Tuesday, June 05, 2007

NASA Chief Regrets Comments on Global Warming

The Administrator for NASA, Michael Griffin, has apologized to his staff over the comments he made regarding global warming. In an interview with NPR, Dr. Griffin indicated he wasn't sure whether global warming was a problem that needed to be solved and implied that warming temperatures might actually result in a more optimum climate than the current one.

His comments provoked a firestorm of dissent, promting a meeting with his staff to clarify his position.
NASA administrator Michael Griffin said in the closed-door meeting Monday at the Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena that "unfortunately, this is an issue which has become far more political than technical and it would have been well for me to have stayed out of it."

"All I can really do is apologize to all you guys ... I feel badly that I caused this mount of controversy over something like this," he said.
Griffin then reiterated his view that NASA's role was to provide data, not to make policy recommendations.

Of course, it would be fitting if a scientific body charged with monitoring the earth's climate stuck to the facts and simply tried to carry out its mission in an unbiased manner. Unfortunately, the mission itself has become a political issue. Prior to 2006, NASA's mission statement read:
To understand and protect our home planet; to explore the universe and search for life; to inspire the next generation of explorers … as only NASA can.

In Feb. 2006, the mission statement was “quietly altered” to remove the phrase “to understand and protect our home planet.” Even a year ago, NASA scientists predicted that because of the mission statement revision, there would “be far less incentive to pursue projects to improve understanding of terrestrial problems like climate change caused by greenhouse gas emissions.” Top NASA climatologist James Hansen called the deletion “a shocking loss,” because he had “been using the phrase since December 2005 to justify speaking out about the dangers of global warming.”
In fact, in an article last year, Dr. Hansen opined that such maneuvers not only kept the public from information vital to a informed debate on the most serious issue of our time, but threatened the very underpinnings of democracy itself.

"Yet Franklin, Jefferson, and the other revolutionaries would surely be distraught by recent tendencies in America, specifically the increasing power of special interests in our government, concentrated efforts to deceive the public and arbitrary actions of government executives that arise from increasing concentration of authority in a unitary executive, in defiance of the aims of our Constitution's framers......

These incidents help to paint a picture that reveals consequences for society far greater than the simple enrichment of special interests. The effect is to keep the public in the dark about increasing risks to our society and our home planet.

As to the critical role of NASA in collecting data on climate change, that mission continues to be jeopardized by decreased funding for the satellite programs that monitor, among other things, levels of soil moisture and precipitation which feed weather forecasting and climate models.

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