Tuesday, May 05, 2015

The Future Has A Price

NASA, the space agency that has developed such technological wonders as Velcro, braces, Dippin' Dots, and is close to forcing man kind to answering some deeply philosophical questions, is at the mercy of blatant political partisanship and a poor understanding of science.  

The agency's budget for Earth science and research is being reallocated (read: cut) for space flight technologies to the tune of 40%. The National Science Foundation's funding for Earth Sciences will also be slashed dramatically, and will no longer receive any funding for social sciences.

While it may sound obvious for the agency to conduct spaceflight missions, part of NASA's Vision includes "Conduct[ing] airborne remote sensing and science missions." In other words, NASA is responsible for studying Earth, which is in space. This recent budgetary issue appears to stem from the GOP's near-unanimous refusal to accept climate change as real and happening.

This literal denial of climate change can be seen most recently in Florida, where administration officials were ostensibly banned from even uttering the phrase.

For another example, the House Science, Space, and Technology Committee Chairman Lamar Smith wrote an op-ed titled "The Climate-Change Religion." In the piece, Smith rails against Obama for making climate change so scary and claiming that it's even real. The title is especially weird because I thought Republicans were respectful of deeply held religious beliefs, going as far as passing bills to allow people to discriminate against others who do not adhere to those beliefs. But this time it's different because Mr. Lamar (nor his donors) does not share those beliefs, and so he disregards them; despite the fact that there is an ever-increasing amount of data telling us that climate change is real and human activity plays a part. But, then again, these are peer-reviewed science papers, not the Bible or campaign checks, so point taken, I guess.

In the op-ed, Mr. Lamar makes some rather dubious claims about the threat, or lack of, from climate change including, that, over the last 15 years, the warming of the planet has stopped. Data shows that it have slowed, thanks to efforts by governments to curb emissions. He also claimed that climate change does not cause more severe storms, which is wrong. Climate change has been linked to stronger hurricanes and longer droughts, for instance.

It should be noted that Mr. Lamar, like many Republicans, is not a scientist. He was a lawyer before getting elected to the House in 1986. It is strange that he would ignore the advice of the world's scientists at the peril of the country and the world for petty politics. Would you ignore your lawyer's law advice?

What is especially confusing is Mr. Lamar's introduction of the STEM Education Act of 2014 of which he, admirably, says "we have to capture and hold the desire of our nation's youth to study science and engineering so they will want to pursue these careers. A health and viable STEM workforce, literate in all STEM subjects including computer science, is critical to American industries. We must work to ensure that students continue to go into these fields so that their ideas can lead to a more innovative and prosperous America."

Except, of course, if the work of those future scientists hurt some of his donors.

It appears that instead of selling out the planet, Mr. Lamar and his colleagues should start investing in it. Otherwise, some day, it may never be cold enough to enjoy some Dippin' Dots.