Last year, the Trump administration announced their plans to withdraw from the Paris climate accord. Now, the White House wants to restrict the world's ability to measure its effectiveness.
According to a new report from the journal Science, the Trump administration has quietly killed NASA's Carbon Monitoring System (CMS) – a $10 million-a-year research project, which monitors the flow of Earth's carbon.
The move jeopardizes plans to verify the national emission cuts agreed to in the Paris climate accords, argues Kelly Sims Gallagher, director of Tufts University's Center for International Environment and Resource Policy.
"If you cannot measure emissions reductions, you cannot be confident that countries are adhering to the agreement," Gallagher told Science.
She added that canceling the CMS "is a grave mistake."
Phil Duffy, the president of the Woods Hole Research Center, told Science that the CMS was an obvious target for the Trump administration.
Obvious, because over the past year, Trump and his administration have repeatedly attacked climate science and climate research. And also obvious because Trump has proposed cancelling the CMS in the past.
In fact, his administration has twice called for cuts to NASA's earth science budget and other climate missions. And while the cuts ultimately didn't pass Congress, NASA's CMS project was conspicuously missing from a recent spending deal signed by Congress in March.
Now, it makes sense why.
When it comes to supporting Earth science research, the reach and breadth of the CMS is impressive.
The CMS has supported projects that help understand the carbon locked away in our forests and it has provided crucial research on the improvement of tropical forest carbon inventories – all of which help nations around the world to reduce their carbon emissions from deforestation and forest degradation.
The CMS can also help cities and countries map their greenhouse gas emissions and help identify ways to reduce them, like it has done in the past.
Stephen Hagen, a senior scientist at Applied GeoSolutions who works on laser mapping tools for tropical forests, said he was disappointed by NASA's decision.
Ultimately, he said, it "means we're going to be less capable of tracking changes in carbon."
This doesn't mean that all carbon monitoring and measuring is gone. It just means that leadership in this area will most likely be passed on to Europe, which has one carbon-monitoring satellite of its own, and more on the way.
"We really shoot ourselves in the foot if we let other people develop the technology," said Duffy.
According to the report from Science, NASA has declined to provide a reason for the cancellation beyond "budget constraints and higher priorities within the science budget."
For critics of NASA's new administrator, Jim Bridenstine, the news should not come as a surprise.
Bridenstine's nomination was shrouded in controversy, not only because he lacks an advanced degree in science and he's never run a large organization before, but also because he denies the primary impact that humans have on climate change and he has been a fierce opponent of NASA's Earth Science Program.
In the past, Bridenstine has even proposed moving earth science research out of the science agency altogether.
Faced with growing resistance from Congress, Bridenstine walked back some of his beliefs and reiterated his support for NASA's Earth Science Program.
While testifying, Bridenstine assured Senators that "NASA will continue to follow the guidance of the Earth Science decadal surveys and I will advocate within the Administration and with Congress to see that the agency is able to carry out the recommendations of those decadal surveys."
But many did not believe him.
There is simply no excuse for voting for someone so unqualified to run NASA. They aren't even bothering to make the argument that he will be a good administrator. They are just voting yes and getting out of town. For me this is a good reminder that elections have consequences.— Brian Schatz (@brianschatz) April 19, 2018
Bridenstine has been at NASA for less than a month and he has already confirmed his critic's worst fears.
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