American politicians take aim at climate science with NASA budget cuts

NASA's budget for earth science research is the latest target for attack by anti-science Republicans. Creative Commons: Jessie Hodge, 2012

NASA’s budget for earth science research is the latest target for attack by anti-science Republicans. Creative Commons: Jessie Hodge, 2012

Conservatives in the United States Congress are keeping up their longstanding effort to deny the overwhelming scientific consensus on climate change and prevent the federal government from reducing the greenhouse gas emissions causing it.

Their latest salvo? Anti-science members of the House Committee on Science, Space and Technology voted along party lines last week to dramatically reduce funding for NASA’s earth science programs. The proposed cuts amount to at least $300 million and could reach $500 million or more.

The bill would redirect some of the money currently funding earth sciences research to space-flight programs.

The GOP’s latest move has struck a nerve within the scientific community, which hasn’t minced words in its response to attempts to undercut scientific understanding of climate change.

NASA administrator and former astronaut Charles Bowden said that the bill “threatens to set back generations worth of progress in better understanding our changing climate and our ability to prepare for and respond to earthquakes, droughts, and storm events.”

Writing in the Washington Post, renowned meteorologist J. Marshall Shepherd denounced the cuts as “reckless” and said that they would cost jobs and halt research that helps the American Navy prepare for the national security implications of climate change.

NASA’s earth science programs don’t just focus on climate. NASA researchers tracked the flow of oil in the Gulf of Mexico after the 2010 Deepwater Horizon disaster and have made strides to better understand dangerous natural disasters like earthquakes and severe storms.

The need for such research will only increase in the years to come, as warming temperatures and rising sea levels intensify storms like Hurricane Sandy and Typhoon Haiyan.

The impacts of such storms are far from trivial. According to the US Department of Homeland Security, extreme weather has cost the country $1.15 trillion over the last 30 years. David Heyman, the agency’s assistant secretary for policy, testified before Congress that without a concerted effort to build resilience to natural disasters “the trend is likely to continue.”

In Congress, opinions on climate change are sharply defined along party lines. An amendment affirming that “climate change is real” and that “human activity significantly contributes” to it was defeated in the Senate by a 50-49 vote. Every Democrat in the Senate voted in favor of the amendment, while all but five Republicans opposed it.

While President Obama, the most visible member of the Democratic party continues to sound the alarm about the impacts of climate change on communities and ecosystems, most prominent Republicans have chosen to bury their heads in the sand or try to plead ignorance with refrains of “I’m not a scientist.”

Of the major Republican candidates for the 2016 presidential election, none has acknowledged that human-caused emissions are driving climate change, with most toeing the skeptic line.

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