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Trump promised to hire the best people. He keeps hiring the worst. Nasa is next

Posted on 13 September 2017 by dana1981

According to 2016 election exit polls, only 38% of voters considered Donald Trump qualified to be president. 17% of those who thought him unqualified voted for Trump anyway, perhaps because he promised that as a wealthy businessman, he would be able to hire the best people to advise him. That was a claim his daughter Ivanka explicitly made in her speech at the Republican National Convention:

Unfortunately, Trump has not lived up to this promise. In many cases he’s hired some of the worst people imaginable. 

Who worse to lead the EPA than a man whose primary qualification is having sued the agency 14 times on behalf of polluting industries? Who worse to lead the Midwestern states EPA than a woman who the EPA cited for failure to control air pollution in Wisconsin and who deleted all mention of human-caused climate change from her department website? Who worse to lead the Department of Energy than a man who wanted to eliminate the department (until he forgot - oops)? Who worse to be the Department of Agriculture’s chief scientist than a right-wing birther radio host with no scientific background? And these are only the administration officials in positions related to energy and the environment.

There are of course exceptions where Trump nominated people who are at least qualified for the job, but in many cases it’s hard to imagine worse choices.

And now we can add Trump’s selection to lead Nasa to the list - Rep. Jim Bridenstine of Oklahoma.

Bridenstine is a climate denier

Scientists and astronauts are usually chosen to lead Nasa, for obvious reasons. Bridenstine is neither – he’s a member of Congress (and would be the first politician ever to lead Nasa), formerly executive director of the Tulsa Air and Space Museum and Planetarium and a Navy Reserve pilot. He reeled off this string of climate denial myths on the House floor in 2013:

global temperatures stopped rising 10 years ago. Global temperature changes, when they exist, correlate with Sun output and ocean cycles. During the Medieval Warm Period from 800 to 1300 A.D.—long before cars, power plants, or the Industrial Revolution—temperatures were warmer than today.

The first myth looks particularly bad in retrospect, with 20142015, and 2016each breaking the record for hottest global temperatures. But even at the time it was a baseless claim. While the rise in global surface temperatures did temporarily slow up to around 2013, global warming never stopped. More heat was stored in the oceans and other factors also acted to temporarily slow the rise in surface temperatures, but as long as we keep pumping carbon pollution into the atmosphere, the long-term global warming trend will continue.

Over the past 50 years, global surface temperatures and solar output are negatively correlated, meaning they’re going in opposite directions. While global temperatures have risen rapidly, solar activity has slightly declined.

temp vs TSI

Global average surface temperature (blue - data from Nasa Goddard) versus total solar irradiance reaching Earth (orange - data from the Laboratory for Atmospheric and Space Physics Solar Irradiance Data Center at the University of Colorado). Illustration: Dana Nuccitelli

Ocean cycles are just that – cycles. They go up and down and have no long-term trend, unlike global temperatures. And global temperatures are now significantly hotter than during the Medieval Warm Period, and rising fast.

As is the case for most politicians who mangle climate science to this degree, Bridenstein’s denial appears rooted in opposition to policy solutions. In a 2016 interview, he argued that climate policies will damage the American economy, and in 2013 he criticized the Obama administration for spending too much on climate science research. Those comments, and Bridenstine’s beliefs about Nasa’s mission, may very well be the reason Trump nominated Bridenstein to lead the agency.

Bridenstine and GOP don’t want Nasa doing climate research

NASA does some of the best climate research in the world. For example, Nasa scientists published a 2010 paper in Science showing that carbon dioxide is the principle control knob governing Earth’s temperatures, which directly contradicts recent assertions by members Trump administration who have claimed otherwise.

But Republicans have decided that they don’t want Nasa doing climate research. For example Trump’s proposed budget would terminate four Nasa Earth science missions as part of a $102 million cut to the agency’s Earth science program. His space policy advisor suggested eliminating Nasa’s climate and Earth science research altogether. Republicans in Congress have been trying to slash Nasa’s earth science budget for years.

Some Republican policymakers have suggested that the agency’s climate resesarch could be absorbed into NOAA, because they want Nasa focused on space. The problem is that aside from the needless difficulty of shifting scientists and their research from one government agency to another, these policymakers aren’t proposing to increase NOAA’s budget to pay for that climate research. Quite the opposite – Trump’s proposed budget would also cut hundreds of millions of dollars from NOAA’s research funding.

