Saturday, July 22, 2006

NASA no longer protecting "the home planet"?

There was an interesting article in the NY Times by Andrew Revkin entitled "NASA¬ís Goals Delete Mention of Home Planet" which tells us how NASA has "altered" its mission statement so that it no longers includes the wording "to understand and protect our home planet", suggesting a deemphasis of research in fields such as climate change, effects of greenhous gases, global warming, etc. It is notable that one of the more prominent critics of the Bush administration's handling of environmental policy, specifically with regards to the impact of so-called greenhous gas emmisions, Dr. James Hansen, is director of the Goddard Institute for Space Studies, a part of NASA, and has focused a lot of his attention on understanding and protecting "the home planet."

Personally, I think NASA should be split into at least three major pieces: aeronautical research (e.g., how to make air travel more efficient and safe, including funding for research for new composite materials), space research and operations, and space applications. The latter would include space-based research into climate and the atmosphere. If anything, the latter belongs with NOAA or EPA more than with the people responsible for launching the space shuttle and building space stations and missions to the Moon and Mars. Personally, I'd lobby for a beefed-up NOAA to handle climate change, global warming, and greenhouse gas emmisions. NOAA already does a lot of this, so having a piece of the work tucked away in a corner of NASA seems less than efficient.

My guess is that if you ask the average person on the street, or average high school student, what they think NASA does, they're most likely to say that NASA launches the space shuttle, but far less likely to say that NASA does climate research.

If the Democrats (or even Al Gore) wanted to show a little environmental leadership, they should lobby for a permanent federal governmental entity tasked solely with responsibility for stewardship of the atmosphere and climate. EPA (and state and local agencies) would still have responsibility for the fine detail of environmental regulations and enforcement, but my "atmosphere and climate agency" would look at the big picture and highlight where research is needed, high-level goals, and where incentives and restrictions are needed. Their ultimate task would be to regularly report (e.g., at least bi-annually, with quarterly updates) to Congress and the administration the current best good-faith view of "the state of the atmosphere and the climate" and offer robust recommendations for directions that Congress and the federal and state and local governmental agencies should follow. They awould have the force of law, but they would be the voice of reason. They should be non-partisan and separate and above the fray of "normal" political bickering. This wouldn't be a short-term "commission", but a long-term, committed, focused agency, expected to achieve a level of credibility comparable to that of the Federal Reserve in the financial world..

Maybe, former U.S. Senator John Edwards will be smart enough to pick up the gauntlet I have thrown down. Do you think he has "the right stuff" to follow up on my ideas? I sincerely doubt it, but he should certainly feel free to prove me wrong.

-- Jack Krupansky

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