The GOP could cut NASA funding for climate change in favor of space exploration


The GOP is bringing its fight against climate science to a new battleground: NASA. According to a report from E&E News, congressional Republicans have called for a "rebalancing" of the program's budget, which could allocate much of the roughly $2 billion that currently goes toward NASA's Earth Sciences Division to space missions.

"By rebalancing, I'd like for more funds to go into space exploration; we're not going to zero out earth sciences," Lamar Smith, chairman of the House Science, Space and Technology Committee, said in hearing Thursday. Noting that some earth sciences initiatives, like weather satellites, "have been an immense help," Smith added: 

... I'd like for us to remember what our priorities are, and there are another dozen agencies that study earth science and climate change, and they can continue to do that. Meanwhile, we only have one agency that engages in space exploration, and they need every dollar they can muster for space exploration.

Under President Donald Trump, however, the fate of agencies focused on climate change research feels precarious at best. Himself a climate change doubter, Trump has spent his first month in office fast-tracking policies that worry environmental activists. For example, in the earliest days of his administration, the president signed executive orders green-lighting construction on the Keystone XL and Dakota Access pipelines, which could endanger local habitats and promote oil consumption. 

Trump has also threatened to withdraw the United States from the Paris climate agreement, which unites more than 190 countries in the effort to cap greenhouse gas emissions at a more sustainable level. To be fair, the president has waffled on whether he will actually drop out of the pact, but with his selection of Oklahoma Attorney General Scott Pruitt to lead the Environmental Protection Agency, Trump sent an ominous signal to climate scientists. 

Pruitt has characterized himself as "a leading advocate against the EPA's activist agenda" and has sued the agency itself more than a dozen times. Before his confirmation Friday, Pruitt was adamant in his conviction that the question of climate change — in other words, whether or not it exists — is "far from settled."

In Trump's America, scientists who've argued the reality of climate change is established have been hushed up. Days after Trump's inauguration, several government departments issued gag orders on scientists and researchers whose work would show the public that climate change is indeed happening. Badlands National Park began tweeting climate facts in defiance of the ban and promptly found itself silenced. The EPA, in particular, was told to delete all mention of climate change from its website. 

Climate scientists worldwide are, understandably, concerned

According to E&E News, legislators could soon pass a bill to rework NASA's $20 billion budget for 2018. But the Earth Sciences Division isn't entirely focused on climate change — it also collects crucial information on weather and atmosphere from all over the globe.

"NASA's earth science program is critically important, and I would remind people that the technologies that come out of the investments in the earth science program spawn new industries," Ellen Stofan, NASA's former chief scientist, told E&E News. "The earth science program is an investment in this country, and it returns benefits to all of us every day."