Political Animal


November 21, 2011 3:30 PM Heads in the sand

By Steve Benen

The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration had a good idea: given public demand, the agency should create a National Climate Service along the lines of the National Weather Service. It wouldn’t cost taxpayers a dime — NOAA could simply make some bureaucratic moves behind the scenes — and the agency didn’t ask Congress for any additional money.

But that apparently didn’t matter to congressional Republicans.

[I]n a political climate where talk of the earthly kind of climate can be radioactive, the answer in last week’s budget deal was “no.” Congress barred NOAA from launching what the agency bills as a “one-stop shop” for climate information.

Demand for such data is skyrocketing, NOAA administrator Jane Lubchenco told Congress earlier this year. Farmers are wondering when to plant. Urban planners want to know whether groundwater will stop flowing under subdivisions. Insurance companies need climate data to help them set rates.

But the climate service, first floated under President George W. Bush, became predictably politicized.

In this case, “politicized” can be roughly translated to mean “Republicans see the idea as conflicting with their ideological goals.”

Bush’s NOAA chief, along with scientific, weather, and insurance industry groups, all endorsed the National Climate Service idea, but that didn’t seem to matter.

“We think it’s very unfortunate,” Chris McEntee, executive director of the American Geophysical Union, which represents 60,000 scientists, told the Washington Post. “Limiting access to this kind of climate information won’t make climate change go away.”

Steve Benen is a contributing writer to the Washington Monthly, joining the publication in August, 2008 as chief blogger for the Washington Monthly blog, Political Animal.


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  • c u n d gulag on November 21, 2011 3:41 PM:

    Maybe, like being gay, global warming will go away if we pray hard enough.

    But sadly, where Mother Nature is concerned, we may not have a prayer...

  • about time on November 21, 2011 3:48 PM:

    [I]n a political climate where talk of the earthly kind of climate can be radioactive, the answer in last week’s budget deal was “no.”

    There's your problem. The NOAA should've begun organizing a climate service under the title "Jesus Christ is Lord of Earth and Atmospheric Conditions"

  • Josef K on November 21, 2011 3:56 PM:

    Okay, exactly how is it Congress can bar the NOAA from making this data public record?

    Seriously, under what authority are the Republican operating on given the NOAA is in the Department of Commerce (thus putting it squarely in the Executive Branch) and its mandate is to provide data like this?

    Can someone please enlighten me here?

  • Peter C on November 21, 2011 4:03 PM:

    This shows the intersection of 'faith-based' (fact-free) government and Oil industry money that is the Republican party.

  • zeitgeist on November 21, 2011 4:07 PM:

    Josef K beat me to it. The power of Congress viz the executive is the power of the purse. This requires no appropriation. The executive branch can organize itself internally however the hell it pleases without interference from co-equal brnaches. Or at least that was how it appeared last time I read the Constitution.

  • square1 on November 21, 2011 4:28 PM:

    The politics of climate change in the U.S. can be analogized to the Penn State scandal.

    As horrific and monstrous as Jerry Sandusky's actions were, they were not shocking. Pedophiles exist. We know that. In Sandusky's twisted mind, what he was doing wasn't wrong.

    But what was truly shocking was the behavior of his enablers. To realize the number of people who knew or should have known that Sandusky had engaged in child rape, on campus no less, and did virtually nothing to hold him accountable...for years!

    What kind of sick person believes that a child rapist exists in their community and does nothing? Even for people who are generally cynical about ethical and moral standards in Div. 1 football programs, it was shocking to see how many people turned a blind eye to Sandusky's behavior.

    In the case of climate change, it is not shocking that some people have convinced themselves that climate change is nothing more than a giant conspiracy orchestrated by "al gore". Generally these people have a directly or indirectly vested financial interest in denying climate change is occurring.

    But what is shocking are the number of people who claim to believe that climate change is occurring, but do virtually nothing to address the problem. What kind of sick fuck believes that we are ruining the climate for our children but only puts up the most token of resistance to the climate deniers?

    Like Joe Paterno today, I predict that in not too many years in the future -- when actual climate change is so severe that doubt is no longer an option -- Democratic leaders will be lamenting how they "wished they had done more" when Republicans whined like babies.

  • Curmudgeon on November 21, 2011 4:43 PM:

    Couldn't they just internally make something like "National Weather Service: Department of Climate Information" without all this fuss? If the data exists already, a little bureaucratic desk-shuffling shouldn't be that hard to put in place.

  • N.Wells on November 21, 2011 5:40 PM:

    I'm not up on the details of this debate so I could be misunderstanding the topic, but I suspect that this is a partial misreading of the opposition: the opponents are probably as much protecting commercial interests as defending their ideology. USGS has wonderful platforms for giving free access to elevation data, topographic maps, and earthquake records (present and past), so this can be done. In contrast, NOAA has provided deliberately crappy access to climate records that are really hard to decipher (I ended up writing my own program to parse the free 30-year SAMSON data files). The reason for this is that lots of people need precise data and can be forced to pay for it, so there are a lot of private firms that get the free but hard-to-read data and sell programs like the one I wrote, or packages of processed & interpreted data. As I recall, the last time this came up for discussion, Santorum was among the senators who squashed easier access to the data in order to protect a Pennsylvanian company or two.

  • bigtuna on November 21, 2011 6:58 PM:

    N Wells has part of it. The climate data are oddly dispersed - some of the best are at a server at Oak Ridge Nat labs, for exa., and it takes work to get the data, edit it, plot it, etc.

    yes, they can internally do some of this. But "internally" means reallocating resources within the Dept of Comm., so ... borrow from NWS? Or NOAA? Or Census?

    Clinton tried to get a US Biological Survey going, and I think the repubs. buried that with some sort of appropriation language - so it is buried within the USGS.

    SO, be careful what you wish for. Make it high profile enough, and they will slash it. Reallocation within NOAA makes some sense ...

  • Zorro on November 22, 2011 2:25 PM:

    But the climate service, first floated under President George W. Bush, became predictably politicized.

    There you go then- it was proposed by George W. Bush, that flaming liberal.