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Thursday, May 31, 2007

Dumb Quote of the Day: NASA Chief Says Global Warming Fine By Him

On an interview this morning on NPR's Morning Edition, NASA chief administrator, Michael Griffin defended NASA's spending on a manned mission to Mars and planned permanent moon base and said that while NASA studies climate change, the agency has no authorization to "take actions to affect climate change in either one way or another."

This excerpt from the NPR interview has got to take the cake as today's Dumb Quote of the Day. Dr Griffin told NRP's Steve Inskeep:

"I have no doubt that … a trend of global warming exists. I am not sure that it is fair to say that it is a problem we must wrestle with. To assume that it is a problem is to assume that the state of Earth's climate today is the optimal climate, the best climate that we could have or ever have had and that we need to take steps to make sure that it doesn't change. First of all, I don't think it's within the power of human beings to assure that the climate does not change, as millions of years of history have shown. And second of all, I guess I would ask which human beings — where and when — are to be accorded the privilege of deciding that this particular climate that we have right here today, right now is the best climate for all other human beings. I think that's a rather arrogant position for people to take."
Now, Dr Griffin is presumably a smart guy. So why did he say something so patently dumb on national radio?

Human civilization and the current biological community have evolved and adapted to living in current climatic conditions, which - relative to the changes we are now causing to the global climate - have been stable for tens of thousands of years. A change of ice-age magnitude proportions - several degrees Celsius of warming - would clearly wreak havoc on both human and non-human life. Dr Griffin has to know that, so why would he say something so stupid?

I hope this isn't another example of government scientists towing a party line for the sake of the Bush Administration's political agenda...

Either way, congratulations Dr Griffin - you win today's Dumb Quote of the Day award!

[You can read a full transcript or listen to the interview here - the interesting part is about 4 1/2 minutes in.]


Anonymous said...

Actually, from a purely scientific point of view, what Dr Griffin said was perfectly correct and I think you may be taking his comments out of context.

Let me explain what I think he meant.

From a scientific pov, when talking about a condition that affects a whole planet, how do you then fairly decide who gets to dictate what the perfect state of the globe is, was and should be? The globe is massive - how would you go about making sure that every inch of it was fairly represented?

Example...while you sat in your nice air conditioned home or office, typing out your rebuttle to Dr Griffin, in the same amount of time, some guy on the other side of the world with a long beard, few clothes, living in a tent, sweated half his body salt out in a desert somewhere.

Meaning this....let's say that the conditions we have at the moment are the optimal for Earth...lets just say that some bunch of scientists in the West have been given the privaledge of deciding you think that man living in the tent would agree with that decision? Do you think he thinks that his conditions are optimal?

I think what Dr Griffin was alluding to (which did'nt come across very clearly), is that it wouldnt be right for a small, select group of people (no matter how "important" or qualified they are) to have the right to dictate for the whole planet what the optimum conditions are, were or should be - and I agree with that, wholeheartedly.

And thats at the core of this whole issue...because in order to know how to "fix" something, you have to know what that something was like at its optimum condition, so that you'll know when your efforts to fix it have been successful.

Now do you understand?

Anonymous said...

And [forgive me], but just to further the point...

The Earth is constantly changing, right? It's never in a static state, neither as far as movement goes, or as far as climate.

Optimal living conditions on Earth have been going up and down since day dot. We don't have a static planet where we can say, this is the average temperature and this is how it's going to stay and this is how it's always been. And it's like this everywhere.

It's constantly changing, right?

So would it be very intelligent of us to take a snapshot in time and then say - here, these are the optimal conditions of earth. This is the atmosphere at it's best. Would that be an intelligent thing to do?

How would we know that? Are you in receipt of data that was collected before science was invented? Because every bit of historical scientific data we have, is based on scientific hypothesis (unless you happen to know Dr Caveman from the year 2 million BC who has been passing mean averages to you).

You cant take a one time snap shot of something that is constantly evolving and changing, and then say....there...that was our target at its best. It's just not possible. And this was another thing that Griffin was alluding to and did'nt come across clearly enough.

Although I've got to be brutally honest, I did think you did him a major dis-service in your write up and took his comments way out of context.