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Ara Shirinian: NASA needs to focus on climate change research

By Ara Shirinian

May 13, 2015 12:25 a.m.

Congressional Republicans either don’t know anything about science, or just pretend not to know. I think it’s the former, but either way, we’re all going to be left high and dry if some sanity isn’t brought back to Washington.

Last month, Republicans in the House Committee on Science, Space and Technology approved a budget for NASA’s upcoming fiscal year. The bill keeps the overall funding in line with President Obama’s requests, but shifts the funding from earth sciences to planetary sciences.

Earth science is necessary to understand the most dangerous natural disasters including hurricanes and earthquakes, and involves a significant amount of research in climate science. The importance of these inquiries cannot be understated as recent studies have revealed a strong connection between the current drought in California and climate change.

Congressional Republicans clearly don’t agree, as the vast majority of them have expressed skepticism about climate change, despite there being an overwhelming scientific consensus about it.

The proposal threatens to create significant setbacks for one of NASA’s most pressing areas of research, and should be significantly reworked to more closely match Obama’s original proposal before it is sent for approval.

Under the current proposal, NASA’s earth science program would see cuts anywhere from $323 million to $574 million from last year’s budget of $1.773 billion. The money would mostly be shifted toward other sectors like planetary sciences.

In a press release for the proposal, Lamar Smith, the chairman of the committee, said that the changes to the budget were necessary to “restore balance” to NASA and focus on keeping the U.S. ahead in space exploration.

From a political standpoint, the proposed bill is brilliant.

By maintaining the overall budget and increasing planetary science spending, congressional Republicans appear to be supporting science while paving the way for inspirational rhetoric about leading in space exploration. This is a dialogue that harkens back to the days of the Apollo missions and a victory over the USSR in a race to the moon, a time that an aging Republican constituency is sure to remember fondly.

Unfortunately, all the nostalgia in the world isn’t going to change the fact that NASA is one of the most important organizations in conducting climate research, and has over 20 Earth-facing satellites in operation tasked with studying our planet.

Much of the information we have about climate change now is because of NASA’s efforts, and that includes information about our rising global temperatures.

Despite all the scientific information openly available to the public, political meandering has seemed to work. According to a survey conducted by Yale, only 44 percent of Republicans believe that global warming is happening, which isn’t surprising given the views held by their representatives.

Senator Ted Cruz, the new chair of the science, space and competitiveness panel within the U.S. Senate Committee on Commerce, Science, and Transportation, has gone as far as declaring that earth sciences are not a “hard science.” Smith has been similarly skeptical in his discussion about climate change.

Many have criticized the bill for its deficiencies, including NASA Administrator Charles Bolden, who said in a statement that the proposed cuts in earth science “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.”

For decades, NASA has stood for the progress of humanity through the sciences, and we need it now more than ever. NASA has the tools we need to figure out how best to address concerns about climate change, and if it is left without financial support it could be disastrous for future generations.

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Ara Shirinian | Alumnus
Ara Shirinian was an assistant opinion editor from 2015-16 and an opinion columnist from 2014-15. He writes about technology, transfer students and Westwood.
Ara Shirinian was an assistant opinion editor from 2015-16 and an opinion columnist from 2014-15. He writes about technology, transfer students and Westwood.
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