The US is penny wise and pound foolish on the climate

 

Powered by Guardian.co.ukThis article titled “The US is penny wise and pound foolish on the climate” was written by John Abraham, for theguardian.com on Wednesday 13th December 2017 16.30 Asia/Kolkata

The United States is great in many respects. But we certainly aren’t perfect; we’ve made some pretty silly choices. One of the dumb choices politicians in the United States want to make is to defund climate science so we wont be able to prepare for increased disasters in the future. We can see how shortsighted this in when compared alongside with the costs of disasters.

Just think about the respective magnitudes. Estimates put the costs of the three big 2017 hurricanes (Harvey, Irma, and Maria) at approximately $200 billion. It is somewhat challenging to estimate the actual cost because not only is there rebuilding that must occur, but there are also lingering damages from loss of power, dislocation of people, and other long-lasting factors. Some reports estimate that the damage may end up being as high as $300 billion – a staggering amount.

It isn’t just hurricanes that cause damage. As I write this, terrible fires are devastating parts of California, damaging property and agricultural lands. This is on top of earlier fires elsewhere in the region, which followed closely on record droughts that had persisted in the preceding five years.

Earlier in the year the United States had other disasters that reached a billion dollars or more in damages (two floods, seven severe storms among others). Noaa provides an excellent summary.

Billion-dollar weather and climate disasters in the US in 2017.
Billion-dollar weather and climate disasters in the US in 2017. Illustration: National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration

These disasters are not limited to the United States, of course. Extreme weather fueled by human carbon pollution is occurring around the world.

But in the midst of this, President Trump and many Republican elected officials want to decrease our spending on climate science. In the United States, we have flagship organizations like Nasa and Noaa that are our eyes and ears on the climate. But throughout the year, Trump has worked to get Nasa to sharply reduce or even stop climate research. Nasa has two main missions. One mission is exploration – going to Mars, the moon, and sending exploration satellites that look outward. The other part of Nasa’s mission is to look inwards, at our own planet. To do this, they use many instruments, including satellites to measure what is happening on Earth.

Trump and his administration want to jettison the Earth research portion of Nasa’s mission. This obviously isn’t to save money; the amount we spend on Earth-focused missions is very small. Rather, it is to halt research into the Earth’s climate. The following chart compares the cost savings from budget cuts with the extreme weather costs just this year in the USA.

Comparison between 2017 extreme weather disasters in the US and government investment in climate science research.
Comparison between 2017 extreme weather disasters in the US and government investment in climate science research. Illustration: John Abraham

Climate scientists have won the war on the facts. We know it is warming, we know how fast it is warming. We know what is causing the warming. And, we know what to do about it. Since Trump (and sadly the Republican Party as a whole) have lost that battle, they have decided to blind us so we just won’t know what is happening.

We should be investing in science and the instruments that scientists need (satellites, airplanes, computers, other sensors). And we should invest in the people. Without funding and jobs in climate science, how will we encourage the next generation of bright minds to enter this field?

Perhaps that is the goal of the Trump Administration and the Republican officials. It is so sad that an entire political party has become branded as anti-science. It is sad, but their actions justify the branding.

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The US is penny wise and pound foolish on the climate | NORTH INDIA KALEIDOSCOPE

Rajesh Ahuja

I am a veteran journalist based in Chandigarh India.I joined the profession in June 1982 and worked as a Staff Reporter with the National Herald at Delhi till June 1986. I joined The Hindu at Delhi in 1986 as a Staff Reporter and was promoted as Special Correspondent in 1993 and transferred to Chandigarh. I left The Hindu in September 2012 and launched my own newspaper ventures including this news portal and a weekly newspaper NORTH INDIA KALEIDOSCOPE (currently temporarily suspended).