Defunding the evidence-gatherers

According to a report by the National Academies of science Cutbacks Impede Climate Studies:

The government's ability to understand and predict hurricanes, drought and climate changes of all kinds is in danger because of deep cuts facing many Earth satellite programs and major delays in launching some of its most important new instruments, a panel of experts has concluded.

The two-year study by the National Academy of Sciences, released yesterday, determined that NASA's earth science budget has declined 30 percent since 2000. It stands to fall further as funding shifts to plans for a manned mission to the moon and Mars. The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, meanwhile, has experienced enormous cost overruns and schedule delays with its premier weather and climate mission.

The shifts in NASA funding are partly a result of the ill-conceived Moon-Mars mission. Had that come with new funding and a mandate to expand NASA's ongoing activities, it might have been an interesting idea. But instead, NASA has had to take people off of ongoing monitoring missions and retask satellite launches to squeeze as much out of its budget as possible, while planning and preparing for a poorly justified and underfunded mission to Mars.

Problems also emerged due to difficulties building and buying all of the parts for a satellite jointly designed by NOAA, NASA and the Pentagon. As a result, sensors that the NAS deemed critical have been shelved, and the entire project is in jeopardy due to cost overruns.

By weakening our monitoring of earth, the Bush administration has illustrated a point that is ably made in Space on Earth: Saving Our World by Seeking Others by Charles S. Cockell. Cockell's argument is that space exploration has vital links to environmentalism, and that environmentalists ought to do more to link their efforts with those of space agencies. This report shows the harm that can result when those links fail. Space-based monitoring of the environment is critical to many conservation projects, and the defunding of these space missions will do tremendous harm to efforts to monitor the health of our own planet, as well as efforts to learn about other planets and processes on them that match those on Earth.

NASA's work monitoring climate and monitoring glaciers is vital to many arguments about climate change, and weakening the state of that science may be the last refuge of climate change deniers. NASA also plays a key role in monitoring the status of our oceans, and of rainforests.

The National Academies of Science are normally staid and nonpolitical. That two major reports have rejected this administration's actions on scientific matters in a few days should allay any doubts that there is a Republican war on science.

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By AJ Mackenzie (not verified) on 16 Jan 2007 #permalink