Currently, Nasa’s institutional objectives include “The expansion of human knowledge of the Earth and of phenomena in the atmosphere and space.” In Congress, Bridenstine introduced legislation that would change that objective to “The expansion of the human sphere of influence throughout the Solar System.” Like his fellow Republicans, Bridenstine wants to shift Nasa away from its world-class scientific research toward space exploration. 

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Comments 1 to 10:

  1. "government is not the solution to our problem; government is the problem"  Ever since Reagan made that extremely popular statement, Republicans have been voted into office to, essentially, not do their job.  This has piled up a hornet's nest of unresolved issues: the monumental public debt/GDP (now at a level not seen since WWII and with nothing to show for it), cruelly disfunctional healthcare, failing infrastructure, unresolved immigration issues, wealth inequality to make the Gilded Age jealous, 'Axis-of-Evil' members on the cusp of nuclear-ICBM capability, an opiate crisis erupting in the heartland, a broken education system, and now climate denial as policy, in the face of 50 years of scientific certainty. The GOP has been advertising for 30 years now that if you just hire them to do the job, they will prove to you that the job cannot be done.  And America has hired them.  And they have proven what they set out to prove, so I guess it was money well spent.  Bridenstine is a disgusting choice for NASA, but no longer a surprising choice.  By the time he's done with his 'work', everyone in America is going to know that only the private sector can reliably take us to space.  Apollo must just be more of that 'fake-news'.

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  2. The Republicans have indeed left an unfortunate legacy of issues, as Ubrew notes. Reagon was responsible for high spending and trillions in debt, (as in link below) and for no good reason. Times were good, no massive economic crash, he never needed to borrow so much money and its just astonishing and contradictory, coming from so called fiscal conservatives

    Americas success in the past has been ensuring institutions are independent, (like the EPA) with mandates under law and leaders who are as impartial as possible and non political where possible. I hugely admire this even if it would frustrate me if I was leader, because you can see the value in this system. This is now being systematically wrecked, with undermining of institutions independence, and appointing anti science hacks and unqualified political partisans to positions of power.

    It will undermine a sustainable future, in the name of populism and short term profits. The American economy is growing at a reasonably good rate, over the last 4 years approx. and is near maximum capacity and doesn't even need an artificiant boost anymore or the sort of restructuring being attempted to trim agencies of the state,  or tax cuts etc.

    The current white house leadership is economically, socially, environmentally and scientifically illiterate. Thats where the evidence points, overwhelmingly.

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  3. Recommended supplemental reading:

    Irma Won’t “Wake Up” Climate Change-Denying Republicans. Their Whole Ideology Is On The Line. by Naomi Klein, The Intercept, Sep 11, 2017

    Can Irma finally blow through the GOP’s climate change denial? by Sarah Posner, the Plum Line, Washington Post, Sep 11, 2017

    No, Trump Still Hasn't Changed His Mind About Climate Change After Hurricane Irma and Harvey by Alana Abramson, Time Magazine, Sep 11, 2017

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  4. What the likes of the US Republicans/British Brexiters are doing today can be understood to be a continuation of what the likes of Reagan and Thatcher pushed for. Naomi Klein has fairly clearly presented it as the challenge that reality is imposing on the damaging desires/delusions of the likes of Unite the Right groups such as the Brexit Pushing Parties and current day US Republican Party.

    And the 1987 UN commissioned report "Our Common Future" presented a succinct description of what the likes of Unite the Right groups are trying to continue to get away with anywhere they can, any way they can. That report includes the following in its Overview "From One Earth to One World" as a conclusion of the section on "The Interlocking Crises".

