Science Direct: Dr Andrew Rawson

Dr Andrew Rawson works for the Department of Environment and Climate Change and Charles Sturt University, Orange. He is one of our featured experts on Climate Change.

Dr Andrew Rawson

Dr Andrew Rawson
Photographer:  © Andrew Rawson

I am currently a Senior Scientist (Climate Change) within the NSW Dept of Environment and Climate Change (DECC), and my role these days is to help provide the science underpinning the Government's climate change initiatives. I'm particularly interested in identifying specific impacts of climate change on our natural resources. I'm also concerned with explaining to people the extent and scale of changes that could be wrought by climate change over the next decades, and to help them to adapt to the changes.

My initial training was in geomorphology and soil science and I have a BSc (Hons) from UNSW, an MSc from Sydney University and a PhD from the University of Newcastle. Prior to joining the NSW Government in 1996, I taught in the Dept of Geography, Sydney University for many years. I have had an adjunct appointment to Charles Sturt University (CSU) in Orange since 2003, mainly providing postgraduate supervision and some undergraduate tuition as well. I will be introducing a Masters level subject on climate change at CSU in second semester this year (2009).

My interest in climate change has built from a research interest in the measurement of soil carbon in landscapes. The soil carbon pool is a fundamental component of the carbon cycle, and may be a potential long term store of carbon drawn down from excess atmospheric CO2. However soil carbon varies greatly across landscapes and under different land management practices, hence precise measurement of it is difficult. My research aims to provide a better match between strict scientific measurement protocols and the needs of the broader, mainly farming, community.

Since DECC was created in 2007, I have advised on all aspects of climate change science (not just soil carbon), including biophysical impacts of climate change and adaptation responses. I lecture regularly on climate change impacts throughout NSW, and have been part of the advisory team for the NSW Greenhouse Plan and the NSW Climate Change Action Plan.

General/personal questions:

  1. What did you want to be when you grew up? An outback Pilot initially, then gem fossicker, then Scientist; although I always wanted to go to university eventually.
  2. The idea/s that changed my life was/were...that it was possible to observe, and then describe and analyze all parts of a landscape, from broad scale features such as rivers and caves, to tiny things such as the various components of soils.
  3. I'm always being asked about... Climate Change - is it really happening, and are we causing it?
  4. My worst job has been... haven't had one yet. They're all good or bad depending on your attitude, and there are rewards in even the hardest and dirtiest jobs.
  5. I often wonder... what the world will be like for my children after I'm long gone.
  6. I hope that... courtesy and open-mindedness don't vanish from the world.
  7. The best thing about my job is... I get to think.
  8. The hardest thing about my job is... I don't have enough time to follow up on all my ideas.

Climate change specific questions:

  1. What climate change means for me personally is... A great scientific challenge. We have entered a whole new realm of scientific endeavor where much old understanding will be thrown on its head. It's actually an exciting time to be a scientist.
  2. Climate change affects my work by... opening up a whole new world of possibility. It's also my job to help people understand about climate change impacts and to do research on how landscapes are affected by climate change.
  3. My work may affect how we respond to climate change by... hopefully filling in a few gaps in our understanding of the processes behind climate change impacts. The more we know, the better we can adapt to or manage the impacts.
  4. What I would say to climate change skeptics is... keep being skeptical (because that's important too), but be prepared to accept opposing viewpoints built on sound, verifiable science. This goes for all scientists as well - well directed skepticism is critical to good science.
  5. What I would say to you about what you can do about climate change is... every little bit helps; everybody has a role in reducing our ecological footprint; and don't despair - we are capable of anything, given the right motivation.
  6. What I think Australia can do is... move rapidly to a low carbon economy and one that "closes the carbon cycle" ie. Develop and use technologies that reward recycling and reduce waste. All of us have a "throwaway" mentality - not just with household waste, but also with how we do other things such as travel and consume energy. Australia is well placed to be a world leader in renewable energy technologies as well as a great "proving ground" for implementation of these technologies. While we alone cannot solve the climate change dilemma, we can certainly use our collective skills to provide solutions to various problems along the way.

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