Donald Trump’s election is generating much speculation about how his administration may or may not reshape the federal government. On space issues, a senior Trump advisor, former Pennsylvania Rep. Bob Walker, has called for ending NASA earth science research, including work related to climate change. Walker contends that NASA’s proper role is deep-space research and exploration, not “politically correct environmental monitoring.”
This proposal has caused deep concern for many in the climate science community, including people who work directly for NASA and others who rely heavily on NASA-produced data for their research. Elections have consequences, and it is an executive branch prerogative to set priorities and propose budgets for federal agencies. However, President-elect Trump and his team should think very carefully before they recommend canceling or defunding any of NASA’s current Earth-observing missions.
There was a time, about 50 years ago, when thoughtful scientists and science writers dreamed of the day that the American public would wake up to the importance of science. Jacob Bronowski, C.P. Snow, Carl Sagan and Isaac Asimov saw science as integral to life. They didn’t like the idea of science “popularization,” as if something so important and ubiquitous had to be promoted. Instead, scientific issues and controversies should be taken up and understood, and maybe even debated, by the average person.
Well, that day has arrived, in a sense. We now have the spectacle of the Average Joe, who never set foot in a science class, imagining that climate scientists are lying about radiative forcing and the use of the Stefan-Boltzmann constant. And this is just the beginning.
Thirty-five years ago this evening,* Jimmy Carter stared America in the eye, and invoking his promise that “I will never lie to you,” gave us all a royal scolding.
It ran just over a half-hour, back in the day when such speeches were carried by all three of the commercial TV networks, in prime time, before tens of millions of viewers. Every one of those viewers had likely spent some recent time in a gasoline line, paying inflated prices for scarce fuel.
“Why have we not been able to get together as a nation to solve our serious energy problem?” asked the president, with an earnest gaze and several chopping, pounding motions with his right hand. It was a second sortie for a president who two years earlier had told us that our energy woes were “the moral equivalent of war.”