Bad Astronomer is mad:
A passel of anti-science global warming denying GOP [USA Republican party] representatives have put together a funding authorization bill for NASA that at best cuts more than $300 million from the agency’s current Earth science budget. At worst? More than $500 million. ... The authorization bill passed along party lines (19 Republicans to 15 Democrats).Bad Astronomer also reported that last year the Republicans shifted the climate research funding for NOAA towards weather prediction.
John Timmer of Ars Technica adds:
The bill comes a week after the same committee reauthorized the America COMPETES act, which includes funding for the National Science Foundation and Department of Energy. As at NASA, geoscience funding takes a hit, down 12 percent at the NSF, with environmental research from the DOE taking a 10 percent hit.
There seems to be a pattern.
One wonders if they know what they are doing.
I would personally interpret a reduction in the budget for climate research as claiming: the science is settled. If these Republicans were sceptical about climate science, they would want to fund research to find the reason for the misunderstanding. The consensus of 97% of climate scientists, myself included, that global warming is happening, is caused by us and will continue if we do not do something, will not go away by itself. That will require research, arguments, evidence. In this light it would make sense when Democrats would shift science funding from climate research to climate solution, but they may realise there are more considerations.
When it comes to the relationship between greenhouse gasses and global mean temperature, our understanding of climate change is pretty solid. Not perfect, science never is, but pretty solid. For adaptation, however, you need local information; global means are not enough. That is a lot harder, that requires that all the changes in the circulation of the oceans and the atmosphere are rightly predicted. It likely depends on aerosol concentrations (small atmospheric particles), on changes in the vegetation, water tables, sea ice.
Many impacts of climate change will be due to severe and extreme weather. Sea level rise, for example, endangers low lying regions, but the sea dykes will breach on a stormy day, thus you also need to know how storms change. Thus for adaptation you do not only need to know the annual or decadal average temperature, you need to know the changes in atmospheric events that happen on short time scales. From minutes to days for severe weather, from weeks to months for heat waves and droughts. This is hard for the same reasons why predicting local changes is hard. You also do not just need to know what happens to temperature, while especially precipitation and storms are very hard to predict accurately. They are, however, very important for agriculture, infrastructure, flood prevention, dikes, and landslides. When it comes to infrastructure or other long term private investments, we would need to know such changes decades in advance. Alternatively, you could "adapt" to any possible change, but that is very expensive.
This is the kind of detail we need to prepare our communities to adapt to climate change. This is hard and very much ongoing research. If you are taking the bet that adaptation is enough, it does not seem wise to leave the American public unprepared.
Earth observation is also much more than climate. The same satellites, the same understanding of these measurements and deriving information products from them are used in meteorology. One of the main reason why casualties due to severe weather are decreasing is because of good weather predictions, we see the bad weather coming and can respond in time. Good weather predictions start with a good description of the state of the atmosphere at the start of the weather prediction (called [[data assimilation]]). More computer power, better models, better assimilation methods and detailed global Earth observations are responsible for the improved modern weather predictions. My guess would be that the better observations are easily responsible for half of the improvements.
Other applications of Earth observations:
- assisting wildfire managers in wildfire recovery (recovery which costs the taxpayer billions of dollars annually)Earth observation is also important to organize the rescue work after catastrophes.
- supplying farmers with knowledge about when to grow which crops and where
- drought/famine prediction
- the effects of deforestation and natural disasters (such as landslides, earthquakes, hurricanes, etc.) on local communities and surrounding ecosystems
The funding reductions also give the impression that climatologists are punished for their politically inconvenient message. Maybe these Republicans think that they can influence the state of the science by beating scientists in submission. This will not work. Science is not organised like a think tank, which are there to write any bunk that the big boss wants written.
Science is a free market of ideas. Like the free market uses distributed information on how to efficiently organize an economy, science is highly distributed and cannot be controlled from the top. Every researcher is a small entrepreneur, trying to search for problems that are interesting and solvable. Science is organised in small groups. If your group does not function, you'd better get out before your reputation and publication record suffer. Multiple such groups are at one university or research institute. In one country you will find many universities and institutes. All these groups in many countries are all competing and collaborating with each other. Competing for the best ideas, because it is fun and get more possibilities to do research. The currency is reputation.
