If you watch no other video today, watch this one:
This is not a new video, but it’s an important one. NASA has been crucial in our understanding of how our climate works, and how it’s changing. The video is from 2014, and the data are from 2006. This may be one of the most important research efforts for the long-term survival of humanity, and of civilization (both as we know it, and as we’d like it to be).
And so, of course, the Trump administration has decided that this cannot stand.
You can’t manage what you don’t measure. The adage is especially relevant for climate-warming greenhouse gases, which are crucial to manage—and challenging to measure. In recent years, though, satellite and aircraft instruments have begun monitoring carbon dioxide and methane remotely, and NASA’s Carbon Monitoring System (CMS), a $10-million-a-year research line, has helped stitch together observations of sources and sinks into high-resolution models of the planet’s flows of carbon. Now, President Donald Trump’s administration has quietly killed the CMS, Science has learned.
The move jeopardizes plans to verify the national emission cuts agreed to in the Paris climate accords, says Kelly Sims Gallagher, director of Tufts University’s Center for International Environment and Resource Policy in Medford, Massachusetts. “If you cannot measure emissions reductions, you cannot be confident that countries are adhering to the agreement,” she says. Canceling the CMS “is a grave mistake,” she adds.
The White House has mounted a broad attack on climate science, repeatedly proposing cuts to NASA’s earth science budget, including the CMS, and cancellations of climate missions such as the Orbiting Carbon Observatory 3 (OCO-3). Although Congress fended off the budget and mission cuts, a spending deal signed in March made no mention of the CMS. That allowed the administration’s move to take effect, says Steve Cole, a NASA spokesperson in Washington, D.C. Cole says existing grants will be allowed to finish up, but no new research will be supported.
I’ve categorized this under “crimes against humanity”, because I can’t think of a better word for this kind of thing. Peter Sinclair at Climate Denial Crock of the Week has a less catchy, but probably more accurate term: “Crimes so grave we have no name for them.” But of course, this isn’t limited to atmospheric CO2 levels. For the astonishingly low price of $10 million per year, we’re able to track and visualize CO2 emissions and distribution across the globe, but wait! There’s more:
The CMS improved other carbon monitoring as well. It supported efforts by the city of Providence to combine multiple data sources into a picture of its greenhouse gas emissions, and identify ways to reduce them. It has tracked the dissolved carbon in the Mississippi River as it flows out into the ocean. And it has paid for researchers led by Daniel Jacob, an atmospheric chemist at Harvard University, to refine their satellite-based observations of methane.
In the future, I have a feeling Trump may become known as “The Anti-Intelligence President”. Completely aside from his nature as the paragon of the conservative anti-intellectual movement, he also has done a huge amount to undermine our ability to know what’s going on in the world around us.
His inability – or unwillingness – to keep his mouth shut has announced to the world that they need to think twice before sharing any intel with us, because it might end up outing the agents of our historical allies. Whatever you think of the Iran deal, pulling out of it is likely to decrease the amount of intel we have on Iran and that country’s activities, because they are no longer under any obligation to let us see things like surveillance footage, and as I mentioned, other countries may consider America too untrustworthy to keep in the loop.
And, of course, the Trump administration has been waging war on America’s scientific capability, and on any attempts to create policy guided by facts. This attack on our ability to monitor greenhouse gasses could end up causing the most harm, over the long term, but that’s a bit like saying that a bomb is more deadly than a machine gun. It probably is, but that makes little difference to someone with a bullet in their head.
It’s also worth underscoring that Trump’s war on science falls well within the more “traditional” agenda of the GOP, and as long as they have any power, they will use it to attack the future, to benefit themselves in the present.
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