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.

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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.”

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