NASA Administrator Questions Need to Fight Global Warming

NASA Administrator Questions Need to Fight Global Warming. By Marc Kaufman. Washington Post Staff Writer.

NASA Administrator Michael Griffin says that although global warming is changing Earth’s climate, he’s not convinced that is “a problem we must wrestle with.”

The NASA chief — whose agency has come under fire in Congress for cutting several programs designed to monitor climate change — also says it’s “rather arrogant” for people to take the position that today’s climate is the optimal one.

This is a unique new argument for not doing anything about global warming, and it is a silly one. Those who want to stop global warming are not acting out of hubris, but recognize that humanity and the rest of life on Earth is adapted for cooler temperatures than we have now and certainly lower ones than what we will see.

The fact that this Bush Administrator would make such a specious argument shows the politicization of yet another agency.






  1. Monte Avatar

    So, if someone disagrees about human caused global warming or its effects then it must be a political opinion. You can’t seriously make such a broad statement that all life on earth is adapted to cooler temperatures than we currently have. Surely you realize that isn’t true. As the earth warms and cools life adapts and humanity will cope. Some species will be favored over others as conditions change. It has always been that way and always will. Opinions certainly vary as to the cause of global warming. To dismiss out of hand differing opinions smacks of elitist totalitarianism, but so does the current global warming movement.

  2. matt bullard Avatar
    matt bullard

    Opinions vary, but the science does not. This isn’t about opinion anymore, that’s what people don’t seem to want to accept or understand. The fact that it cannot be proven with 100% certainty is a hook that contrarians use to discredit, but that is the nature of statistical science – it is not possible to get 100% certainty, and that is ok. What is troubling about this NASA poltico is that he seems to refute the science – something I can understand from a group like the Idaho Values Alliance but not from one of the most technologically advanced agencies we’ve got. Yep, the earth warms and cool and species adapt, come, and go. But if there is a high degree of certainty that this warming is human caused and is outside of the scope of past warming events, don’t we have an obligation not only to ourselves but all the other species on this earth to see that we address it? If you do not accept that humans can and have altered the earth on this scale, it easy easy and convenient to deny our responsibility to curtail the actions and behaviors that are the cause of it. The “arrogance” argument used by this NASA guy is just the latest twist on denying responsibility…

  3. Matt Avatar

    Actually, Monte, your comments are not in agreement with science. Life on earth is adapted to the average temperatures that have held fairly constant over many thousands of years. Plant life in the temperate parts of the world exhibits C3 photosynthesis and cannot handle warmer temperatures that lead to excessive photorespiration. C3 species comprise about 95% of the world’s plant species, and the enzymes used in their metabolic pathways do not function at higher temperatures.

    Warmer temperatures, caused by global warming, will favor C4 plants (crabgrass, maize, etc.) over C3, and species like oak, pine, and native grasses will eventually be outcompeted by C4 species. This is a problem for both humanity and the environment. Agriculture is dependent on current climate to feed our species. If all wheat production is pushed to Canada and Northern Russia, where does that leave our food supply? The Southern Corn Belt may lose it’s ability to produce corn due to increased rates of evapotranspiration. Keep in mind that the 5 largest corn producing states of America’s Midwest produce more corn than all countries in the southern hemisphere combined. Our ability to have a secure food supply is FAR more important on an economic scale than big oil or any other industries supporting our wayward presidential administration. Whether global warming is caused by cattle methane or CO2 released when fossil fuels are burned, the end result is the same: an unsustainable food (and likely water) supply.

    For the environment, there is a similar chain reaction. As the earth warms, soil biological activity in northern climates will increase, leading to the release of vast amounts of carbon that would otherwise be trapped in soil as organic matter. This carbon, through the metabolic process we know as respiration, will be released as CO2, thereby accelerating global warming. Grazers – deer, elk, bison, etc. – will be forced to adapt to shift their ranges north, adapt to introduced plant species, or become extinct. This will cause a major change in the food web, and all ecosystem species will be affected.

