The giant blind spot in our President’s budget proposal

In Episode 4 of my history of evidence related to Global Climate Change, I wrote about the Keeling Curve, a continuous record of the global atmospheric CO2 concentration that has been measured on the side of a volcano at Mauna Loa, Hawaii from 1958 to today:

Blue line is the “Keeling Curve,” a plot of weekly atmospheric CO2 measurements made by the Scripps Institute of Oceanography at Mauna Loa, Hawaii from 1958 to present. The blue curve was plotted by me using Scripps weekly data from the Mauna Loa observatory, downloaded here. For fun and context, I added some significant human events to the Earth’s recent CO2 timeline.

The blue data above is crucial to our understanding of humanity’s effect on our planet. It shows us clearly that the atmospheric CO2 concentration has increased by 40% since 1900. Meanwhile, the global average temperature has increased by 1.1 degrees Celsius since 1880. These two facts confirm calculations performed in 1956 by physicist Gilbert Plass (1956a, 1956b, 1956c, 1956d), that continued CO2 emissions from fossil fuel combustion in the second half of the 20th century would lead to a temperature rise of about 1 degree Celsius by 2000, at which time we would experience readily observable effects of Global Climate Change. (Which we do.)

Given the blue data above and the measured temperature rise almost exactly equal to Plass’s predictions of the expected temperature rise from CO2 emissions, I think it’s pretty wise that we’ve been measuring this stuff. Do you?

An interesting story I didn’t mention in Episode 4 of my history is the fact that, but for the impassioned and persistent advocacy of Dave Keeling and other scientists, as well as timely decisions by individual government administrators at critical points, we could easily not have this data. At multiple times, the Mauna Loa observatory was nearly defunded by changing governmental priorities, as illustrated by the graphic below. You can read more about the continuous need for advocacy to keep the observatory going on the Scripps website or in Dave Keeling’s autobiographical account.

Image credit: Scripps Institution of Oceanography. Historical time points at which the Scripps Mauna Loa observatory was nearly defunded, even as the atmospheric CO2 level climbed.

We are experiencing a new need for advocacy now.

Yesterday, President Trump signed into law the NASA Transition Authorization Act of 2017, providing about a $19.5 billion per year budget for NASA (accounting for around 0.5% of the total federal budget). (Read more here.) The new plan for NASA is highly unusual, in that it makes no mention of earth science, including climate change. For most of us, NASA conjures thoughts of moon landings and space exploration. It’s important to know, however, that the study of our own home planet has been a core mission of NASA since its inception.

That is, since NASA’s inception in 1958, the exact same year Dave Keeling and other scientists began CO2 measurements at Mauna Loa. Coincidence? No. Both efforts resulted from the 1957-1958 International Geophysical Year, a global effort to fund basic earth science. In fact, the 1958 law that formed NASA specifically called on it to bring about the “expansion of human knowledge of phenomena in the atmosphere.” Since then, even while it was sending folks to the moon and satellites across the solar system, NASA has executed that core earth-based mission under 6 Republican administrations and 5 Democratic ones. Until now, if President Trump has his way.

On March 16, the President published his proposed federal budget. It is brutal with respect to the global climate. If enacted, the plan would terminate both efforts to reduce American greenhouse gas emissions and diplomatic efforts to lower global emissions. Even more irresponsibly, this budget would defund our efforts to monitor the cimate. Read more here.

NASA’s planned Plankton, Aerosol, Cloud, ocean Ecosystem (PACE), Orbital Carbon Observatory-3 (OCO-3), Deep Space Climate Observatory (DSCOVR), and CLARREO Pathfinder missions would be cut. Each of these satellite based missions is designed to monitor aspects of the earth’s climate, enhance our ability to predict changes, and help us prevent or adapt to those changes.

At the EPA, the President’s budget also would wipe out the Clean Power Plan, our current key policy vehicle for complying with commitments we Americans made at the 2015 Paris Climate Agreement, an agreement signed by 194 nations to limit global warming to “well below 2 degrees Celsius above pre-industrial levels and to pursue efforts to limit the temperature increase to 1.5 degrees Celsius above pre-industrial levels, recognizing that this would significantly reduce the risks and impacts of climate change.” (Basically, to do what scientists say we must in order to avoid massive consequences for the children currently living among us. And the clock’s ticking – we are already up 1.1 degrees as of 2016.)

In the State Department, the President’s budget would eliminate the Global Climate Change Initiative and eliminate all payments to United Nations climate change programs.

When asked about climate funding at a press briefing last Thursday, Mick Mulvaney, head of the President’s Office of Management and Budget, had this to say: “We’re not spending money on that anymore; we consider that to be a waste of your money to go out and do that.” (See video). Take a look at the summary statements of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change reports, which I included at the appropriate time points on the blue graph above. They look increasingly desperate with time, right? In light of those conclusions by a large, international panel of scientists, please consider whether you think climate science is a waste of money.

For me, doing nothing on climate change, in light of the data at the top of this post, would be terrible, as it’s a policy that would put our own children at substantial risk and also cede any moral authority we have in the world. To do that, while at the same time ceasing to even monitor climate change, would be unconscionable. None of us, individually, would make such a decision. This is like texting while driving, trying to get a base hit with your eyes closed, or refusing to check your blood pressure when you know it’s high. We need to, at the very least, watch.

Who benefits from such a myopic policy? Who benefits from not even knowing what’s going on with the atmosphere we are clearly changing? Certainly not the people of Shishmaref (though they have become thought leaders on our problem). Certainly not the people of coastal cities like New Orleans or New York City (for whom Shishmaref is a canary). Presumably, we would prefer to have some warning before the coastal seawater is lapping at our feet.

The only people who would benefit from a policy of not even monitoring the environment are the executives of coal, oil, and gas companies who lack the imagination and courage to transition their enterprises to already-available, more sustainable technologies. Maybe they are building up their trust funds so their kids can move inland to gated communities protected from the deteriorating environment around them. Most of the rest of us have or know children who will need to live in the world as it is on average. On average, as we have seen, it’s getting hotter ever faster.

Fortunately, the President’s budget proposal is (so far) only a proposal. Congress ultimately determines the budget. It needs to be influenced now.

Please join me in encouraging Congress to fund the basic science needed to monitor the changing environment, as well as the planned EPA and State Department activities with which we must meet the Paris Climate Agreement commitments we made along with 194 other nations. There are tools to identify your House Representative and Senators on my Take Action page. Here are some example letters I have written on the budget proposal – feel free to copy if it helps you get some letters out.


Subscribe to Blog via Email

Enter your email address to subscribe to this blog and receive notifications of new posts by email.