We Have Alarmingly Stupid People Running Federal Agencies

In a weird sort of progress, NASA administrator Michael Griffin* acknowledges that global warming is real. But being a Bush appointee it goes without saying that Griffin cannot possibly say something reasonable without slipping in the crazy somewhere.

In an interview with NPR’s Steve Inskeep that will air in Thursday’s edition of NPR News’ Morning Edition, Administrator Griffin explains: “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.”

I mostly let the global warming issue go these days since, IMO anyway, the key thresholds have already come and gone so there is little point getting worked up about it now. Still, even a jaded cynic like me has to stop and stare at self-justifying stupidity like this. Griffin’s personal odyssey from doubt directly to despair reflects a too-convnient attitude that I see in rightwingers practically every day. One moment they deny anything to do with global warming, the next they think that puny little people like us could never hope to influence such a terribly huge problem. Or, this is a new one, it might even be morally wrong to fix the problem that we created. So many rightwingers seem to magically pass from denial directly to despair without getting anywhere near the idea that we should try to tackle the climate problem before it wrecks us. This transition from denial to inertia suits perfectly the Exxon-Mobil interests that fund America’s rightwing.

Giving Griffin the benefit of the doubt, here is an answer to his complaint. You don’t have to know each individual who will win and lose from changing climate to know that human civilization in aggregate grew in and depends on a several thousand year period of historic climate stability. Our global population has surged towards seven billion because food growers can plan their harvest five, ten and twenty years in the future. Water rights in marginal lands use regional averages that have held true for hundreds of years. Humans living near water (somewhere near 50% of the global population) count on the coastlines staying where they are next year and the year after that. The word civilization keeps growing in meaning as technology advances and far-flung regions grow entirely interdependent on one another for survival.

Hardly an exception from global interdependence, Americans may be the worse off than anybody. Think of how many products you have used that came entirely from inside America. Do you know where the raw materials were produced? Do you know where your shoes were assembled? The simple fact is that Americans could not possibly afford shoes, cars or coke for blast furnaces produced entirely in America. Our raw manufacturing sector is dead. We outsource both labor costs and evironmental degradation to poorer countries that make our stuff for us and then sell it back to us on the cheap. Coincidentally many of these same countries stand on the front lines with respect to climate. When components of the global system break down everything will start to crawl.

We need to find a solution for global change because every element of our current system is heavily mortgaged on stability. Naturally instead of either proposing to mitigate change with sensible carbon policies or suggesting a national Apollo Program to handle the disruption that change will cause we get despondent, inertia-bound leaders like Michael Griffin who must rationalize away his ideological allergy to dealing with problems that he can no longer deny.

***

(*) No idea whether he’s related to ousted US Attorney and vote purger Tim Griffin, although I suppose I would have heard about it by now.






45 replies
  1. 1
    Bruce Moomaw says:

    As Keith Cowing points out on “NASA Watch”, Griffin, in his followup statement, is now frantically trying to dodge the whole subject.

    As far as I’m concerned, that’s all, brother. I was more positive about him than any administrator NASA has had in at least the last 37 years; but this is the most important NASA-related subject of them all, and he’s just staged a pratfall on it. Time for the next President to fire him.

  2. 2
    tBone says:

    We can’t admit that an easily-foreseen problem might have been avoided by careful planning and rational leadership. That would only embolden our enemies in the greenhouse gas community.

    It’s sad that you liberals are so anxious to set a surrender date to Mother Nature. We need to give our current policy of doing absolutely nothing another six months before we declare it a failure.

  3. 3
    craigie says:

    mmmm, choosing which humans to torture – no problem.

    Choosing which climate to prefer – the arrogance!

  4. 4
    Pb says:

    What global warming–it was snowing in May, ha ha ha ha ha!

    It amazes me that people can be that stupid with a straight face. Therefore, it almost goes without saying that…

    Hey Noel! Rush just read your entire column to 20 million listeners! Way to go!

  5. 5
    Mark says:

    Bruce, I wonder if you’d care to elaborate on your comment that global warming is the most important issue related to NASA today, and that Griffin’s remarks constrains Nasa’s ability to carry out its mission or merits his removal. The way I see it, Nasa’s mission does not cover solving global warming, nor should it, unless we’re talking large-scale projects like enormous mirrors placed in orbit to block out the sun. It certainly doesn’t cover reducing carbon emissions. Calling solving global warming the most important issue related to an agency that is named the national Aeronautics and Space administration reeks of mission creep. We should be trimming Nasa down to focus on pushing the frontiers of space exploration, not bloating it up. A far better solution would be to create a separate agency devoted to climate issues (not like that’s going to come from the current administration).