    "25. Many present efforts to guard and maintain human progress, to meet human needs, and to realize human ambitions are simply unsustainable - in both the rich and poor nations. They draw too heavily, too quickly, on already overdrawn environmental resource accounts to be affordable far into the future without bankrupting those accounts. They may show profit on the balance sheets of our generation, but our children will inherit the losses. We borrow environmental capital from future generations with no intention or prospect of repaying. They may damn us for our spendthrift ways, but they can never collect on our debt to them. We act as we do because we can get away with it: future generations do not vote; they have no political or financial power; they cannot challenge our decisions.
    26. But the results of the present profligacy are rapidly closing the options for future generations. Most of today's decision makers will be dead before the planet feels; the heavier effects of acid precipitation, global warming, ozone depletion, or widespread desertification and species loss. Most of the young voters of today will still be alive. In the Commission's hearings it was the young, those who have the most to lose, who were the harshest critics of the planet's present management."

    The report could be seen as a rebuke of the Reagan/Thatcher economic push. And the waning popular support for the perceptions that 'those types of wealthy winners are deserving because they have Won something' has led to Unite the Right which pursues Loyal support from less tolerant people by offering to give them 'what They want in ways that will not cost the greedy very much' (collective loyal action by the greedier alone is no longer enough to Win)

    And the Reagan/Thatcher push of the 1980s can be seen as a response to the 1972 UN Stockholm Conference report that pointed out the damaging unsustainability of development in many of the directions that the likes of the USA and Britain had been developing along. It was an attempt to prolong the ability of people to get undeservingly rich by continuing to get away with what was understandably unsustainable/unacceptable activity as much as possible for as long as possible.

    And since the 1972 Stockholm Conference the international community has continued expanding awareness and improving the understanding of what is required for the future of humanity. "Our Common Future" led to many initiatives including the series of Global Assessment Reports on risks and risk management. All that effort is captured in the current best understanding of the required objectives/changes presented in the 2015 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs)

    The SDG objectives/changes all need to be pursued/acheived concurrently, including action to reduce climate change impacts. And the climate change impacts include the need for 'those who are more fortunate because of getting away with benefiting from unacceptable impacts' to fairly compensate those who are already negatively affected and help those less fortunate sustainably become more fortunate (not develop along the direction that the likes of the USA and Britain did, a direction that is damaging and ultimately requires correction).

    All of that robustly developed and established understanding, hard to reasonably argue against, can be seen to be contrary to the variety of interests of the people that Unite the Right encourages/appeals to in the hopes of continuing to Win as long as they can get away with.

    The book Al Gore wrote after "An Inconvenient Truth" was "The Assault on Reason". He had Good Reason to write that.

    Poor Excuses for Bad Behaviour will likely always find a very receptive audience. It is easier to sell Poor Excuses for actions some people can see a personal benefit from. It is much harder to convince already fortunate people that they have to give up personally beneficial pursuits that they might be able to get away with, and also help others less fortunate without any expectation of getting any personal benefit in return (being genuinely charitable/helpful).

    The success of deliberately misleading marketing is the real challenge to be overcome, and not just regarding climate science. The future of humanity depends upon Good Reason Winning Over Poor Excuses.

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  5. If "the job" is to prevent climate responsibility being an essential component of decision making by those in positions of trust and responsibility then Trump does look like he is picking the right people.

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  6. The philosophical roots of Thatcherism and Reagonism go back to M Friedman, F Hayek and AynRand, and glorify the individual and acquistive instincts, and oppose collectivism and ideas of society and collective responsibility and ownership. The philosophy is also suspicious of government regulation.The belief system is best seen in terms of economic history and anthropology, because its a reaction to various historical cycles and evolutionary processes, as follows.

    Early human hunter gatherers were a sharing society, because it worked, but only because it was small groups in an abundant world. The development of farming 10,000 years ago lead ultimately to specialisation, complexity, individualism, capitalism and private ownership. This system reached its peak in the industrial revolution, and became very harsh and crashed in the 1920's leading to the great depression. 

    The depression lead to the mixed economy that combined capitalism and socialism to the extent of trade tariffs, public education, environmental laws, the welfare state, income support, etc, etc. This system worked but eventually stagnated in the 1980s and lead to Thatcherism and Reagonism and a return to individualism and free markets, deregulation, flat taxes, and glorification of markets as the singular measure of success.

    This neoliberal philosophy was extreme, uncompromising and single minded. Oddly enough it did promote good environmental laws, but more recent governments have abandoned this like Trump and there has always been an emphasis that "less regulation is by principle better".

    Capitalism and the class structure also crashed in Russia in 1919, and lead to communism. This in turn stagnated and fed into fears that lead to Reagonism.

