Another Congressional Attack on Climate Science?

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July 29 2013 8:00 AM

Another Congressional Attack on Climate Science?

Capitol building with smoke Photoshopped pouring out of it
A major source of global warming hot air.

Photo bykrossbow on Flickr, modified by Phil Plait

Hey, remember when I railed at the members of the House Science Committee about wanting to cut funding from NASA’s climate observation missions? In a draft bill to authorize funding for NASA, they specifically said they wanted to redirect funding from NASA’s climate research to that of weather forecasting. They also said that 12 other agencies study climate change, so NASA doesn’t need to.

Phil Plait Phil Plait

Phil Plait writes Slate’s Bad Astronomy blog and is an astronomer, public speaker, science evangelizer, and author of Death From the Skies!  

Which is baloney. NASA's work is critical to studying the climate. But remember, Republicans are the majority party in the House and therefore on the Science Committee, and their political stance on the science of climate change is overwhelmingly one of denial. I was and still am gravely concerned about this defunding of NASA’s very important climate work (the budget is still being hammered out between the House and Senate), but even when I first wrote about the NASA budget, I wondered to myself if this attack on climate research would be limited to just NASA, given that those other federal agencies study climate as well.

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It turns out I may have good reason to be concerned. Freshman congressman Jim Bridenstine (R-Okla.) has sponsored a bill (H. R. 2413) that would likely defund at least some of the climate research done by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) in favor of weather prediction. The bill actually doesn’t say this out loud, of course—it doesn’t even have the word climate in it, bizarrely enough—but it specifically uses the phrase “redirect NOAA resources,” which is clear enough. By making weather forecasting a priority, coupled with the limited budget for NOAA in the House funding, the bill (currently in committee) will certainly de-emphasize and deprioritize other work done by NOAA. That includes, of course, climate research.

If you are unfamiliar with Bridenstine, let me introduce you to his moment of infamy, where he demanded that President Obama apologize to the people of Oklahoma for funding climate change research. (A key claim in that speech, not-so-incidentally, was rated “mostly false” by PolitiFact; I’d have used stronger language). Although a moderate on many issues, Bridenstine is a full-on climate change denier, so any weather- or climate-related legislation he sponsors needs to be examined with more than a touch of skepticism.

The thing is we need climate research to understand our changing weather. The extremes we are seeing—more fires, more drought in some areas, flooding in others, more high-temperature records broken all the time—are all precisely what is expected from global warming. This is the new normal.

The responsible thing for Congress to do is to fully fund both climate research and weather forecasting. Both are critical to our nation right now, as well as its future.

It’s stunning that the committee, which makes decisions on our nation’s most basic scientific research, is controlled by people who toss out any and all evidence if it goes against their preconceived (and well-funded) notions. To have such blatantly anti-science people on a science committee is madness.

I can hope against hope that come the next election, these anti-reality Congresscritters will get kicked to the curb. But we need to keep their feet to the fire and to make sure the people of our country, and our representatives, know what’s going on.

Tip o’ the thermometer to Diane Bosnjak and the Facebook page for the Public Coalition on the Understanding of Science.

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