Congressional funding disaster

By Phil Plait | November 29, 2011 11:00 am

I recently posted a lengthy analysis of the fiscal year 2012 budget Congress and the President approved for NASA. I didn’t mention it then because it was off-topic, but in the press release for the funding bill, they list bullet points of "Important Policy Items". I took a screen grab of the last item listed, and the note below it:

Perhaps I’m the only one who sees irony in a bullet point saying Congress won’t appropriate $322M for an NOAA climate change service, while then immediately below it noting how the natural disasters that have befallen this country have required " historic levels of relief and recovery assistance", necessitating $2.3 billion in relief funds. Hmmm.

[Note: While it can be hard to pin any one natural disaster like a hurricane, heat wave, or snow storm on climate change, as we warm up we will see more things like those. I want my tax dollars to go to more scientific investigation by NOAA and other agencies. But then, I'm not funded in any way by the oil industry, and my only motivation is the open and honest investigation of the world around us since it might just save our species.]

[Note II: DeSmogBlog digs a bit deeper into this, and has some curious comments about climate-contrarian Congresscritters who kaboshed this.]

Comments (46)

  1. Renee

    Ya, it is sad. Unfortunately, Congress does not work for us, it works for big business. Congress members know that most people in this country will vote for them no matter what they do, just so long as they have the big campaign contributions from special interests to fund their campaign.

    There is no hope until the majority of people in this country start actually caring about their vote, and thinking for themselves instead of blindly following their political ideology.

    I would not hold my breath. I have actually been told by conservatives at my workplace that it is wrong to think for oneself, and that the right way to live is to pick an ideology and believe whatever the leaders of that ideology tell you to believe. I have also been told that corruption is a good thing, and it can never hurt anyone, since both sides are corrupt and there can only be two opinions. I have no clue how to fight against that kind of belief system.

  2. Meanwhile, our two continuing military occupations are costing a billion dollars a day. So the requisition for the NOAA Climate Service would be about eight hours of operations in Iraq and Afghanistan.

  3. James

    America does not lead anymore…
    @Renee, wow that is hard to deal with. To quote Spock when talking to McCoy about death: “It would be impossible to discuss the subject without a common frame of reference”. Those people are totally incapable of understanding your side of things.

  4. just the bringer of good news and joy today aren’t you. Seeing congress writing speak out of two sides of the same mouth is not new. Government should of invested the money in climate research a long time ago but most can not see past the next election cycle and it is getting worse in the States.

  5. Renee

    Thanks for the sympathy, @James. I just keep my mouth shut and put on my headphones so I don’t have to listen. It’s not so bad.

  6. We just did an interview for Wild Ideas…the Podcast with Shawn Lawrence Otto, who wrote “Fool Me Twice: Fighting the Assault on Science in America.” It talks, among other things, about how we got into this political mess, with science being assaulted from both the left and the right. It’ll go up as episode 140 on Dec. 1 on iTunes and other podcatchers.

    How can we combat it? He suggests science types talk about science! Bring it into the conversation on all levels–family, friends, acquaintances, colleagues, representatives. In as many places as we can think of–casual conversations, blogs, podcasts, letters to editors. Not “just” findings but the scientific way of thinking, its role in job creation, even its patriotic importance to our founding fathers like Jefferson and Franklin.

  7. No money for climate research, pink science kits, a doctor suing some kid for blowing the whistle. Madness! We need some pretty time lapse videos to balance out the day. :)

  8. drhay

    If it wasn’t so painful, I would laugh at the irony.

  9. Just a minor quibble…the rising cost of disaster relief is more a function of population growth and overall rise in material costs over time. Given events of relatively similar scope and impact, the number of people/homes affected and therefore the cost is much higher than, say, even 10-20 years ago.

    Not to say that there may or may not be a specific link between periodicity of large-scale weather events and changes to the climate…just saying that A does not necessarily link to B in this argument.

  10. Ron Richter

    Wow! A sensible reorganization of climate science within NOAA at no cost to the taxpayer gets turned down because some in the House are afraid of the science.

  11. Jamesonian

    It’s easy to criticize Congress from afar, and there’s certainly enough reason to do so, but please remember that “Congress” is not one entity. It’s two entities each composed of men and women who represent the interests of their constituents. The 435 voting members of the House of Representatives each speak for roughly 700,000 citizens. The 100 members of the Senate each represents his or her entire state. So why the civics lesson? Because the problem isn’t Congress. Most of the elected officials are simply representing the majority of their constituents.