    Yes – life will continue. It will be very different. Old species will perish and new species will come in. The US will no longer be able to feed itself, and as a result will lose an integral part of its economy. Trophy deer and elk hunting will require a passport since a Canadian border crossing will be necessary to find these large game. Coastal cities like New York, D.C, Miami, and Boston will be flooded by rising seas. Is this a change you are comfortable with?

    There have been no published scientific studies disputing global warming. Only uninformed or misinformed individuals dispute this phenomenon, and they do not have any data to back them up. Global warming is here – today. The evidence abounds. Already are large portions of the ice caps beginning to show instability. Arctic sea ice has decreased by 9% per decade since the late 1970’s. Already the world’s coral reefs are bleaching due to 85-plus degree water. Northern hemisphere plants are breaking winter dormancy a week earlier and losing leaves a week later than in the 1950’s. Northern hemisphere spring thaw occur 9 days earlier and fall freeze occurs 10 days later than during Civil War times.

    Sir, if you dispute global warming, what evidence do you have? I hope you are right, but the evidence I’ve seen points the other way.

  4. SAP Avatar

    Well, as someone who has commented here before about the interplay of values and science, I guess that Mr. Griffin and Monte are certainly entitled to their assessment of whether our “new” climate (whatever it ends up being) is good or bad.

    Science doesn’t tell us whether changed weather patterns are good or bad, it just tells us what they may be like, and how they maybe came to be.

    Science may also tell us what the consequences of those new weather patterns may be.

    Let’s emphasize that “may” part there: from my rudimentary understanding of climatology, a salient aspect of climate change is uncertainty and instability.

    In other words, we don’t know what’s going to happen, but it appears that we’re not going to have as-predictable weather anymore. Crazy non-seasonal storms, stronger hurricanes, deep and lasting droughts, flooding, and so on.

    Maybe that’s why some of the first corporations to acknowledge climate change and express worry about it were insurance companies. Their profitability depends on reality continuing to correspond to long-standing actuarial tables concerning potential losses — due to flood damage, crop losses, shipping delays, and so on.

    Chaos and unpredictability.
    Not just everything being a little warmer.
    That’s what we need to keep in mind.

    It’s still up to you to decide whether you think it’s good or bad. Maybe the only rational course of action at this point is to prepare for the consequences rather than try to slow or reverse climate change — there is a whole school of serious thought along those lines.

    I have decided that the droughts and low snowpack here in the Rockies are bad; the pilgrims flocking here because we don’t get hard winters anymore is bad; pine beetles eating up our forests is bad; my lower heating bill is good.

    And Monte, no need to be so negative about “political opinions.” Deciding what to do about something like climate change is ultimately about our values. One smart guy once defined politics as “the authoritative allocation of values in society.” Politics is HOW we resolve our value disputes.

  5. matt bullard Avatar
    matt bullard

    SAP – good post, especially the bit about the definition of politics and values. I could not agree more. So many of the issues that come up on this blog have a grounding in science, but the solution, from a human perspective anyway, is almost always in the political sphere.

  6. be Avatar

    the salient question for me is about recognizing the effect that we have on the world around us (science – hopefully). living as though that mattered (politics/values) ~ sometimes even a little less luxuriously than our most optimal immediate interests crave, if need-be ~ in such a way that does not rob future generations the more fulfilling luxuries which are the conditions that were leased to us.

    the NASA chief may say that folk are “arrogant” for claiming that todays climate is the optimal one – but who is to say that yesterday’s cooler temps weren’t the optimal.

    the values that we are in the process of choosing today are not simply “we choose economic prosperity now” versus “we choose ecological prosperity”. The choice now is whether we will be wise enough to afford our children (and theirs…) the same choice. whether what they may choose to value is gone before they get the chance. that is what the science is telling us – and i just don’t see a great argument as to how robbing future generations of that choice is a value which is legitimate. maybe – but that’d be one arrogant argument.

    even if we don’t know exactly what the effects of our contribution of warming gases are going to be – wouldn’t it be “arrogant” to just keep on blindly pumping them into the atmosphere? would it not be prudent to be cautious – especially considering we have the technologies to use less and we don’t NEED most of that which we do use – even if questions of such conservation were genuinely on the table – which they have NOT genuinely been (sadly – it’s hard to get FORD to run an SUV commercial complementing news coverage about CO2 emmisions).