  6. 6
    cleek says:

    …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.

    only a commie liberal elitist would try to force his idea of a nice climate on future generations! why do liberals think they know everything ?

    give people the option to choose! let the market decide!

  7. 7
    jake says:

    I had to go back and read the source article for context. I’d include this one:

    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.

    Hope you can hold your breath a long time numbskull.

    This isn’t despair, this is a rather lame dodge. Unless someone can show me where respected scientists have said the climate we have TODAY is the “optimal climate” and that we need to keep it where it is right now. Didn’t think so. Not only is Griff. stupid, he’s devious. I suspect his “thinking” went a little like this:

    “I’ll just shift the discussion from facts (inconvenient things, facts) possible improvements, coping strategies or anything that might require people to change their behaviour; it’ll be all about the librul elite egg head scientists (the nebulous and ominous “people”) picking what sort of air we breathe. The base will lap it up!”

    As the signs along DC’s pot-holed, patched over, tire eating roads used to read: Your tax dollars at work!

  8. 8
    chopper says:

    What global warming—it was snowing in May, ha ha ha ha ha!

    nice link. i love it when people who can’t figure out the difference between climate and weather talk about the subject. sigh.

  9. 9
    Lee says:

    I made the mistake of reading the comments in the newbusters link.

    It really is one big echo chamber for the wingnuts isn’t it.

    They really cannot tell the difference between weather and climate. Is it because they are stupid or because they do not want to deal with something that goes against their beliefs, or both?

  10. 10
    Andrew says:

    The way I see it, Nasa’s mission does not cover solving global warming, nor should it, unless we’re talking large-scale projects like enormous mirrors placed in orbit to block out the sun. It certainly doesn’t cover reducing carbon emissions.

    Wow, sounds like you’re right on top of NASA’s earth science research track.

    Let’s put this guy in charge of a division or two of the federal government.

  11. 11
    canuckistani says:

    They really cannot tell the difference between weather and climate. Is it because they are stupid or because they do not want to deal with something that goes against their beliefs, or both?

    They don’t believe it because you do. If liberals* went around saying that people needed eyes, the right-nuts would poke their own out.

    *for liberals, you can also read “dirty smelly hippies”

  12. 12
    ChristieS says:

    They really cannot tell the difference between weather and climate. Is it because they are stupid or because they do not want to deal with something that goes against their beliefs, or both?

    If I were feeling frisky today, I’d probably post the following Idiot’s Guide-style of analogy on their board: “Weather is a byproduct of Climate, morons. Just as much as this bullshit is a byproduct of Griffin’s bovine idiocy.”

  13. 13
    The Other Steve says:

    I agree with Mark. Climate isn’t part of NASA’s mission.

    That’s the province of the NOAA, the NWS, and to some extent the EPA. The only involvement from NASA should be helping those other agencies by launching test equipment.

  14. 14
    The Other Steve says:

    Wow, sounds like you’re right on top of NASA’s earth science research track.

    Let’s put this guy in charge of a division or two of the federal government.

    Multiple federal agencies shouldn’t be doing the same thing. That’s inefficient waste.

  15. 15
    AkaDad says:

    You’re doing a heckuva job Griffy…

  16. 16
    Nicholas Weaver says:

    Actually, climate is a BIG part of NASA’s job.

    From space is about the only place where you can get a good global view of what’s happening on earth, and the two bright lights of NASA in the past 20 years (which, coincidentially, get only miniscule shares of Nasa’s budget overall) have been automated space probes and earth studies from space.

    (The space shuttle, OTOH, is pretty much only good for killing 14 astronauts and counting, and eating up most of Nasa’s budget along with that Motel 6 in orbit…)

  17. 17
    farmgirl says:

    Speaking of Exxon-Mobil, has anyone figured out what the hell Dow Chemical is trying to say in their “Human Element” ad? The sub-text seems to be “Hey, people are part of nature, so anything they produce is natural too. Pollution is really your friend, so embrace it.” The ad is so irritatingly vague in a smarmy sort of way, I can’t even listen to it any more.

    What do others think?

    (N.B. I find Areva’s “Funkytown” nuclear life-cycle ad to be oddly endearing.)

  18. 18
    ThymeZone says:

    Anybody who has has to battle the liberal elites here in a discussion about The Wire knows that they’d think nothing of forcing their moderate-climate views upon the rest of us.

    Griffin is right. A guy who has the balls to send live humans into space in vehicles that are about on an engineering par with a 1976 Oldsmobile Cutlass is obviously strong enough to have his own climate preferences and know how to defend them.

