The Sciences

NASA Administrator Griffin: saying global warming is bad is “arrogant”

Bad AstronomyBy Phil PlaitJun 1, 2007 3:49 PM


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So I'm coming home from a quick trip to the store, and I'm scanning the radio stations. I hear NASA Administrator Mike Griffin's voice, so I stop. He's talking about global warming on NPR. At first he says some adequate stuff. When the interviewer asks him about what NASA should do about global warming, Griffin responds that NASA is not charged with doing anything about warming, which is true, but weak. I would have been happier had he said, however, that this is a serious issue and NASA's charge is to examine it scientifically with every tool they can bring to bear. But then he said something that really shocked me. I'm glad I was already pulled over at my house when I heard it, because had I been driving I would have veered off the road.

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.

(my emphasis) When Griffin was first appointed to be head of NASA, I was excited. Here we have an engineer, and one who had fought against some NASA dumbosity in the past involving the space station. But when he says stuff like this, I wonder what the heck he's thinking. We know the Earth is warming. There is no doubt about this. None. You may ask if this warming is a bad thing, and the overwhelming majority of scientists will say yes, it is. But even if we aren't sure that it's a bad thing, doesn't it make sense to not take any frakking chances? This is our planet we're talking about! Right now, our agriculture and many other forms of human sustainability are based on this climate. If it changes, so will our methods of survival. The U.S. is still a major food source for the planet, and if our climate changes, then that status may change as well. If temperatures go up a few degrees, will Kansas still produce wheat? Will Iowa and Nebraska still give us corn? Will California and Florida still be able to raise fruit crops? And this does not take into account other countries and their own major crops, like coffee beans, bananas, sugar cane, and so on. It's not arrogant at all to assume that this climate that we have now is a good one for our needs. I'm sure it could be better in some places, of course, but letting global warming continue is certainly not the best way to see if the climate can improve for some people. Mr. Griffin seems to be implying that we should throw the dice and see what happens. He is definitely saying that we cannot say for sure if we should do anything or not. That's utter nonsense. That's like saying that I am healthy, but maybe sticking a knife randomly in my body and twisting it around might improve something somewhere. I am still reeling that the head of NASA -- which, at its heart, is a scientific agency -- would say something so ridiculous. But maybe he does have a point. After all, some places may benefit from warming. I'm sure the citizens of Antarctica will be thrilled. Update (Friday at 4:00 MT):According to ThinkProgress, White House Science Advisor Jack Marburger said:

"It’s pretty obvious that the NASA administrator was speaking about his own personal views and by no means representing or attempting to represent the administration’s views or broader policy," Marburger said. "He’s got a very wry sense of humor and is very outspoken."

That, again IMO, is unadulterated crap. When you are the head of a government agency, you have no personal opinion. Like it or not, when you are in a quotable position, everything you say is said as the head of that agency. And if Marburger is trying to play this off as a joke, that is contemptible.

Note: after writing this, I see that James Hansen, NASA's top climate scientist, agrees with me.

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