    The chief – and other CO2 industry apologists – are critics, that’s not bad. what’s bad is the amplified reverberation of their criticism – an amplification that is not proportionally based on the merit/integrity of their science over the vast majority that says otherwise, but instead on the blind hope that we will get to continue to be wasteful – industries have invested in that –

  7. Monte Avatar

    Good scientists do disagree on human caused global warming. They lose funding and are ridiculed, but they do exist. This is an issue that will take some time, but I think the truth about our minimal effect on climate will eventually be accepted. I agree that we should all consider our effect on the environment, production of garbage, waste of water, wilderness conservation, etc. I think this should be our focus, not CO2 emissions.

  8. be Avatar


    i can not disagree that there are scientists whose conclusions differ. i disagree that their perspectives are represented as a direct proportion to the merit of their claims or the body of evidence at large. i think that the controversial normativity (or lack thereof) of their claims unduly affords coverage which contributes to a “do nothing” attitude – that is threatening.

    i certainly agree that our effect on environment, excessive waste, wilderness, etc. needs to be more fully incorporated into the conversation. i think that you are absolutely right that addressing these problems in the vacuum of their individual affect has the potential to undercut/undermine the broader awareness/considerations necessary to employ meaningful alternatives – if it is succesfully contained to CO2 alone rather than the way that we organize ourselves and our use of energy.

    the question for me is how do we have conversations that help flip the idea that consumption is valued over conservation –

    the apt conversation about the interplay of values and science (thanks SAP), compells me to consider subjective ‘truths’ about the way that we organize society and our relationship to the environment. the objective ‘truths’ (science) overwhelmingly reaffirms the subjective judgement that the organization – the way that we use resources (consumption valued over conservation) – is not wise. objectively – we are dependent on the resources that our environment affords and we are not using them sustainably. subjectively – there is a value to the natural world that is completely independent of our extractive ‘use’ of it and we are compromising/diminishing it.

    perhaps that is wrong of me – perhaps it is an indulgence to conflate and wield the scientific consesus (i will not allow a few anecdotal criticisms to diminish that word) surrounding this issue of global warming to prompt me to think about the way that i use resources and whether i can be proud of the example that i set for my children. but what you (Monte) are saying is true – if the conversation is succesfully contained/restrained to the subject of a particularity (CO2) – future generations will be betrayed.

    how can we (anyone who cares to) help folk (or at least expose them to the idea that they may be afforded a good faith decision) think about this debate in terms of the generality described above rather than the particularity which we see happening in the mainstream?

    i believe the subject of global warming has the potential to be an objective catalyst toward expanding and expounding a conversation about the subjective value systems which have failed us in our relationship to atmosphere, water, earth; hell, even our children’s minds . perhaps in the gravity of such a conversation a forum/paradigm will emerge in which we are able to consider alternatives which serve our future generations, and the intrinsic value(s) of our natural world more fully and sustainably.

    for my part – i’ll continue attempting to strum this chord that hopefully illustrates the consonance of global warming with a host of other conservation issues that involve scarcity and consumptive value norms which continue to trump the wisdom of conservation….

  9. Monte Avatar

    I understand and respect your passionate views. A warming earth will most certainly have its effects, I just don’t buy the human causation argument. Thank you nonetheless Matt and others for your commentary. If I lose the bet and the East Coast is underwater, I’d like to by you all a brew made using Canadian barley and hops.


Dr. Ralph Maughan is professor emeritus of political science at Idaho State University. He was a Western Watersheds Project Board Member off and on for many years, and was also its President for several years. For a long time he produced Ralph Maughan’s Wolf Report. He was a founder of the Greater Yellowstone Coalition. He and Jackie Johnson Maughan wrote three editions of “Hiking Idaho.” He also wrote “Beyond the Tetons” and “Backpacking Wyoming’s Teton and Washakie Wilderness.” He created and is the administrator of The Wildlife News.

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