    The problem is in educating the populace. Ask yourself this question: Why are people so resistant to scientific evidence? Global warming. Vaccination. Stem cell. Why? Why do so many people reject evidence when presented with it? Answer that question and you might have a chance at changing things.

  12. Zucchi (#2), it’s even worse than that. It wasn’t a request for more money, it was a request to organize a new service within NOAA using the existing budget. Apparently someone doesn’t want NOAA to even discuss climate in a comprehensive way. Talk about O.W.A. Giveaway.

  13. Eric

    This is mainly politics as usual. NOAA already does everything that the National Climate Service is envisioned to do and the funding for NOAA to do its climate work is intact (including continuing the climate components of the troubled polar orbiting satellite program, which could have easily been cut by republicans). The proposed service was just to align all of those climate activities within a single office. Thus the republican opposition mostly amounts to symbolism.

    On disasters and climate, you should reflect critically on the peer-reviewed literature on this subject. There are huge increases in impacts from natural disasters in recent decades, but it is almost all attributable to populations increasing in vulnerable areas and not attributable to trends in the occurrence of natural disasters. While it is prudent to anticipate that climate change may eventually yield detectible changes in some disaster statistics, reducing emissions of greenhouse gases will not mitigate the present upward trends in disaster impacts. Many more positive outcomes are to be realized from changing development patterns that put increasing numbers of people in vulnerable places with inadequate shelter.

  14. MadScientist

    What’s a “climate change service” meant to do anyway? I see a lot of useless “climate impact” groups out there who charge farmers a fortune to run their silly models and say “it might rain more, it might rain less, or it might be kinda the same”. I’d like to see NOAA get more money for earth observation satellites, but “climate change service” sounds screwy to me. (Or maybe they just gave the thing the worst title imaginable.)

  15. eric

    Phil:

    While it can be hard to pin any one natural disaster like a hurricane, heat wave, or snow storm on climate change, as we warm up we will see more things like those

    I vaguely recall seeing an insurance graph showing the strong correlation between temperature and lightning strikes. The companies increase rates as average summer temperatures go up because they know they’ll have to pay out more in lightning-related damages. They even had it quantified down to $ per half degree. I wish I could find that chart.

  16. DanVeteran

    @#10 – Phil’s post clearly states “The Administration requested $322 million to establish this new entity within NOAA.” To me it sounds like they want more money. Where are you getting your information that the new service would not cost taxpayers any additional money?

    With the budgets the way they are, we need to ask ourselves; Where is this money coming from? What gets cut so we can fund this new project? The days of spending and spending MUST come to an end before we have a total economic collapse. We need responsible leadership in D.C.; something we haven’t seen in many decades.

  17. Sam H

    @1 Renee: I am bit skeptical that they’d actually claim such a thing, but if you’re right and people truly believe this (especially the part about corruption being “good” because there are only two opinions), and if said people have a large enough influence – which they seem to – then America will fall. If people with influence really say this, then it kinda becomes inevitable.

  18. QuietDesperation

    We need some pretty time lapse videos to balance out the day.

    Um… hmm… here you go.

    http://youtu.be/CQB4wkmKOv8

    Timelapse of the world of Skyrim, illustrating the level of detail of this game world.

  19. QuietDesperation

    It wasn’t a request for more money

    Exactly how are you parsing the sentence “The Administration requested $322 million to establish this new entity within NOAA?”

    Why do so many people reject evidence when presented with it? Answer that question and you might have a chance at changing things.

    OK.

    They don’t trust the source of the evidence, or feel the evidence to be either tainted or fabricated.

    That was easy. What do I win?

  20. TheBlackCat

    It’s two entities each composed of men and women who represent the interests of their constituents.

    Hahaha, that’s funny. If you really believe that I have a bridge in Brooklyn to sell you.

  21. Valdis Kletnieks

    @TheBlackCat: No, it’s true. The two entities are composed of people who represent the interests of their constituents.

    The disconnect is that their constituents are no longer the residents of their respective districts.

  22. Luis Dias

    Hey, mr Phil Plait, quiz question: when has the last hurricane (cat 3 and above) landfall ocurred?

    Answer: 2232 days and counting, and we will obviously surpass the record.

