Saturday, June 02, 2007

NASA says climate may not be optimal

NASA administrator Michael Griffin was interviewed on NPR:
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.
You wouldn't expect any of this to be controversial, but look at the reaction:
James Hansen, NASA's top climate scientist: "It's an incredibly arrogant and ignorant statement. It indicates a complete ignorance of understanding the implications of climate change."

Michael Oppenheimer, Professor of Geosciences and International Affairs at Princeton University: "It's astounding that the head of a major U.S. science agency could hold such attitudes — basically ignorance about the global warming problem. It's so astonishing that I think he should resign."

Gavin Schmidt, NASA climate scientist: "Griffin's comments seem surprisingly naive. We are not in a situation where we are shopping around for an ideal climate, but that we have adapted to the climate we have, and that therefore large changes to it are not likely to be beneficial."

Berrien Moore, Director of the Institute for the Study of Earth, Oceans, and Space at the University of New Hampshire: "I don’t understand it. I'm really stunned he would say something like that. I mean, I just really find it shocking."
They don't want a NASA official to be saying stuff like that, but the criticisms are more political than scientific. There is no scientific paper that shows that the Earth's current climate is optimal. Yes, we have adapted well to the climate, but we might adapt even better to a different climate. At any rate, NASA has no business taking a stand on what sort of climate the Earth should have anyway. It should just gather info and make predictions.

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