This morning on NPR, NASA administrator Michael Griffin was asked, “Are you concerned about global warming?” His answer: “I’m aware that global warming exists” but “[w]hether that is a longterm concern or not, I can’t say.” Griffin said he is “not sure that it is fair to say that it is a problem we must wrestle with.”
Griffin also charged that people are “arrogant” for assuming that “this particular climate that we have right here today, right now is the best climate for all other human beings,” hinting that global warming may actually be good for the earth. This myth is a popular right-wing talking point.
Griffin’s remarks are stunning, coming just days after his own agency released a report warning of the “disastrous effects” of climate change:
Even “moderate additional” greenhouse emissions are likely to push Earth past “critical tipping points” with “dangerous consequences for the planet,” according to research conducted by NASA and the Columbia University Earth Institute.
With just 10 more years of “business as usual” emissions from the burning of coal, oil and gas, says the NASA/Columbia paper, “it becomes impractical” to avoid “disastrous effects.”
James Hansen, NASA’s top climate scientist, called Griffin’s dismissal of global warming “an incredibly arrogant and ignorant statement.” “It indicates a complete ignorance of understanding the implications of climate change,” he added.
Also, scientific consensus does not hold that today’s climate is the “best climate.” We are already seeing melting glaciers, higher temperatures, and stronger natural disasters. The most recent assessment by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) stated, “Changes in climate are now affecting physical and biological systems on every continent.”
UPDATE: House Science and Technology Committee Chairman Bart Gordon (D-TN) responds: “Setting aside NASA Administrator Griffin’s personal views on the significance of global warming, I remain concerned that NASA is not doing as much as needs to be done on climate change data collection and research. Based on NASA’s own five-year budget plan, the agency will be unable to start any of the new Earth observations initiatives recommended by the National Academies for the foreseeable future. That’s not going to get us where we need to be in our understanding of climate change. NASA needs to do more.”
INSKEEP: It has been mentioned that NASA is not spending as much money as it could to study climate change — global warming — from space. Are you concerned about global warming?
GRIFFIN: I’m aware that global warming exists. I understand that the bulk of scientific evidence accumulated supports the claim that we’ve had about a one degree centigrade rise in temperature over the last century to within an accuracy of 20 percent. I’m also aware of recent findings that appear to have nailed down — pretty well nailed down the conclusion that much of that is manmade. Whether that is a longterm concern or not, I can’t say.
INSKEEP: Do you have any doubt that this is a problem that mankind has to wrestle with?
GRIFFIN: I have no doubt that … a trend of global warming exists. I am not sure that it is fair to say that it is a problem we must wrestle with. To assume that it is a problem is to assume that the state of Earth’s climate today is the optimal climate, the best climate that we could have or ever have had and that we need to take steps to make sure that it doesn’t change. First of all, I don’t think it’s within the power of human beings to assure that the climate does not change, as millions of years of history have shown. And second of all, I guess I would ask which human beings — where and when — are to be accorded the privilege of deciding that this particular climate that we have right here today, right now is the best climate for all other human beings. I think that’s a rather arrogant position for people to take.
INSKEEP: Is that thinking that informs you as you put together the budget? That something is happening, that it’s worth studying, but you’re not sure that you want to be battling it as an army might battle an enemy?
GRIFFIN: Nowhere in NASA’s authorization, which of course governs what we do, is there anything at all telling us that we should take actions to affect climate change in either one way or another. We study global climate change, that is in our authorization, we think we do it rather well. I’m proud of that, but NASA is not an agency chartered to, quote, battle climate change.