    Here:

    http://2.bp.blogspot.com/–BFAoLMt-fE/TtOgHP83dTI/AAAAAAAABV8/Vkr83aO0DpQ/s1600/daysbtcat3%252Bus.hurrs.jpg

  23. tmac57

    “Our hesitation,” Rep. Andy Harris (R-Md.) told Lubchenco at a hearing in June, “is that the climate services could become little propaganda sources instead of a science source.”
    I guess congressional Replblicans don’t want any competition with their propaganda.

  24. Steve

    Why are we surprised? Anything that might hurt BIG BUSINESS’ bottom line is ‘unproven’ and not worthy of study, according to GOP/TP.
    Folks, we really, really, really need to oust all of Congress and their staffers, and forbid ALL lobbyists from contacting ANY legislator or their staffs.

  25. Grand Lunar

    Not surprising to see this.
    Congress is trying to cut spending everywhere it can, despite how little is asked for already (relative to other things).

    And all the while, items that really do eat up the budget are left relatively untouched….

  26. Brian Too

    To be fair, the NOAA Climate Service sounds like a longer-term, strategic monitoring entity. Given the fiscal climate it can be argued that this can wait a couple of years. Disaster relief is almost always short-term reactive funding. Delays there can cost lives and lead to great suffering.

    Eventually the two are linked by time and causation.

  27. tmac57

    “To be fair, the NOAA Climate Service sounds like a longer-term, strategic monitoring entity. Given the fiscal climate it can be argued that this can wait a couple of years.”

    For want of a nail the shoe was lost.
    For want of a shoe the horse was lost.
    For want of a horse the rider was lost.
    For want of a rider the battle was lost.
    For want of a battle the kingdom was lost.
    And all for the want of a horseshoe nail.

  28. Jeffersonian

    Indeed, the irony is very, erm, republican.
    What’s the term, again, for the ability to simultaneously hold a belief in conflicting facts ?

  29. Oof! I’ve never had an irony gland explosion before. It hurts!

    @#11 Jamesonian: Why are people so resistant to scientific evidence? Global warming. Vaccination. Stem cell. Why? Why do so many people reject evidence when presented with it?

    Because nobody gets taught how to think critically anymore? Because people confuse “Everyone has a right to an opinion” with “Everyone’s opinion should be given equal consideration, no matter what their credentials are.”?

  30. Messier Tidy Upper

    Perhaps I’m the only one who sees irony in a bullet point saying Congress won’t appropriate $322M for an NOAA climate change service, while then immediately below it noting how the natural disasters that have befallen this country have required ” historic levels of relief and recovery assistance”, necessitating $2.3 billion in relief funds. Hmmm.

    There’s that certainly. But what struck me was the call for a *new* NOAA Climate Service. It leaves me wondering why do they need a new one – what’s wrong the “old” NOAA Climate Service?! ;-)

    Plus too that “Climate Service” name sounds odd to me – a bit like they are providing the climate to everyone and taking orders on what the climate does, which, yeah, not-so-much. ;-)

    Maybe worth changing to Climate Research Organisation or Climate Studies Sector or suchlike?

  31. Daniel J. Andrews

    Never mind…the desmogblog link has the same info I had just posted (now deleted my comment).

  32. This reminds me of a quote from Rick Perry too :

    “You just don’t understand how quickly this can get out out of hand and put people’s lives or their property in jeopardy.”

    Indeed not, Guv’nor! He was talking about the recent devastating bushfires – or as you in the States call ‘em wildfires – but his words apply equally aptly to Human Induced Rapid Global Overheating (HIRGO) as well. Even though sadly stupidly Governor Perry denies that whole climatology problem is even real and has, so I gather, cut the number of firefighters whilst insisting on Texans praying for rain as his preferred solution.

    That was seen on SBS World News (Australian TV) Tuesday 6th Sept. 2011 6.30 pm. The news segued from reporting on those Texan wildfires into a story about an ominous new hurricane off the US eastern coast and followed mention of the drought* and heatwave that helped the wildfires get so severe. Go figure. :-(

    Actually I don’t understand how more folks including even the likes of Rick Perry cannot seem to make the rather obvious connections here.

    * Click on my name for the latest ‘Climate Crock’ youtube clip that discusses the Texas drought and climatic implications on it in more detail.

  33. @25. Grand Lunar & 19. QuietDesperation & 16. DanVeteran :

    @#10 – Phil’s post clearly states “The Administration requested $322 million to establish this new entity within NOAA.” To me it sounds like they want more money. Where are you getting your information that the new service would not cost taxpayers any additional money?
    With the budgets the way they are, we need to ask ourselves; Where is this money coming from? What gets cut so we can fund this new project? The days of spending and spending MUST come to an end before we have a total economic collapse. We need responsible leadership in D.C.; something we haven’t seen in many decades.

