The Importance of Briefing NASA Deputy Administrator Nominee on the Latest Climate Science

August 24, 2018 | 4:09 pm
Photo: NASA
Rachel Licker
Principal Climate Scientist

At his Senate nomination hearing yesterday, when asked whether he agrees with the scientific consensus that climate is changing and humans are the dominant cause, NASA Deputy Administrator nominee James Morhard stated that he believes “the climate is changing and man has a significant impact on it.” When pressed further about whether he accepts the scientific consensus that humans are the dominant cause, he replied that he cannot speak authoritatively to make that statement. Given James Morhard’s discomfort with speaking to this topic, it is critical that moving forward, he be briefed expeditiously by experts from NASA’s Earth Science Division to fill this knowledge gap.

We face an unprecedented prospect of having both a NASA Administrator and their Deputy who have neither a formal STEM education nor space professional credentials. As a result, it is evermore important that NASA’s leadership be closely advised by NASA’s world-class experts to ensure that the leaders have the knowledge necessary to advocate for the research that NASA conducts to make our life on Earth safer and more prosperous. This will also ensure that the agency maintains its scientific leadership that Americans and many around the world depend on.

NASA’s Earth Science Division carries out timely, critical research on how our Earth functions and how it responds to both human-caused and natural drivers. For example, NASA’s Earth Science Division carries out research on how hurricanes develop, which when coupled with research and operations at NOAA, improves our forecasts. NASA Earth scientists conduct research to improve understanding of where there is wildfire risk, and NASA satellites help track wildfires in near real-time. NASA Earth scientists also study how and why the composition of our atmosphere is changing, and how those changes will affect both the quality of the air that we breath each day, as well as the climate that our children will grow up in. These are just a few topics that NASA scientists study and NASA satellites observe. It is imperative that NASA Deputy Administrator be up-to-speed on the science coming from the Earth Science Division’s full suite of portfolios. 

The progression of NASA Administrator Jim Bridenstine’s understanding of the scientific consensus around climate change has been positive. Hopefully, James Morhard, if confirmed, will follow suit.