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December 26, 2011 8:45 AM What we don’t know can hurt us

By Steve Benen

The New York Times’s Justin Gillis reported over the weekend on the extreme weather conditions seen in the United States in 2011. Whereas a typical year features three or four weather disasters with costs exceeding $1 billion each, this year has seen 12 — and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration “has not finished counting.”

Many thought 2010 was unusually brutal, and might prove to be an aberration, but 2011 turned out to be worse.

Weather Underground co-founder Jeffrey Masters said, “I’ve been a meteorologist 30 years and never seen a year that comes close to matching 2011 for the number of astounding, extreme weather events. Looking back in the historical record, which goes back to the late 1800s, I can’t find anything that compares, either.”

Not surprisingly, a growing number of Americans want to get a better sense of why and how this is happening, and the extent to which climate change and human activity are playing a role. For many this is not simply a matter of idle curiosity — as the Washington Post reported last month, “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.”

The technology and research tools exist to help answer many of the lingering questions, including those surrounding the possible relationship between a warming planet and tornadoes and hurricanes. Congressional Republicans, however, are standing in the way.

[D]oing this on a regular basis would probably require new personnel spread across several research teams, along with a strong push by the federal government, which tends to be the major source of financing and direction for climate and weather research. Yet Washington is essentially frozen on the subject of climate change.

This year, when the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration tried to push through a reorganization that would have provided better climate forecasts to businesses, citizens and local governments, Republicans in the House of Representatives blocked it. The idea had originated in the Bush administration, was strongly endorsed by an outside review panel and would have cost no extra money. But the House Republicans, many of whom reject the overwhelming scientific consensus about the causes of global warming, labeled the plan an attempt by the Obama administration to start a “propaganda” arm on climate.

In an interview, Jane Lubchenco, the director of NOAA, rejected that claim and said her agency had been deluged with information requests regarding future climate risks. “It’s truly unfortunate that we are not allowed to become more effective and efficient in delivering that information,” she said.

NOAA does finance research to understand the causes of weather extremes, as do the National Science Foundation and the Department of Energy. But with the strains on the federal budget, Dr. Lubchenco said, “it’s going to be more and more challenging to devote resources to many of our research programs.”

It’s worth keeping in mind that Republicans are not only blocking investments in the research; they’re also blocking access to the research. NOAA wanted to create a National Climate Service along the lines of the National Weather Service. The price tag for taxpayers? Literally nothing.

Republicans still refused, prohibiting NOAA from acting.

History, like our environmental conditions, will not be kind.

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.

Comments

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  • POed Lib on December 26, 2011 8:49 AM:

    I live in Sioux Falls. It is above freezing, and we have had maybe 3 days below freezing thus far. We have no snow. This is very odd. The paper says that Xmas is often snow-less, but it still seems quite warm.

  • c u n d gulag on December 26, 2011 8:55 AM:

    Dear Republicans,
    Just because you don't want to know what's really going on, and instead choose to stick your heads in the sand, doesn't mean that your asses aren't just as exposed to the elements as the rest of ours are as the climate changes.

    We can either all live together, or perish together.

    And it sure seems like you evil assclowns are doubling down on the latter.

  • RepublicanPointOfView on December 26, 2011 8:56 AM:

    We, of the wealthy funding wing of the republican party, generally hate our grandkids and don't really care for our kids.

    We, of the wealthy funding wing of the republican party, love to make more money! We don't give a damn about what happens to this planet 40 or 50 or 100 years from now when we are not around.

    Why should anyone find it surprising that we have our corporately owned media and corporately owned politicians working to prevent the public discussion of climate change when we know that actions on it would cost us near term profit and wealth?

    - More is never enough!
    - I've got mine, f*ck you!

  • RepublicanPointOfView on December 26, 2011 9:03 AM:

    re Mr. gulag...

    1) I have enough money & power to have no personal downsides to the next few decades of climate change.

    2) I am old enough that I will not live for more than another 30 or 40 years.

    3) If this planet is doomed, it will occur after I am gone.

    4) I don't give a flying f*ck about anyone other than myself!

    What part of more is never enough and I've got mine, f*ck you do you have such great difficulty understanding?

  • c u n d gulag on December 26, 2011 9:07 AM:

    OK, OK, I GET IT!!! :-)

  • hfhfhfg on December 26, 2011 9:07 AM:

  • c u n d gulag on December 26, 2011 9:10 AM:

    Btw, CRAPTCHA, I think hfhfhfg is openly MOCKING YOU!!!

  • walt on December 26, 2011 9:14 AM:

    The right-wing echo chamber is a triumph of decibels over content. When a political religion attacks science, we can usually laugh at it and the delusional nature of its epistemology. Not the GOP, however. We must always respect the yahoos and know nothings lest we're seen as "elitist".

    I'll admit to some schadenfreude when I see tornadoes devastating the Bible Belt. Now for a particularly potent one to take out the Koch brothers' mansions.