    From the linked DeSMog Blog article :

    At a time when Congress is fiercely debating federal spending, it would seemingly make financial sense to deny additional funding to NOAA to create their new branch. But, in a rare occurrence on Capitol Hill, the new agency wouldn’t have cost anything, and NOAA didn’t ask for a single dime to fund their new venture, completely nullifying any financial argument against this common sense proposal.

    Emphasis added. Not sure yet where DeSmogBlog gets the “no money asked” bit from but see no reason to disbelieve it. OTOH, it’s hard to see the creation of a new group being entirely free either. So, yeah, I dunno ’bout that part.

    What I *do* know is that it has been scientifically established that Human Induced Rapid Global Overheating (HIRGO) is real and is going to have increasingly bad effects including more natural disasters such as heatwaves, fires, floods, storms, droughts, etc.

    We could if we wanted stick our heads in the sand and pretend it ain’t happening – but that will NOT make it all go away. That approach leads to more human suffering, property damage and deaths.

    Or we could start taking some reasonable measures – including undertaking further studies and organising specialist groups within the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administrarion – to tackle the problem. That won’t make it go away either but it will give us a lot of useful knowledge and lead to the problem being less severe and less costly in the longer run. That leads to less human suffering, property damage and deaths.

    PS. Another video on the US esp. Texas drought & heatwave and HIRGO link now attached to my name here.

  34. VinceRN

    By all means increase NOAAs funding. When I am elected dictator for life the first thing I will do (after following the advice of Dick the Butcher of course) is double the budgets of both NASA and NOAA.

    However, do we need a new layer of bureaucracy withing NOAA to do what is all ready NOAAs primary function? Couldn’t they just muddle along with the extra money infused into. The bloated bureaucracy they already have?

  35. Kevin

    Politicians understand that people can see/touch/taste the results of disaster relief, but disaster planning and mitigation are harder to sell as their results aren’t as immediate or visceral.

  36. JMW

    I’m Canadian, so I think I benefit from being outside the forest, and can see some individual trees.

    @17 Sam H …then America will fall. If people with influence really say this, then it kinda becomes inevitable.
    and
    @16 DanVeteran …The days of spending and spending MUST come to an end before we have a total economic collapse.

    I think American has already fallen. And has suffered an economic collapse. The country is just tottering along before the actual collapse.

    The economy is addicted to military spending. If Obama ever cut the military budget, the United States would suffer through a depression. And in the meantime, you have collectively anesthestitized yourselves and are now incapable of forming coherent, sensible national policy.

    Your society is exactly like that of Rome before its fall – addicted to spectacle and ignorant of reality.

    And while I have made snide comments about Americans before, please rest assured that I find this painful to watch.

  37. @JMW: As an American who is (justifiably, I think) scared s**tless by all this, from where you’re standing, do you think that there’s anything we can do? Or are we just plain Doomed?

  38. It should be noted that the press release was written by a Republican-controlled committee with a vested interest in appearing to be cost-conscious. Meanwhile, NOAA itself says ( http://www.noaa.gov/climateresources/resources/QA_ClimateService_Feb15.pdf ):

    This is a reorganization of existing assets to coordinate and integrate NOAA’s existing climate capabilities for greater effectiveness, cohesiveness, and to improve service relevance and delivery. It will be accomplished through a zero sum realignment of funds within the current NOAA budget and will (1) neither increase or decrease the NOAA Full-Time Equivalent (FTE) or billet allocation, or require any relocation of employees, (2) not require any physical relocation of programs or labs, or require any new facilities to accommodate this reorganization, (3) result in a zero sum realignment of funds within the current NOAA budget, or (4) not increase the size of NOAA overhead. The Climate Service headquarters will be located in Silver Spring, MD, consistent with all other line offices.

    Someone asked, what’s wrong with the current climate service? Short answer: there isn’t one – the responsibility is spread across the organization. This just brings it together into a unified organization.

  39. @22: “Hey, mr Phil Plait, quiz question: when has the last hurricane (cat 3 and above) landfall ocurred?
    Answer: 2232 days and counting, and we will obviously surpass the record.”

    Wrong. That’s the last cat. 3 to make US landfall. Are you really that parochial? I suggest you do some actual research and count the number of people (not just Americans) who died from Atlantic hurricanes during those 2232 days.