  19. 19
    Andrew says:

    Multiple federal agencies shouldn’t be doing the same thing. That’s inefficient waste.

    I agree completely. I think that this work is best reserved for the Department of American Enterprise Institute.

  20. 20
    Jake says:

    The sub-text seems to be “Hey, people are part of nature, so anything they produce is natural too.

    Yep. The earlier ones were a recital of chemical reactions that occur in nature. (with the implication it couldn’t happen if we weren’t there to watch?) Then they added stuff about metal getting harder (steel v. iron, something that requires humans). I only saw these ads during Planet Earth so I don’t know if it’s progressed even further beyond that to “Coal burns brighter! Weather gets more erratic!”

    I think the other sub-text is Dow loves nature. Dow love brown people in far away places. Dow friend. Friend!

    Run.

  21. 21
    Tsulagi says:

    In addition to America, you must hate the Eskimos. They’ve been looking forward to their upcoming beachfront property. Trying to prevent that proves your arrogance.

  22. 22
    Sstarr says:

    If only someone could convince Dobbson that we need to return the atmosphere to the same condition it was in when Jesus was born in order to trigger the rapture…. THEN we’d get some action fast.

  23. 23
    farmgirl says:

    Jake:

    Dow love brown people in far away places.

    Yeah, kinda weird. The only people in these ads seem to be from pristine tribal regions where it’s unlikely they *have* any access to high-end chemicals.

    Creepy in so many ways…

  24. 24
    ThymeZone says:

    If only someone could convince Dobbson that we need to return the atmosphere to the same condition it was in when Jesus was born

    Yes! The way to fight them is to insist on a return to “traditional atmospheric values.”

    They love a good values argument, so let’s give ’em one.

  25. 25
    Jake says:

    The only people in these ads seem to be from pristine tribal regions where it’s unlikely they have any access to high-end chemicals.

    I wonder if the commercials mean Dow intends to do something about that. “Hey, there’s still some clean places on the planet. Let’s get some plastics in there!”

    But the company has already brought lots of high-end chemicals to the people of Vietnam (Agent Orange). In 2001 Dow purchased Union Carbide which brought lots of chemicals to the people of Bhopal.

    Creepy in so many ways…

    Indeed and then some. Let’s hope the folks living in clean areas know to chase off anything sporting a red & white parrellelogram.

  26. 26
    Punchy says:

    No idea whether he’s related to ousted US Attorney and vote purger Tim Griffin, although I suppose I would have heard about it by now

    Seems more related to Stewie Griffin…

  27. 27
    Bubblegum Tate says:

    This isn’t despair, this is a rather lame dodge.

    And the new talking point, I think. Mark Noonan made the same argument this morning with no reference to Griffin. Look for more wingnuts to trot it out in the near future.

    a return to “traditional atmospheric values.”

    Now that’s good comedy!

  28. 28
    sglover says:

    Multiple federal agencies shouldn’t be doing the same thing. That’s inefficient waste.

    Grand idea! I suggest we start with the U.S. Air Force, whose aircraft and missions duplicate the aviation components of the Navy, the Marine Corps, and the Army. The entire combined budgets of federal scientific agencies like NASA, NOAA, USGS and so forth are a practically a rounding error compared to what the Pentagon pisses away.

  29. 29
    farmgirl says:

    In 2001 Dow purchased Union Carbide which brought lots of chemicals to the people of Bhopal.

    Iiiiinteresting. I was wondering if the “happy brown people” theme was an effort to counter Bhopal, as at first I couldn’t recall which company had been responsible. Teh google brought up Union Carbide, so I abandoned that point. But if Dow *bought* UC, then maybe it’s still valid to read that into their “chemicals are environmental” pitch. I mean, don’t you feel warm and fuzzy thinking about sodium bonding with chlorine?

  30. 30
    Alex Russell says:

    We need to find a solution for global change because every element of our current system is heavily mortgaged on stability.

    I have thought this rationale was an excellent one for a huge R&D push along multiple fronts – and that the admittedly necessary arguments over currently observed climate change being human-caused have been a distraction from it. Significant changes in global climate would be trouble even if it had nothing to do with human activity. We have very high human populations, broken up into different nations with established infrastructures and different cultures, with all sorts of limits to adaptive mobility (for other species too). Action like space mirrors to slightly reduce sunlight – or changes in energy production, or etc. – would be justified regardless, for the prudent value of maintaining a stable context.

  31. 31
    Alex Russell says:

    “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.”

