Does NASA have any climate change skeptics?
Dr. Michelle Thaller is an astronomer who studies binary stars and the life cycles of stars. She is Assistant Director of Science Communication at NASA. She went to college at Harvard University, completed a post-doctoral research fellowship at the California Institute of Technology (Caltech) in Pasadena, Calif. then started working for the Jet Propulsion Laboratory's (JPL) Spitzer Space Telescope. After a hugely successful mission, she moved on to NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center (GSFC), in the Washington D.C. area. In her off-hours often puts on about 30lbs of Elizabethan garb and performs intricate Renaissance dances. For more information, visit NASA.
Michelle Thaller: Hi Jay. So your question is how widespread is it within NASA that scientists are convinced that human activity is responsible for climate change? And this is something that is important to say very, very clearly. I have known and worked with hundreds of earth scientists at many different locations in NASA, all of them, all of them believe that human activity is responsible for the current climate change that we see going so fast it's almost unprecedented. I want you to think about that.
One thing that I take really seriously and I'm very proud of is that NASA is not a political organization. We are scientists that work for the American people. We're funded by taxpayer's money. And what we do is we make measurements. We have many, many different satellites that are orbiting the earth right now they're looking at things like ice on the oceans and at the poles, they're looking for things like vegetation growth and the change of that, ocean level, is the ocean level rising? Yeah it turns out that it is. So we have many scientists all over the planet studying all of the different ramifications of climate change. We understand the causes. There actually is no scientific controversy about that. Humans are releasing greenhouse gases into the atmosphere and this is warming our planet.
Now what scientists are researching currently, and they don't all agree about, is what are the most important components of driving climate change. Is it carbon dioxide? Could it be something else like methane? When methane gets released that's an even more powerful greenhouse gas. We don't agree on how quickly things like the ocean level will rise. People have different estimates for how quickly that will happen. So there still is scientific controversy about what the most important aspects of climate change are and how quickly it will go in the future, but there is no scientific disagreement within NASA that humans are causing climate change.
Now I started this off by saying that one of the things I'm very proud of is that NASA is not political. And what that means for me is that I cannot advocate for any specific solution to climate change. That's not my job. That's up to policymakers. People might suggest things like having more solar energy or cutting carbon emissions or things like that, but at NASA we really understand that's not us, that's up to the American people, our leaders and leaders around the world. What we do is provide the facts to everybody on the planet. All of our data is actually free to any government, any person, any scientist all over the world that wants to use it. So we all know what's causing climate change, we can't tell you what to do about it but we can say it's time to do something about it.
- How widespread within NASA is the conviction that human activity is responsible for climate change?
- Michelle Thaller knows. She has worked with hundreds of Earth scientists at NASA who study the climate.
- It's important to note that NASA is an apolitical organization devoted to science, not policy solutions.
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