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NASA to spend less on climate change, more on space exploration?

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From Nick Allen at Telegraph:

US President-elect Donald Trump is set to slash Nasa’s budget for monitoring climate change and instead set a goal of sending humans to the edge of the solar system by the end of the century, and possibly back to the moon.

According to Bob Walker, who has advised Mr Trump on space policy, Nasa has been reduced to “a logistics agency concentrating on space station resupply and politically correct environmental monitoring”.

Its funding has gone up 50 per cent under President Barack Obama. At the same time Mr Obama proposed cutting support for deep space exploration by $840 million next year. More.

Well, if They’re out there, We’ll find them.

See also: Rob Sheldon on science and the US election: “Tell your European colleagues not to flee America, but instead emigrate here, because there probably will be a lot of job openings available.”

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4 Replies to “NASA to spend less on climate change, more on space exploration?

  1. 1
    Bob O'H says:

    What about my friends who work in studying the environment and the effects of climate change? I’m not sure I’d advise them to move to the US!

    A lot of work on studying global changes is based on using remote sensing, particularly from NASA’s satellites. This data isn’t just used for measuring temperature, I’ve used it to look at vegetation and tree cover, and there are a lot of other measurements related to how the world functions that can be monitored from space (ice cover is another topical one). It sounds like Trump be cutting those budgets, but do you really want to know less about how the world is changing?

  2. 2
    Silver Asiatic says:

    Bob – it’s like any investment. You have to measure the cost versus the benefits received. In this case, the American public are making the financial investment to support research and there has not been a strong case made for the actual benefits received. Additionally, I would blame the scientific community itself (no disrespect intended to good scientists or your friends in the field) for creating an atmosphere of suspicion and triviality with many published studies. I think evolutionary science is a classic case where absurd claims outstrip evidence and actually cause the public to resist wanting to increase science budgets.

    So, the climate change budget is bloated, and Mr. Trump will cut it. But he will probably cut other budgets also, so it’s not just targeted at climate change.

    Where I think you’re mistaken is in the idea that by cutting the budget, we will necessarily “know less about how the world is changing”. We may continue to know more with even half the budget. How much research is wasted?

    In the end, America’s science programs have always been pragmatic and perhaps even too commercial. We tend not to want just research and knowledge for its own sake, but we want to “do something”. That may be good or bad, but we do produce quite a lot of research nonetheless and the practical uses for science coming from the U.S. have been notable also, some of the best in the world.

    That’s where NASA will command more attention and money. I’ll guess, Mr. Trump as a businessman, will follow that model where investments need to pay off in something more than just abstract knowledge or speculations about the future.

    If there are other countries your friends would want to move to where there is more money and support for scientific research on this topic, then they’d want to go there – yes.

    But as I see it, there are very few places on earth where such a large community of scientists has access to public funding so it might not be easy to find a better place – even with budgets cut here.

  3. 3
    Bob O'H says:

    SA – I’d suggest that there are a lot more benefits from remote sensing than from sending probes to Mars. How else can we measure deforestation, for example? A lot of my colleagues are using NASA data (e.g. MODIS products) to model the effects of changes in climate and land use on species communities. They are also used to monitor things like air quality and fire. These are pragmatic uses that I would hope you would want continuing.

    Yes, we may know more with half the budget, but I’d suggest it is much more likely we’ll know less. Remote sensing has revolutionised environmental science over the last few years – we now know so much more about how the earth works at the global scale. The role of NASA is often hidden, because their data is used by other groups. So if you’re arguing for practical science, I think you would have to argue for continuing the support of the work Trump seems to want to cut. For example (from the Telegraph article linked to):

    The money for earth sciences goes to projects like the Cyclone Global Navigation Satellite System, a constellation of eight satellites intended to monitor surface wind speed on the oceans.

  4. 4
    Silver Asiatic says:

    Bob O’H

    You may be right that the budget would be better spent on remote sensing, so I wouldn’t argue against that. The point I was making though is that the national budget for the sciences is probably going to be cut significantly and it’s the science community itself that needs to make its case to Trump. If Trump stays true to his campaign ideas, I don’t think any government program in the sciences or arts is going to walk away unscathed.
    With that, the search for extraterrestrial life is probably believed to be more significant than sensing climate change on earth. Somehow the NASA space program won that battle, so far.
    The related point I was raising is that the science community has not done a good job in marketing the practical benefits government investments have seen over the years – and as a result, the American public is not going to care at all about the news of this cut to climate change research.
    That’s a problem for academia to solve, as I see it.
    I also see it as unfortunate because I don’t favor cutting any budgets for good projects, but with the U.S. debt at $19 trillion I think Trump is actually going to try to deal with that.

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