The threat of climate change was thrust into the public consciousness in June 1988, when NASA scientist James Hansen told a congressional committee that researchers were now 99 percent certain that humans were warming the planet. "The greenhouse effect has been detected, and it is changing our climate now," he said.
In the three decades since Hansen's dramatic testimony, NASA has played a leading role in researching climate change and educating the public about it. The space agency's satellites track melting ice sheets and rising seas, and its scientists crunch the data showing how quickly the Earth is warming.
James Hansen, then a top NASA scientist, testifying about the links between global warming and drought at a 1989 Senate hearing Dennis Cook/AP
But if Donald Trump's advisers get their way, NASA won't be studying the Earth as much as it has in the past. Bob Walker, a former GOP congressman from Pennsylvania who counseled Trump on space policy during the campaign, has referred to the agency's climate research as "politically correct environmental monitoring" that has been "heavily politicized." Walker (inaccurately) told the Guardian in November that "half" the world's climate scientists doubt that humans are warming the planet.
Walker wants to shift new climate research from NASA to other government agencies, such as the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. "My guess is that it would be difficult to stop all ongoing NASA programs," he told the Guardian, "but future programs should definitely be placed with other agencies." NASA, he says, should focus on deep space exploration. (As my colleague Pat Caldwell points out, "Since Trump isn't promising any additional funds to NOAA for these new responsibilities, the result could be pressure to cut back on climate change research.")
Trump hasn't actually endorsed Walker's proposal, and some experts doubt that such a transition could ever be implemented. But his comments have garnered plenty of backlash from the scientific community. "We're not going to stand for that," said astrobiologist David Grinspoon in a recent interview with Indre Viskontas on our Inquiring Minds podcast. "We're going to keep doing Earth science and make the case for it. We'll get scientists to march on Washington if we have to. There's going to be a lot of resistance."
Read More: Climate Desk
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