Last week, Republicans in the House Subcommittee on Science, Space and Technology voted to make major cuts in NASA’s Earth Science budget, which is largely focused on tracking climate change.
The cuts would strip between $300 million and $500 million from Earth Sciences, up to 26 percent less than President Obama’s 2016 budget request. At the moment, the precise amount of money cut is indeterminate due to 2011 budget caps that may or may not be removed.
Salon has called the cuts “a clear attack on climate science, to which NASA contributes significantly and House Republicans continue to deny.”
Republican Senator Ted Cruz, who chairs the Science Subcommittee, has been particularly vocal about his anti-climate change beliefs. In March, he brought NASA administrator Charles Bolden before Congress to ask him why the agency is investing so much money in studying the Earth instead of the stars.
Bolden responded that NASA’s expanded Earth Sciences budget has “enabled us to understand our planet far better than we ever did before.” His sentiments were later echoed by renowned astrophysicist and cosmologist Neil DeGrasse Tyson, who has never been shy about airing his frustrations over political interference in scientific matters.
“If you’re going to ignore Earth,” Tyson told the press, “and no one else is paying attention to Earth the way NASA is – you could be planting the seeds of your own destruction.”
The cuts have been opposed by a vocal coalition of Democrats, scientists and experts. In a Washington Post article, meteorologist Marshal Shepherd, a former scientist at NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center, wrote that “contemplating the reckless cuts to NASA’s earth sciences budget being proposed” left him literally sleepless. Shepherd argued that the destruction of Hurricane Sandy would have been even more devastating without the satellite data forecast supplied by NASA.
Science writer Phil Plait reported that the GOP members of the Science subcommittee proved that they are not operating in good faith when they failed to give a writeup of the funding bill until Democrats until very late in the week.
“Republicans in the House and Senate don’t want NASA studying Earth,” he wrote in Slate, “because they think (or say) that global warming isn’t real, or isn’t a problem, or whatever talking point they’ve been told to use this week.”
In an op-ed for The Hill, Congressman Eddie Johnson (D-TX) wrote that, “It’s hard to believe that in order to serve an ideological agenda, the majority is willing to slash the science that helps us have a better understanding of our home planet.”
NASA’s earth science program, wrote Johnson, helps keep American troops safe, improves electric and gas utility load forecasts, assists in documenting water availability for agricultural use and improves predictions of floods, droughts and hurricanes. With the Republicans’ proposed cuts, he claimed, NASA “has been made captive to ideological fervor at the expense of thoughtful compromise.”
In a letter to the House Sciences subcommittee, the American Geophysical Union, which “promote[s] discovery in Earth and space science for the benefit of humanity,” wrote that its members are “extremely concerned” by the proposed cuts.
U.S. Representative Donna Edwards (D-MD), who represents a district near NASA’s Goddard Center, has vowed to fight the bill, arguing that the agency should not “get caught up in silly politics that nobody understands.”