Your articles are peer reviewed by several anonymous colleagues selected by a journal editor, research proposals are reviewed by several senior anonymous colleagues selected by the funding agency, the university groups and institutes are regularly reviewed by groups of senior scientists. You are competing to be able to collaborate with better groups. This web of competitive and collaborative relations is designed to get the best ideas to float up and to make it hard to apply pressure top down. Add to this researchers who are fiercely independent, intrinsically motivated and do science because they want to challenge themselves, understand the world and measure themselves with the best. At least the majority of people starting with research is intrinsically motivated. The climate "debate" gives the impression that for some the joy of science fades with age.
Even if it would be better for American scientists to shut up and spread Republican propaganda, no one could enforce that, while there are strong enforcement mechanisms for the quality of science. I am sure that most American scientists that would be pressured by the Republicans would still stick to the truth. You get into science because you want to understand reality. Scientists accept low pay and bad labour conditions to do so. If they are no longer allowed to tell the truth, I would expect most scientists to move to another group, to another country or simply to stop.
Punishing scientists for their inconvenient message also send a bad signal to the world. A country with a government meddling in the results of scientific research is not attractive. A large part of the scientists in America come from abroad. New high potentials may now think twice before they go to America.
Researchers may go to my birth country (The Netherlands) or home country (Germany)instead. They have freedom of science and research in their constitutions. In both countries you only need English to do your work and nowadays you can also get by in daily life with English (although I would still advice to learn the local language for better social integration). For Germany I know that we are always looking for good scientists. Too little students start studying meteorology to fill the vacancies. They even took me as a physicist because they could not get any better.
In the 17th century, when in most of Europe's rulers did not tolerate deviating thoughts, The Netherlands was a haven of tolerance and experienced a golden century. This little country attracted an enormous influx of the best scholars, scientists and artists from all over Europe, introduced many free market innovations, became a world power. Before and during the Second World War many Jewish and German scientists migrated to America because of the repression in Europe. This has kick started American science. The repression of scientific freedom has real economic and cultural consequences.
One wonders if they know what they are doing. The GOP representative, that is. They almost unanimously have trouble accepting that we are responsible to (almost) all the warming seen in the last century. The normal Republicans (except for the Tea Party) fit into the American mainstream when it comes to accepting that climate change is real. The very vocal mitigation sceptics on the net that give America a bad name abroad only represent a few percent of the population. One wonders when these normal people tell their politicians to get their act together.
In the realm of climate research, my guess would be that Europe is already a little stronger than the USA. The aggressive mitigation sceptics to do not make America more attractive. The FOIA harassment in response to inconvenient science does not make America more attractive. When the political radicals are determined to hurt American interests and pass this bill, I would like to invite Gavin Schmidt to Germany. In am sure the Max Planck Institute in Hamburg would be interested. The Max Planck Foundation was specially founded to attract the best researchers from all over the world by providing them with a lot of freedom of research. After all, top researchers know best what is important for science. Gavin welcome to Hamburg, your [[ICE]] is waiting.
Related readingPhil Plait (Bad Astronomy blog):House GOP Wants to Eviscerate NASA Earth Sciences in New Budget
John Timmer of Ars Technica: House Science Committee guts NASA Earth sciences budget
Stop all harassment of all scientists now
Peer review helps fringe ideas gain credibility
The value of peer review for science and the press
The Tea Party consensus on man-made global warming
Do dissenters like climate change?
Climate myths translated into econ talk
* Photo at the top of Alster by André H. (An der Alster) [CC BY 2.0], via Wikimedia Commons
* Photo of St. Pauli by Heidas is licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 Unported license.
* Photo of Altonaer Balkon in Hamburg by Udo Herzog (http://flickr.com/photos/udo/142872336/) [CC BY 2.0], via Wikimedia Commons
* Photo of Jenisch by Wolfram Gothe (Transferred from de.wikipedia) [Public domain], from Wikimedia Commons
* Photo of the main station of Hamburg by Thomas Fries / Lizenz: CC-BY-SA-3.0