Tuesday, June 05, 2007

Bush Admin. Degrading Climate Research

I am going to appoint myself energy and climate czar for the day.

I have known for a while that the Bush Administration has been constantly cutting back on the government’s efforts to collect data on climate change.

I also know that companies that market in fossil fuels have been engaged in a disinformation campaign. Effectively, they are in the business of selling snake-oil – tonics that are deadly – to people who do not know any better, and paying for public relations campaigns that cover up the truth. One of the most notorious groups in this syndicate is Exxon Mobile.

This disinformation campaign aims to give people the false impression that we do not know as much as we know about the effects of carbon dioxide on the future of the planet. They do this by filling the airwaves – television, mostly, because people spend a huge amount of their time watching television, and television broadcasts (unlike scientific journals) are not peer-reviewed – with false claims about the uncertainty of climate change science.

At best, these people are so unconcerned about who they might kill or whose lives they might destroy to put money in their pockets that they are willing to allow our children, nieces, and nephews to suffer the consequences of inaction, so that they can afford another yacht.

Of course, it feeds right into this strategy to make sure that scientists do not have data. So, it fits perfectly into this strategy for the Bush Administration to divert money from climate change research into other, less useful projects, or to simply cut the money out of the budget entirely. This will allow the energy companies to continue their campaign of uncertainty, and for our children, nieces, and nephews to suffer even more harm so that these people can afford another yacht.

Finally, I know that this disinformation campaign has been effective. For an investment of tens of millions of dollars in lies and manipulation, the oil companies are receiving tens of billions of dollars in additional profits.

Today, one of my assistants, John Heilprin from the Associated Press, has informed me, “U.S. Cuts Back Climate Checks from Space.”

Because of technology glitches and a near-doubling in the original $6.5 billion cost, the Defense Department has decided to downsize and launch four satellites paired into two orbits, instead of six satellites and three orbits.

The satellites were intended to gather weather and climate data, replacing existing satellites as they come to the end of their useful lifetimes beginning in the next couple of years.

The reduced system of four satellites will now focus on weather forecasting. Most of the climate instruments needed to collect more precise data over long periods are being eliminated.

The American Association for the Advancement of Science and the National Academy of Sciences have both cautioned that downsizing the satellite program will result in major gaps in the continuity and quality of the data gathered about the Earth from space . . .

[S]even other separate climate sensors are still being eliminated or substantially downgraded by lower-quality equipment to save money, according to the report to the White House. Most of the satellites, which were scheduled to launch starting next year, have been delayed to between 2013 and 2026.

As Energy and Climate Czar, I am going to demand the following:

First, I want to know the reasons for these cost overruns. What, exactly, are these ‘technology glitches’? Could they have been avoided or anticipated? If so, then I want to know who failed to avoid or anticipate them and I want them on the unemployment line.

Second, I ask you this question: If we know that an organization out there fully intends to do trillions of dollars worth of damage to buildings and infrastructure to the American people and their property in the lifetime of our children, nieces, and nephews, would we consider it worth $6.5 billion to collect intelligence that will protect us from that threat?

I also want to note that we can collect this information without violating any privacy rights. We will not be listening on any telephone calls or opening anybody’s mail. In short, there is nothing in the way we collect this information that involves “protecting people from external threats” that makes them vulnerable to internal threats.

So, it makes sense to come up with the money to collect this intelligence that will help to protect our children and our allies from harm, right?

Third, people who engage in a disinformation campaign that puts others at risk of death and suffering should not be rewarded for their efforts. Those who filled the airwaves with these lies and disinformation should be the ones to pay to find the facts. So, as energy czar, I suggest that we pay for this research with a tax on coal and oil purchased by refineries. Let the energy companies decide if they want to pay for these costs out of their profits, or pass the costs on to the consumer.

I would like to see them try to pass the costs onto the consumer, and then whine that “It is the government’s fault for doing this – they imposed the tax,” while the energy companies continue to enjoy record profits. “Do not tell me that you could not afford to cover the tax out of your own profits, given the prices you already charge?”

Fourth, I want to get NASA and NOAA out of the business of directly funding research projects. Instead, I want to get them into the business of paying for data provided by private contractors. Instead of proposing a $6.5 billion research project, I want NASA to announce that it will pay $6.5 billion for whomever provides it with the data that the project would provide. Let private enterprise, with its entrepreneurial skills, discover how to collect the information. If somebody’s plan to collect the data runs into cost overruns, then those overruns come out of the investor’s pocket, not the taxpayer. Taxpayers, on this model, pay only for success.

I trust that, using this method, people will do a far better job of anticipating and avoiding cost overruns. I will suffer far few interruptions in my day as Energy and Climate Czar from people like Heilprin telling me that some project is over-budget. This, by the way, will explain why private interests will use their political power – their money – to resist such a system. A system that allows a company to run up billions of dollars of cost overruns at taxpayer expense is far more inviting than a system that will have those same companies paying for their misjudgment out of their own pockets.

The delays were caused in part because of problems with an infrared sensor that officials either didn't monitor closely enough or didn't bring to the attention of their managers, the Commerce Department's inspector general reported last year. That report also said a contractor on the project was receiving excessive fees.

I know that a lot of military intelligence cannot be financed this way. Where it would be foolish for the government to announce the types of information it is trying to collect and how it is collecting that information, I would strongly advise against being foolish. However, these objections do not apply to the scientific research on climate change.

Of course, I am not the energy and climate czar – not that I would actually want the job. However:

Rep. Bart Gordon, D-Tenn., who chairs the House Committee on Science and Technology, called for a hearing later this week on the satellite program. Gordon believes Lautenbacher should resign, the panel's spokeswoman said.

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