Casts + Blasts
The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, responsible for managing the National Weather Service and using its network of satellites to forecast hurricanes and the effects of climate change, recently signaled a change in its mission.
The federal science agency seems now charged with prioritizing “a safe, secure and growing economy empowered through accurate, reliable and timely environmental information.”
The New York Times recently reported the details of the policy shift after a slideshow presented by the agency’s acting director at a Department of Commerce meeting, which included descriptions of NOAA’S past and present missions. The past mission included “to understand and predict changes in climate, weather, oceans and coasts.” For the present mission, the first line was changed to “to observe, understand and predict atmospheric and ocean conditions.” The word “climate” was gone. The presentation also included a new emphasis: “To protect lives and property, empower the economy, and support homeland and national security.”
NOAA had remained relatively immune from the influence of climate change skeptics. In May, NOAA researchers recorded the highest-ever levels of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere, a historic result that an agency scientist called “a whole lot of bad news” during an interview. More recently, the agency promoted a similar finding on its home page with the headline: “Globe had its 4th warmest May on record.”
While climate skeptics have reached positions of
key importance in the Environmental Protection Agency and Department of the Interior, acting NOAA head and retired Navy admiral Timothy Gallaudet explicitly discussed the “warming of waters” and “sea-level rise” while addressing 600 scientists and industry veterans in June. “Understanding these is more important to the administration, because of what NOAA is doing in terms of advancing the blue economy,” he said.
Gallaudet diminished any strong reactions to the slideshow by saying it was not intended to create change in NOAA mission or policy, but previous government interventions into NOAA affairs suggest it would be unlikely for the White House not to intervene with an agency that continues to publicly discuss the potentially devastating effects of climate change.
Not all agency scientists appear willing to go along with the new protocol. Andrew A. Rosenberg, previously the northeast regional administrator of NOAA’S National Marine Fisheries Service, described the planned shift in a statement to the Times as a “shocking change in the mission of one of the nation’s premier scientific agencies.” He then added that the decision was “misguided and harmful to our country.”