Steven Smith

Winthrop Professor, Plant Energy Biology, ARC Centre of Excellence

Steven M Smith has degrees in Biochemistry and Plant Biology from the Universities of Leicester, Indiana and Warwick and he worked as a postdoctoral researcher at the John Innes Centre, Norwich and the CSIRO in Canberra. 

He spent 20 years at the University of Edinburgh before moving to the University of Western Australia as an Australian Research Council Federation Fellow. He is Chief Investigator in the ARC Centre of Excellence in Plant Energy Biology and he collaborates with research institutes, botanical gardens and mining companies. His work encompasses bioenergy, plant biotechnology, environmental sciences and agriculture.

Blog Posts

Have we entered the era of 'de-growth'?

Posted on 1 November 2011 by Steven Smith

The financial woes of 2008-9 are expected to be minor compared to 2012 and beyond. My understanding of the state of global finances, based on discussion with people who understand the economy, combined with my knowledge of resources, food production,  technology and climate change, leads me to conclude that we are on the cusp of ‘peak growth’.

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Why should you be interested in helium?

Posted on 28 October 2011 by Steven Smith

Helium is the second most abundant element in the known universe, after hydrogen. Strangely, however, a shortage of helium will be faced in the near future (Scholes, 2011).

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The need for objectivity in the energy debate

Posted on 3 October 2011 by Steven Smith

I entered the debate on climate, energy and food because I am concerned about the planet and our future. Understandably, emotions run high and some views are extreme. At one extreme some people deny that the climate is warming and others deny that we are causing it, despite overwhelming scientific consensus to the contrary. Among such deniers are people in the business and political sectors, who fear the loss of livelihoods and prosperity.  

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The ABC of tomorrow’s world: Amphibians, Bailouts and Carbon

Posted on 21 July 2011 by Steven Smith

Three seemingly unconnected news items caught my attention this week, but they each tell us something about the stresses on our world.

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Rare Earth Elements in oceanic mud – saviour of the new energy and electronics industries?

Posted on 14 July 2011 by Steven Smith

News outlets have recently been busy reporting a new paper in Nature Geoscience from a Japanese team documenting very large amounts of Rare Earth Elements (REE) in the mud at the bottom of the Pacific Ocean.

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Future Production of Food Crops

Posted on 3 June 2011 by Steven Smith

 The ‘green revolution’ and industrialisation of agriculture led to huge increases in crop production around the world. Now the pressure is on to feed 3 billion extra mouths in the next 40 years while the climate changes and the costs of energy and resources escalate. As a plant geneticist and physiologist, I see the future contribution to be made by plant breeders as valuable, but quantitatively small. Instead, changes in the expectations and actions of people will play the major role in steering us through some challenging decades ahead. Here I summarise some of the issues that will challenge food production and suggest that our greatest need is to recognise that ‘business as usual’ is not an option.

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Energy is neither renewable nor sustainable

Posted on 21 April 2011 by Steven Smith

The pressure is on to reduce greenhouse gas emissions to slow climate change. The way proposed by most people is to switch away from fossil fuels to alternatives such as wind, solar, tidal and geothermal. Such alternative energy sources are often described as ‘renewable’ or ‘sustainable’. This terminology implies to most people that such alternatives can meet our energy demands in perpetuity, without polluting the environment. This is wrong, and will lead to serious errors in policy making.

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Responsible Energy Reporting

Posted on 31 March 2011 by Steven Smith

Scientists and science communicators have a responsibility to report new research in a balanced and objective way. Exaggerated claims of the importance of fundamental discoveries and technological developments in areas such as alternative energy and carbon capture, lead to false expectations and poor policy. The message that should be conveyed is that science and technology is important to pursue, but it does not have the answers to deliver cheap clean energy in the amount that societies have come to expect from fossil fuels.

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