported discussion very interesting.

Renewables Targeted

By Ian Lowe

A review of Australia’s renewable energy target appears to have been established with a particular outcome in mind.

The Australian government has controversially altered the planned review of its renewable energy target (RET). There had been bipartisan agreement for the target, introduced by the Howard government, for at least 20% of Australian electricity to come from renewable supply technologies by 2020. The legislation provided for a 2014 review by the Climate Change Authority, the intention being for the latest science to determine whether the target is sufficiently ambitious. Renewables provide 18% of world electricity today, so 20% is hardly an ambitious target.

Tasmania Bans GM Indefinitely

By Ian Lowe

The Tasmanian government has turned its moratorium on genetically modified crops into an indefinite and complete ban.

The Tasmanian government’s decision in January to turn its moratorium on genetically modified crops into an indefinite complete ban sparked a vigorous debate. On one side, the state’s farmers’ organisation was very unhappy, saying that the moratorium was an opportunity to work through concerns with the community in the hope of gaining approval for GM crops.

PM Freezes Out Science

By Ian Lowe

Prime Minister Tony Abbott’s road map for Australia is not being guided by science.

It is looking as if the recently elected Abbott government has a serious problem with science. For the first time in decades, Australia does not have a Science Minister. The Climate Commission, set up to provide advice to government on the science, was closed down, but then the community stepped up and funded its reincarnation as the Climate Council. Now it seems the arbitrary freeze on filling public service vacancies is being extended to the CSIRO.

CSG Regulation Is “Frackmented”

By Ian Lowe

The coal seam gas industry in NSW is arguing against the need for buffer zones, while it’s “open slather” in Queensland.

I was plunged into the debate about coal seam gas at the recent Adelaide conference convened by the Australian Petroleum Production and Exploration Association. I was on a panel with industry representatives and a former Australian government minister responsible for resources and energy, Martin Ferguson.

The coal seam gas industry in NSW is arguing against the need for buffer zones, while it’s “open slather” in Queensland.

Canberra Lowers the Flag on Science

By Ian Lowe

Science has already disappeared from sight in the new Abbott government.

When the new Australian government was elected in September there was speculation about who might be the new Minister for Science. Sophie Mirabella had shadowed the portfolio in Opposition, but she lost her re-election bid.

In one of the more amusing interventions, a Western Australian politician who is still denying climate science put his hand up and expressed interest in the job. That could have been a world-first – an anti-science Minister for Science!

Common Concerns in Mother England

By Ina Lowe

Population, nuclear energy and marine conservation are issues in common for Australia and the UK.

I am writing this column in England, where I am a member of the first-ever touring Australian Over-70s cricket team, and have been a little surprised to find some of the same issues on the political agenda as in Australia: population, responses to climate change and marine conservation.

Science Literacy Falling

By Ian Lowe

It’s little wonder that climate change science is misunderstood when nearly one-third of Australians believe that the Earth takes only a day to orbit the Sun.

The results of the latest survey on science literacy in Australia make depressing reading. The percentage of adults who know that the Earth takes a year to go round the Sun has fallen further since the previous survey 3 years ago. Only about 60% of Australians know that basic fact, while 30% think it takes 1 day for us to orbit the Sun.

Ian Lowe is Emeritus Professor of science, technology and society at Griffith University.

The Numbers Don’t Add Up

By Ian Lowe

Researchers spent a combined 550 years writing grant applications last year, yet 80% missed out.

The Australian Budget was not a good one for science and technology. Where the Budget papers once contained a specific Science and Technology statement, references to funding for science and innovation are now deep in the fine print of allocations to government departments, agencies like CSIRO, or implied in the funding of universities. It is a symptom of that approach that I found no mention of science at all in the many pages of Budget analysis by the commercial media. Not one word.

Ian Lowe is Emeritus Professor of science, technology and society at Griffith University.