  40. Messier Tidy Upper

    @ ^ To Seek : Wasn’t there a major hurricane that threatened New York and did quite a bit of damage further north than usual fairly recently – only a few months or so ago?

    @38. ToSeek :

    Someone asked, what’s wrong with the current climate service? Short answer: there isn’t one – the responsibility is spread across the organization. This just brings it together into a unified organization.

    Thanks. :-)

    That was me and that now makes sense – the use of the word ‘new’ threw me as it implied there was already an ‘old’ one.

    @ 36. JMW : “.. Your [USA's] society is exactly like that of Rome before its fall ..”

    Exactly? [Looks around at the States for toga clad Emperors, gladiators and Christians being fed to the lions and an aqueduct building industry. ;-) ]

    Hmm .. there may be just a few differences. No slavery, women can vote, chariots have come a long way etc .. ;-)

    That Presidents get elected out by the voters not assassinated out by their bodyguards is possibly a good sign? Whether these differences are enough to make the USA’s fate a bit better and less likely to fall or not – who knows. I hope so.

    Things cannot be sustained as they are and will have to change in a variety of ways. There’s a lot of serious economic social and environmental issues to address (HIRGO, social inequality and soon Peak Oil to name a few.) but there’s also a lot of highly intelligent, good people trying to work on them too. The same Science and Industry that got us into this situation still remains, in my view, our best means of getting out of it again. I hope the States can recover from the present mess and don’t think that’s impossible to imagine. At least not yet.

  41. @40 MTU: I’d argue that the parallels are stronger than we might want to believe.
    For instance, in ancient Rome, only wealthy property owners could vote. Technically, everyone in the US can vote, but something like 95% of the time, the candidate that gets the most money wins. That and this funding idiocy are pretty much proof that the rich and corporations run the whole damn country.

    I could also point to how TV shows get more public and media attention then politics, or incidents of people going ape**** because (insert fast food chain) ran out of (insert junk food).
    Bread and circuses, man! Bread and circuses.

    /Scuze me, I need to go take my daily dose of Cynicol™.

  42. TheBlackCat

    @40 MTU: I’d argue that the parallels are stronger than we might want to believe.
    For instance, in ancient Rome, only wealthy property owners could vote.

    That is how things were originally in the U.S., but it was later changed.

  43. Albert J. Hoch Jr.

    Dear Mr. Plait,
    My recent issue of “Sky and Telescope” shows an astonishing image of a “binary asteroid” as shadows cast by the light a single star. Can you comment on this interesting application of stellar occultation? How accurate is the resulting image? Since the light rays from a distant star are nearly parallel, the size of the shadow should just about match that of the asteroid! It would seem to me that the precision is almost entirely dependent on the astronomers clocks. (and, of course the number of observation locations) So we should be able to “see” any occulting object regardless of distance. Perhaps groups of stars could be used as a kind of “telescope”? Note: This last would require special camera software to assign timing to each star imaged on the camera chip! (A cute trick. Scanning won’t do it, well . . . maybe super fast scanning.)

    Here’s a great opportunity for another organization of amateur and pro astronomers.

    Sincerely
    Albert J. Hoch Jr.

  44. @43 Albert J Hock Jr.: At the risk of earning Phil’s ire for cluttering up his in-box, I think that comments like that would be more effectively e-mailed directly to him, especially on older threads like this that he is less likely to check, and which (in this case) are topically unrelated, anyway.

    Dr. Plait’s e-mail address can be found on the right side of the page next to his picture (it’s spelled out in an odd way to avoid spambots, but you can figure it out). In my experience he’s very good about answering any inquiry (or at least those, like yours, that are highly relevant to his blog).

    PS: I don’t suppose there are any references to that article online, are there? If so, you might want to include links in your query.
    I wouldn’t mind ‘em, either :)

  45. MaDeR

    Oh, USA will indeed fall. Not in year or decade. Great empires always fall either fast (like ZSRR) or in many hundred years, like Rome itself. And about other things: well, perpetual two-party duopol, legalized corruption (so-called lobbyism), trying to estabilish supersitious crap instead of science…

    Nowadays, I consider USA as corrupted as China or Russia. Good luck with changing something – anything that happens with USA will affect entire world, including my place to live.

  46. TheBlackCat

    Well, I would neither call the U.S. “great” nor an “empire”, but that’s just me.

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