    The global financial crash has highlighted the huge weaknesses of neoliberalism, Thatcherism, Reagonism, deregulation, laissez faire capitalism, and excessive faith in markets. The whole thing has come undone and is destroying the planet, and causing high inequality etc. Yet at the same time free markets and private ownership generate economic power and innovation, and are good things, so we have a frustrating situation to resolve, and its not a simple thing. 

    Scandinavia has done a good job of reconciling competing realities and facts. They have done a nice job combining the best virtues of free markets, capitalism, and individualism and freedom,  with things like public education, strong environmental laws, a supportive welfare state, the cooperative spirit, etc. They avoid ideological dogma and take a practial approach that is very child focussed. This is a very successfull, practical, balanced version of the mixed economy. It shows in their good economic and social statistics and quality of life. The proof is in the results.

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  7. Well Ilike the graph on surface temperatures and for a long time I have been saying we should reduce surface temperatures by using evaporation.

    "�Earth’s surface lost heat to the atmosphere when water is evaporated from oceans to the atmosphere. �The evaporation of the 1m of water causes Earth’s surface to lost 83 watts per square meter, almost half of the sunlight that reaches the surface. �Without the evaporation process, the global surface temperature would be 67°C instead of the actual 15°C."

    I am trying to convince scientists and countries to implement the use of floating spray pumps to create evaporative fine mist cooling over the Gulf of Mexico and elsewher. To get convectional rain, solar air heaters can be used to heat the moist air. I am fairly certain it save insurance companies billions.

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    Moderator Response:

    [JH] You are now skating on the thin ice of excessive repetition which is prohibited by the SkS Cooments Poiicy

    Please take the time to review the Comments Policy and ensure future comments are in full compliance with it.  Thanks for your understanding and compliance in this matter.

  8. Reagan actually said, "In this present crisis, Government is government is not the solution to our problem; government is the problem.”He was referring to the stagnant inflationary economy of the Carter Era.  That has since been expanded by conservatives to apply to every area of government influence, even those areas where only government can best do the job.

    It does seem the current administration is even further raising the bar over just how much damage can be done by this philosophy of minimal government and rugged individualism.

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  9. nigelj,

    Thank you for the perspective on the popularity of Reagan and Thatcher.

    I believe they took any environmental protection action due to public awareness demanding it. They pushed their economic agenda/dogma in spite of popular dislike of it, but reduced pollution that the public could undeniably see as personally damaging.

    An example of how they limited their pollution prevention actions was the limited reduction of sulphur in diesel by the USA compared to what was done in Europe. And that reduction of sulphur was a late 1970s action to address the concerns identified in the 1972 Stockholm Conference.

    The less aggressive US limits on sulphur in diesel are consistent with other 'protectionist' actions by the USA such as the reluctance to convert to metric. The actions make it difficult for non-USA items to compete with Made in America stuff, to the unsustainable benefit of existing USA industry. European diesel vehicles could not run well on the crappy US diesel (and before that the French put their steering wheels on the other side of vehicles than the British - and so did the USA, and the USA made-up a different spacing between train rails).

    Examples of how they played popularity games to not have to behave better environmentally were the way they failed to properly raise awareness of the changes required to properly/responsibly address climate change impacts. The end of coal burning in the USA would have been (is) a significant loss of international competitive advantage. So the USA federal leadership did little to reduce the impacts. Responsible state and business leaders in the USA can been clearly seen to be the main reason there was less damaging Carbon impact related development in the USA.

    I still remember seeing the speech by GW Bush when he announced that the USA would not ratify Kyoto. He proudly stated that the US citizens did not need to change how they lived. And before that, Clinton had not pushed to have Kyoto ratified, mainly because popular support had been drummed up against doing so and Clinton's go to reference phrase was the now understandably short-sighted "Its the Economy Stupid" (he had that reminder on a plaque on his White House desk rather than something like "Its About the Improvement of the Future for All of Humanity - Duh").

    The bottom line is that the international understanding of the changes required to sustainably improve the future of humanity impose limits on what "Nations" can get away with doing. That was made clear in the 1972 Stcockholm Conference and getting clearer with improved awareness and understanding.

