Environment

Is NASA's Science Council Head a Climate Skeptic?

The IntersectionBy Chris MooneyAug 25, 2006 4:55 PM

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There's been trouble at NASA lately. A suite of scientists from the agency's National Advisory Council have resigned over the agency's priorities, a dispute which seems to centrally turn on how the president's Moon-Mars plans have taken an emphasis away from purer scientific research. The NAC itself was reorganized just this spring, when it was put under the leadership of one Harrison M. Schmitt, a former Apollo astronaut who's also been a U.S. senator and is trained as a geologist. But there's more that you ought to know about Harrison M. Schmitt. He is chairman emeritus, and former chairman and president, of the Annapolis Center for Science-Based Public Policy, an Exxon Mobil supported think tank whose representatives have often questioned the science underlying global warming, and have bestowed "science" awards upon the likes of James Inhofe and Joe Barton. Indeed, here's a sampling from an anti-Kyoto op-ed in the Baltimore Sun co-authored by Schmitt and another Annapolis representative on July 27, 2001, after the release of the IPCC's third assessment report:

[Kyoto] says far more about economic competition and a disregard for science than about the rational consideration of environmental issues.... The reality is that our climate is changing and will continue to change. If we lived in 1400, for example, Earth would begin a rapid cooling that would last a century.... Is global warming real? Does man affect global warming? If so, by how much? Is there a possibility that after a period of warming, Earth may cool as it did in the 1400s? Europe's "Little Ice Age" lasted until 1850. Asking questions like these is not denial. Most scientists who have studied the issue believe the Earth's surface has been warming for centuries, but at an erratic yet accelerated rate in the 20th century. We know that temperatures near the Earth's surface, but not the higher reaches of the atmosphere, increased about 1 degree in the last century, most of it in the early 1900s. Temperatures in the lower 5 miles of the atmosphere have barely nudged upward in several decades. Both natural and man-made water vapor, carbon dioxide (CO2) and methane are the most prevalent greenhouse gases, with water by far the most important (about 95 percent) contributor to climate change. The Kyoto pact would drastically alter the output of these gases by developed countries.

Careful readers will note many climate "skeptic" tropes here, although Schmitt and his co-author never come out and directly say that global warming isn't happening, or is natural. But they strongly imply it. And their statements are far from consistent with the work of the IPCC, which by that time had stated more strongly than ever before that humans were causing global warming. Given that Schmitt is now heading NASA's National Advisory Council, and is clashing with other scientists who have left the council and who are questioning NASA's research priorities, this background information seems very relevant to me.

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