  • stormskies on December 26, 2011 9:30 AM:

    It's all kind of summed up when that shit stain Repiglican Senator from Oklahoma know of Inoffe decided he would fly to Copenhagen when all the countries were meeting there for a conference on global warming so he could 'educate' them as to the truth: meaning it's all a lie. He found himself after he arrived at the conference site totally alone of course and standing somewhere within the conference halls when he just started to speak out-loud to anyone who would listen. No one did. He was alone spluttering his delusional nonsense. Finally a reporter from Germany wandered up to this spectacle of the shrieking shit stain and asked who he was. The shrieking shit stain told him who he was and the German reporter then said "Oh, your are idiot from America" and just walked off.

    There you have it ........

  • zandru on December 26, 2011 9:50 AM:

    NOAA Backing off Obvious Climate Change?

    There was an essay in today's Albuquerque Journal from Jack Hayes, billed as Director of NOAA's National Weather Service, where he discusses the extreme weather of 2011, says that many climate scientists say it's the "new normal", and how we, as a society, need to be building better and getting better warning systems to respond to extreme weather. No mention of climate change, except by implication to those in the know.

    Even more ominously, he talks about the NWS's programs to increase observations and get out predictions to farmers, etc - as if these programs have not been de-funded by the Republicans in Congress.

    Sweet set-up! Now folks will expect all these great weather-related services, not knowing they chose not to pay for them, and when the federal government doesn't deliver, it's (of course) the fault of President Obama and the Democratic "majority" that "controls Congress."

    If the media doesn't get this info out, we need to.

  • schtick on December 26, 2011 10:29 AM:

    I'm in northern upstate NY. No snow and the geese are still here in flocks and this is December 26. I've NEVER seen geese here at this time.
    And my friend from Tenn that hates Gore still mocks global warming calling it crazy thinking. Some people skipped science in school or had a hatred for it that only borders their hatred for dems and Obama.

    crapcha....purojo necessary....seems it is

  • Dredd on December 26, 2011 11:35 AM:

    "Not surprisingly, a growing number of Americans want to get a better sense of why and how this is happening, and the extent to which climate change and human activity are playing a role"

    Don't seek that information in the main stream media of the establishment 1%.

  • beb on December 26, 2011 12:05 PM:

    I seem to recall that our weather satellites are getting old and need to be replaced soon but there has been no interest in congress for funding this.

    "raersed lame" the lame part is right for this captcha puzzle

  • internet tough guy on December 26, 2011 12:29 PM:

    Jeff Masters is a saint; just read the comments on his global warming/disaster blog entries to understand what kind of bullshit climate scientists have to put up with, and why the GOP will get away with every bit of obstruction on climate policy.

  • thebewilderness on December 26, 2011 1:18 PM:

    Once they committed to dismissing the first step to problem solving, investigation, as playing the "blame game" it is easy enough to see how they would prefer to do without government regulation or the legal oversight by the courts.

  • sherifffruitfly on December 26, 2011 5:31 PM:

    Tell me again, "true progressives", how Democrats are just like republicans. Lie to me some more, "progressives".

  • RalfW on December 26, 2011 11:43 PM:

    It's interesting to see the GOP taking a position that will screw a massive industry in America - the insurance biz.

    We always hear how the GOP is the pro-business party, but this level of denialism is gonna start (well, already has started) costing a lot of businesses a ton of money.

    Do the guys writing the big checks from the insurance industry to their GOP buddies know they're bankrolling their own increasing risks?

    I suspect they're as ideologically blinkered by the tax bogeyman that they don't know.

  • square1 on December 27, 2011 8:54 AM:

    "Tell me again, "true progressives", how Democrats are just like republicans. Lie to me some more, "progressives"."

    I'll bite. The point isn't that Democrats are "just like" Republicans. The point is that Democrats are worthless.

    Who gives a shit if Democrats say nice things about responding to climate change if they won't act? Obama doesn't need Republican permission to negotiate a climate treaty with teeth. Sure Republicans in the Senate would block it. But at least you would have a target. At least Republicans would be playing defense.

    If Bush was President and he -- in bizarroland -- wanted more climate data, he would have made it happen. Maybe he would put pressure on Dems to agree. Maybe he would have secretly diverted funds from some other source and dared Democrats to impeach him. Or invoked his power as Commander in Chief to get the military to take over the research.

    Whatever. Leaders find a way to get things done.

    We are talking about the futures of our children and grandchildren. Maybe you are satisfied with pointing the finger at Republicans. Personally, I'm more interested in finding a solution that playing the blame game.

    There are a lot of businesses that are going to start losing a lot of money as the climate changes. If you can't leverage that against the GOP then you suck at politics.

  • Doug on December 27, 2011 9:24 PM:

    "If George Bush was President...he would have made it happen." square1 @ 8:54 AM

    Ignoring facts again, eh square1? GWB wouldn't have done anything. Delay, Cheyney, whoever was Sec. of Commerce, THEY might have done something, but GWB? No way.
    OF course when your opposition party consists of people who actually want to govern, as opposed to only obstruct, it's amazing what can be accomplished. But you knew that, didn't you?
    It's nice to know who YOUR hero is, though...

  • Dennis on December 28, 2011 1:56 PM:

    History tells us the weather will change. Ice ages and extreme heat come and go. The real issue is how well we humans are prepared. I care less about the "planet". Earth has survived asteroid bombardment. Life on earth is resilient and will recover from anything we humans can dish out. Will humans survive the change? That is the real question.

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