    Griffith’s comment is weirdly reminiscent of a poor version of a defense of free markets – a version that, unlike better versions, is typically only used when someone is trying to fend off a legitimate point: “How elitist of you to conclude that other things are better! This is what the market came up with.”

    The better defenses of capitalism are nothing like that – they point out, often soundly, that a free market approaches or fulfills various measures and definitions of a successful arrangement better than other systems would manage to. The idea that there can be such quality standards – that the system and the world can be judged – is never questioned, and never needs to be, although the proper standards can be debated. Saying, on the other hand, that any such standards and any reasons for them are elitist is an attempt to fend off all priority-judgment completely.

  32. 32
    BIRDZILLA says:

    Al Gore is urging us to save energy while he still uses $30:000 a month its too bad he dont geta black-out

  33. 33
    Bill Arnold says:

    I’ll have to try out Griffin’s line the next time I turn up (or down) the thermostat setting in the house and my wife or mother in law complains.

  34. 34
    Mark says:

    Andrew and Nicholas, I agree with you that launching satellites to study climate falls in NASA’s domain. But devoting resources to actually solving it? We’ve seen what NASA’s done with the shuttle and ISS programs; at this stage, tasking them to solve global warming would seem to lead to further disaster. In my opinion, getting involved with politics to reduce carbon emissions or to research solutions to global warming that aren’t space-based is not part of NASA’s mission and therefore, Griffin’s comments are irrelevant to his ability to lead NASA in that mission.

  35. 35
    Jake says:

    But if Dow bought UC, then maybe it’s still valid to read that into their “chemicals are environmental” pitch.

    You’re right. Especially since DOW is still being hammered to clean up the damn mess and their response was “Don’t wanna, ain’t gonna.”

    I mean, don’t you feel warm and fuzzy thinking about sodium bonding with chlorine?

    More like multi-syllable compounds bonding with lung tissue. This is image rehabilitation a la “environmentally friendly oil companies.” For shits n’ giggles search Bhopal on their website. Sort of clashes with their desire to save the world and all.

  36. 36
    Jono says:

    Thats some pretty poor logic there Tim F.

    You berate conservatives because they have several reasons for opposing government managed efforts at reducing emissions.

    So what if they have several valid reasons, that doesn’t make them inconsistent at all. Perhaps for debating purposes, you would like it spelled out all nice and simple, and for conservatives to only be allowed to put forward one single argument for why they believe global warming does not warrant government action.

    Perhaps we should demand the same from environmentalists. Instead of harping on about dying polar bears (whose population is actually booming) or record temperatures (some of which are record cold temperatures) or about unreliable ice sheet samples showing CO2 concentrations, maybe they should only be allowed to put forward one single argument.

  37. 37
    Jon H says:

    ” and the two bright lights of NASA in the past 20 years ”

    Ignoring Hubble, Chandra, COBE, other telescopes, the enormously successful Mars rovers that are *still* going, despite having had a predicted life of about 3 months. And I’m sure I’m forgetting others. Did NASA slam the probe into the comet? Or was that the Europeans?

    “Andrew and Nicholas, I agree with you that launching satellites to study climate falls in NASA’s domain. But devoting resources to actually solving it? ”

    ‘Solving it’ is a red herring. Nobody expects NASA to solve it. They don’t have that power. In order for anyone to solve it, or even to monitor it, we’re going to need satellites up there sensors. And that means it would be useful to have NASA working on the sensing technologies, and data processing technologies to increase the amount of useful data we get back.

    Also, I’d have to think NASA expertise in remote atmospheric science would be quite useful when trying to monitor our own atmosphere. If they can develop methods and instruments that can make sense of the convoluted, exotic atmospheres of other planets, or even distant exoplanets, we can use that expertise.

    (Also, if we ever do manage to get off this planet and out of this solar system, it would be very beneficial to know what we did to our own atmosphere, when we’re trying to select a new planet to travel to and colonize. If you’re going to invest 100 years on a one-way generation ship voyage to an exoplanet, you don’t want to pick one that ends up being easily tipped into dramatic climate change within a few decades of carbon fuel burning.)

    Note that the deniers and diminishers often say it’s an open question, and we need to study it more, but they then turn around and try to stop anyone from studying it, or revealing their findings.

    Mitchell is the arrogant one, saying that we know everything we need to know, and shouldn’t bother learning anything else.

  38. 38
    Mark says:

    Well said JonH! And seeing as how, as you said, no one expects NASA to solve global warming, and Griffin stated he fully believes in anthropogenic global warming and NASA’s commitment to studying it, I don’t see any reason to remove him.

