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A shift in US climate change politics impacts the EPA and Nasa

ByVeronika Chronholm

Feb 16, 2017

After Donald Trump became President of the United States, any and all information about climate change disappeared from the White House website. Under the heading ‘An America First Energy Plan’, the administration mentions wanting to utilise untapped oil and shale resources on American soil, as well as wanting to revive the American coal industry.

According to the same web page, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) will be made to focus solely onclean air and water, implying the agency will be required to abandon its work on regulating greenhouse gas emissions and its publications about climate change research. This sentiment is mirrored in Trump’s choice for the new head of the EPA, Oklahoma Attorney General Scott Pruitt. Whilst Pruitt is not an outright climate change denier, he is a big proponent of fossil fuels and has protested many policies implemented by the EPA for being too harsh in their regulation of fossil fuel emissions.

With increased use of oil, shale and coal, combined with lax regulations on greenhouse gas emission, it certainly looks like the United States’ contribution to air pollution and greenhouse gas emission is set to rise. This could lead to problems with air quality on a national scale for the US, but given how far polluted airstreams can move, it may also prove to affect air quality in other parts of the world as well. The increase in greenhouse gas emissions in particular will certainly affect the global climate and could lead to a larger increase in global average temperature over the coming years.

Both on the campaign trail and in his inauguration speech, President Trump has stated that he wants to defund Nasa’s environmental work and have the organisation focus on space exploration, a stance confirmed by his senior advisors.

Nasa’s work for the environment over the past few decades includes using satellites in Earth’s orbit to monitor global changes, and creating accurate models of how our planet is affected by deforestation, increasing levels of greenhouse gases, and a sinking ocean pH balance. The resources that have, up to this point, been available to Nasa for this kind of work include a large number of satellites, a considerable budget, and leading scientists from many different fields. Together these resources have put the organisation in an almost unique position to predict, monitor and respond to climate change. On its website, Nasa describe this work as “more and more important as human expansion, modernization, and urbanization increasingly impact the Earth’s environment”.

Nasa’s budget for this kind of work may now completely disappear. To date it has contributed considerably to international understanding of climate change, but we still know far from everything and are in need of further research and continued monitoring.

Nasa’s being unable to continue its climate change research will quite possibly prove detrimental to our ability to reverse climate change or even halt it- something we have been unable to do so far. Since the 1970s, Nasa has played a significant part in developing technology for more sustainable energy sources, such as solar and wind power, as well as more efficient engines and alternative fuel sources.

Given that technology that is energy efficient, light-weight and low-waste is useful to reduce the cost of space travel, Nasa might still have a budget for developing sustainable technology under Trump’s new directives. However, it will not be able to put any resources into adapting that technology for use on Earth, which may mean that the US will continue to be dependent on fossil fuels and more exhaust-heavy technology for many years to come.

Image: Nasa

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