    Undeniably that growing demand for responsible limits of what a "Nation" can get away with threatens the desires of the unsustainable and damaging schools of Dogmatic Beliefs behind what the Reagan/Thatcher leadership were promoting. Part of what they fight against is the generally understood expectation that Liberty is only deserved by people acting based on "... Wisdom and Voluntary Restraint" (an important part of the definition of Liberty in my 1988 Canadian Edition of "Webster's Encyclopedic Dictionary", with Libertarians being defined as wanting Liberty).

    The boogie-man propaganda claims made against what is referred to as a One World Government (anti-Paris Agreement people often use this term) are part of the fight against having to be wise, fair, considerate and responsibly self-restraining.

    The Brexit promoters included irrational propaganda arguments againsts having to comply with EU developed Standards because they are 'requirements of Others'. However, I am also a little leary of global standards when pursuers of maximum personal benefit have any say in what gets established.

    In my work experience as a Structural Engineer I saw many examples of an International Standard (ISO) being stated to be a low standard with different nations allowed to establish higher standards if the they wished. That results in a competitive disadvantage for 'higher/better standards' and pressure within those nations to 'reduce their standards in order to be more competitive' or legal challenges  claiming that requiring a higher standard is an unfair restriction on imported products or services (especially abuse/use of legal opportunities added to "Trade Agreements", especially when the legal mechanisms get put in to Trade Agreements by pursuers of maximum personal benefit).

    Games of limiting the requirements to responsibly self-limit can easily be seen to be played in the current day 'negotiations' regarding action to globally responsibly limit climate change impacts. And the regional temporary popularity able to be drumed up in support of those damaging efforts is also 'understandable, and undeniably unacceptable'.

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  10. One Planet Only @9, yes part of the reason for Thatcher and Reagon at least having some environmental sense was public demand, and the visible problems of environmental issues. Their economic policy mischief was easier to conceal behind emotive claims, and the complexity and subtle nature of various policies hard for the public to untangle, and hidden mechanisms buried in legislation that promote a certain agenda!

    But Thatcher was also in favour of environmental regulation due to her chemistry background and general belief in global warming, although she has some ulterior motives like promoting nuclear energy.

    But sadly more recent neoliberal leaning or so called Washington consensus governments have often turned against environmental regulations. The Republican Party certainly has although their position is more one of conservatism, rather than neoliberalism. These things intersect, but are not one and the same.

    The interesting thing from my point of view is the economics profession promote free markets, but with some exceptions. They accept regulation of markets is required on environmental matters. This is the proper position, that balances both, but politicians have warped views of economic theory and go in other directions as it suits.

    I agree Americas environmental legislation has been patchy and self protectionist, but top marks to Reagon and Nixon for at least trying and recognising that not all government laws are bad things. Its really Bush and Trump that have taken things right backwards towards a weakening of standards, and towards protectionism / insularity. As you say Clinton was half hearted about the whole thing, and lacked an understanding that economic growth and free markets did not mean you should weaken environmental standards. 

    Unfortunately any time people point out inconvenient truths, or the value of some aspect of globalisation and international agreement and standards, people pull out the boogie man of one world government, or communism, or invasions of immigrants, or some other scare tactic based on emotion. Brexit was indeed a good example of this. It makes it hard to have an intelligent discussion and work out sensible policy.

    However as you say global agreements  can also be captured and made by the wrong people with narrow interests. Its all so complex.

    It's difficult also  because I for one am a believer in national sovereignty to some extent. I believe sovereignty and international agreements and globalisation, and its a balancing act between the two.

    Agree about international standards manipulated in those ways. You do sometimes get international agreements with laws set at the lowest common denominator, not just in engineering but labour laws, envionmental laws. Free trade agreements sometimes do this. It's very hard having international standards that work for everyone, but I think international standards are an inevitability. Its always possible to help the losers from processes of adopting unified global standards, for example removing tariffs is dislocating for come people, but society and government can help the people hurt.

    Unfortunately the media get captured by noisy and often extreme lobby groups, especially on the right of politics you get a lot of scaremongering these days, inflammatory claims etc. However this often doesn't even represent the true picture even within the commercial sector, for example witness how many companies are not impressed with Trumps inflammatory rhetoric and various policies. 

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