  39. 39
    Tim F. says:

    Griffin stated he fully believes in anthropogenic global warming and NASA’s commitment to studying it, I don’t see any reason to remove him.

    Actions speak louder than words. Griffin has repeatedly acted to marginalize Earth science and defund projects essential to understand global warming. He’s another Bush league bullshit artist, in fact I suppose we should feel grateful for the rare glimmer of honesty that sparked my post.

    You berate conservatives because they have several reasons for opposing government managed efforts at reducing emissions.

    If conservatives have some ideological objection to governing usefully then they have no place in government. That works fine with me.

  40. 40
    Katie says:

    Griffin has repeatedly acted to marginalize Earth science and defund projects essential to understand global warming.

    He’s done more than defund projects. He’s dismantled entire science research infrastructures. What does NASA aeronautic program look like. Oh. Right. It doesn’t. They still *have* a program, but there’s no money for people and no money to do anything, but hey look, I haven’t eliminated any programs. He’s done the same thing with lots of programs.

    He’s worse than Goldin and that takes some doing.

  41. 41
    Dennis Brown says:

    Outstanding – if you do not have a PhD in climate science you should be given one! Never have I read such a smart and easy to understand sumation of the problems facing people from gobal warming. Thanks and keep up the great work (and really, as a scientist, I really mean that your reasoning is the best I have ever read on this subject.)

  42. 42
    HyperIon says:

    i was listening to the Griffin interview yesterday, paying close attention because it was supposed to be a response to Greg Esterbrook (sp?) attacking NASA the previous day for being enthusiastic about manned missions to the moon and mars (which is deeply stupid IMO). Inskeep asked something like “should NASA be putting its efforts into something more practical, like investigating global warming?” that’s when Griffin veered orthogonally to “who’s to say what is optimal?” i could tell from Inskeep’s tone in the follow up question (which i think started with “now, wait a minute…”) that he was having the same reaction as me, namely, “WTF?”

    a classic radio moment. and i don’t meant that in a good way.

  43. 43

    […] NASA administrator Michael Griffin regrets the dumb remarks on climate that spurred me to write this earlier post. MSNBC: […]

  44. 44
    QuickRob says:

    This is ridiculous! Remove a NASA administrator because he doesn’t believe in “Global Warming”???

    This sounds like some serious power trip some bloggers are on! You guys just want to see heads roll!

    To be fair, Tim F., the popular theory of climate change (like the one currently being taken on world tour by Al Gore) has so many holes in it. No one really interested in purely science (as opposed to politics, which is your realm) can yet say with any degree of certainty whether or not the current warming trend is natural, is anthropogenic, or if any of the current planned efforts to stall or reverse the warming would even be safe or succesful.

    With that gaping hole in the set of facts on global warming, it is irresponsible to suggest any kind of drastic action. I agree that pollution is bad, and I am especially opposed to seeing humans ruin the world for the rest of nature’s creatures.
    But I am not blinded by my ideology into making rash decisions. And while Bush may be a bumbling idiot 90% of the time, I commend him for acting like a leader and choosing a path of benign action (growing technology, not retarding growth) rather than making the politically-popular choice of marrying the US economy to a set of unrealistic and possibly-destructive goals in regards to reducing carbon emissions.

    And I realize that once anyone at this blog reads this comment they will of course call me a Bush-apologist, an idiot, an “intelligent design” redneck, or an asshole in denial. That being said, you can feel free to visit my blog and I have compiled many links to legitimate websites chronicling some of the doubts and arguments against the current fad, as well as some quotes from famous climatologists and earth scientists who all have serious misgivings about this sudden, dramatic push to enact vast new environmental legislation based on questionable science.

    You guys will probably still be convinced about the global warming story NO MATTER WHAT, And frankly, if knowing that numerous world-famous academics and scientists doubt the global warming story isn’t enough to have you guys start doubting it, well….then you’re not that bright in the first place. And, in that case I will agree with Michael Griffin and call you “ARROGANT”, because only arrogant people cling to beliefs with such fervency, despite the fact that they aren’t even experts in the field.

    This is like me telling Slash that he is playing his chords wrong, or telling Steve Jobs that he doesn’t know what he’s talking about in terms of MP3 players and music retail.

    A person with wisdom would defer judgment until the facts are truly on the table. Science, by definition, has not established the facts. To claim that you are defending the environment based on “science” is to insult science itself. Science is not so simple.

    Now, start the dodging and insults.

  45. 45
    QuickRob says:

    hey gotta go out to dinner. if i am slow replying, its only because im not around. but if theres any serious replies i will glad.y debate anyone in this comment thread later or tomorrow or whatever -rob

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