Sunday, June 03, 2007

NASA Head Shocks World by Stating Obvious

NASA administrator Michael Griffin was recently quoted in an interview on NPR, questioning the urgency of global warming.

Griffin said that NASA's mission authorization did not include taking "actions to affect climate change in either one way or another. We study global climate change, that is in our authorization, we think we do it rather well. I'm proud of that, but NASA is not an agency chartered to, quote, battle climate change."

Griffin went on to say that he accepted as true that the Earth's temperature had risen about 1 degree centigrade "within an accuracy of 20 per cent" in the past century, and that he accepts the conclusion as "pretty well nailed down...that much of that is manmade."

But then he had to explain his lack of urgency to have NASA "wrestle with" this problem as follows:

"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."

Now isn't that refreshing? Of course, there is no shortage of persons perfectly willing to not only be accorded the privilege, but to claim the privilege of deciding what is the best climate "for all other human beings."

Al Gore, of course. But then didn't German Chancellor Angela Merkel say last week that limiting the planet's temperature rise to "two degrees Celsius" sounds about right?

Anyway, Griffin's remarks drew the expected swift reaction. ABC News immediately ran to James Hansen, NASA's top climate scientist at the Goddard Institute for Space Studies in New York, for a much-needed rebuttal. (The climate clock is ticking, after all).

"'It's an incredibly arrogant and ignorant statement," Hansen told ABC News. "It indicates a complete ignorance of understanding the implications of climate change.'"

"Hansen believes Griffin's comments fly in the face of well-established scientific knowledge that hundreds of NASA scientists have contributed to.

"'It's unbelievable,'" said Hansen. "'I thought he had been misquoted. It's so unbelievable.'"

Now we aren't all scientists, so I took the time break down Hansen’s withering scientific rebuttal in an easy to follow form. Contra Griffin's remarks that human beings can't really effect climate change that much, and that we don't know what the best temperature is, anyway, Hansen argues thusly:

1. It's an incredibly arrogant and ignorant statement.
2. It indicates a complete ignorance of understanding the implications of climate change.
3. It's unbelievable.
4. I thought he had been misquoted.
5. It's so unbelievable.

If any of you can find anything in this blither that actually qualifies as a substantive factual statement about climate change, or anything else, I’d love to see it highlighted.

Hansen’s remarks give every indication that, regardless of what he may actually think the climate evidence indicates, he is also a frightened toady damned sure that if he ever crosses the PC line someone, somewhere, is going to put him out of NASA.

Translated back into its original toad-speak, NASA's top climate guy's comments on the grave and urgent debate about climate change goes like this: “Ribbit, rabbit, rabbit.”

Am I too hard on Hansen? Let's see what else ABC News reported:

"Several other NASA climate scientists contacted by ABC News echoed Hansen's comments, saying an overwhelming majority of their colleagues believe global warming is an urgent issue that society should be addressing. The scientists asked that their names not be used because they did not want to jeopardize their careers."

Jeopardize their careers! It doesn’t take a rocket scientist to figure out that only one side in this argument is hysterical enough, and politically ruthless enough, to punish those who depart from the defined dogma about global warming. Better to rely on the conclusions of an "overhwelming majority of scientists" to establish physical facts. (Oh, by the way. We all need new oral thermometers. Scientists took a vote and agreed that the new normal is 94.3.)

The thing is, Griffin didn't deny either global warming (1 degree per century), nor that it may even be man-made. He merely doesn't buy into any requirement to move from that fact to the emotional conclusion that unless the trend is reversed, the Planet and all of humanity are doomed. He will be maligned, and perhaps have his career destroyed, (we'll see), just because he was insufficiently hysterical.

Put another way, Griffin is the only one in this story with the analytical capability to explain what exactly the empirical evidence does--and doesn't--say, and then have the guts to say it. Hansen and the rest of these white-coated government employees quoted haven't contributed a thing to the discussion.

So whom are we better off believing here?

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