A panel of climate-change experts recommended
that the U.S. government create a national service focused on forecasting the
effects of global warming. The United States also must invest in better
research tools in order to more accurately predict climate trends, panel
members said Sept. 21 at a Capitol Hill seminar that was sponsored by the American
Institute of Aeronautics and Astronautics.
In May, Rep. Bart Gordon, D-Texas, introduced
a bill that would create such an organization.
Part of what is undermining today’s
climate-change policy debate is a lack of emphasis on science and research that
clearly documents the effects of carbon emissions on the planet, panelists
Case in point are the nation’s aging weather
satellites. Christopher Scolese, NASA’s associate administrator, said the
agency’s earth-observation satellites suffer from a variety of maintenance
problems. The U.S. government has allowed the satellites to linger in orbit
longer than originally intended and has not developed adequate replacement
plans, he said.
The upshot is a decline in the quality of climate-change
data, such as global carbon levels and their affect on the atmosphere.
“More than two-thirds of the satellites are
five years old or older, and most of them are designed for five years of
service or less,” Scolese said. “All of them have some degree of capability
loss that we’re dealing with.”
Jon Malay, director of civil space and
environment programs at Lockheed Martin, discussed the challenges scientists
face when compiling long-term climate change data. He said technological
advancements have led to more precise measurement tools, but that the
information is not consistent across the scientific community.
“Policy needs to be based on sound science,”
Molly K. Macauley, a senior fellow at
Resources for the Future, said scientists have yet to reach a consensus on how
certain environmental variables affect the climate. “Getting the science right
does not necessarily mean the policy will work, but getting the science wrong
opens the door to failure,” Macauley said.
Still, she said, the government should act
now to curb the effects of global warming. “But, I would like to see science
figure in more prominently.”