As the Chilean ash cloud wafts through Australian airspace for a second time, we’re all thrown back into the science of prediction. What will it do next? Nightly news footage of passengers sitting in grumpy heaps in airports has drawn an unusual degree of national attention to Darwin. It turns out that we have one of the world’s nine Volcanic Ash Advisory Centers right here in Australia, and they’ve been putting on their good shirts for the TV cameras night after night to tell us that they know where the plume is, and they’re keeping an eye on it.
Australia specialises in this kind of one-step-ahead-of-nature risk communication, because we do live in a difficult natural environment where prediction takes on biblical tones. Fire, drought, earthquake, flood, locusts, cane toads, mice (seriously) and now ash. We’re really clear on the importance of being able to see all these things coming. In fact, we have a public culture of disaster planning, which is not to say that we’re nationally unique in planning for disaster, but we communicate it well.
But when it comes to planning the expansion of higher education, communication gets a bit murky. Continue reading