May 30, 2024

Climate experts fear Donald Trump will follow a blueprint created by its allies to strengthen the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), divest its work on climate science and align its operations with business interests.

Joe Biden’s presidency has increased the profile of the science-based federal agency, but its future has been called into question if Trump wins a second term and at a time when climate impacts continue to worsen.

The plan to break up “Noaa is in the Project 2025 document written by more than 350 right and helped by the Heritage Foundation. Called the mandate for leadership: the conservative promise, it is intended to lead the first 180 days of presidency for an incoming Republican president.

The document contained the fingerprints of Trump allies, including Johnny McEntee, who was one of Trump’s closest associates and a senior advisor to Project 2025. “The National Oceanographic [sic] and Atmospheric Administration (Noaa) should be dismantled and many of its functions eliminated, sent to other agencies, privatized or placed under the control of states and territories,” the proposal states.

It’s a sign that the far right has “no interest in climate truth,” says Chris Gloninger, who left his job as a meteorologist in Iowa last year after death threats about his spotlight on global warming.

The guidebook chapter detailing the strategy, which was recently spotlight by E&E News, describes Noaa as a “colossal operation that has become one of the main drivers of the climate change alarmist industry and as such is harmful to future American prosperity”. It was written by Thomas Gilman, a former Chrysler executive who was CFO of Noaa’s parent body, the Commerce Department, during Trump’s presidency.

Gilman writes that one of Noah’s six main offices, the Office of Oceanic and Atmospheric Research, should be “disbanded” because it issues “theoretical” science and “is the source of much of Noah’s climate alarmism.” While acknowledging it serves “important public safety and business functions as well as academic functions,” Gilman says data from the National Hurricane Center should be “presented neutrally, without adjustments intended to support either side of the climate debate.”

But Noaa’s research and data are currently “largely neutral,” says Andrew Rosenberg, a former Noaa official who is now a fellow at the University of New Hampshire. “It actually basically reports the science as the scientific evidence accumulates and has been quite cautious about reporting climate effects,” he said. “It’s not pushing an agenda.”

The rhetoric refers back to the Trump administration’s scrubbing of climate crisis-related web pages from government websites and suffocating climate scientistssaid Gloninger, who now works at an environmental consulting firm, the Woods Hole Group.

“It’s one of those things where it seems like if you stop talking about climate change, I think they really believe it’s just going to go away,” he said. “They say this term ‘climate alarmism’… and well, the existential crisis of our lifetime is worrying.”

Noaa also hosts the National Weather Service (NWS), which provides weather and climate forecasts and warnings. Gilman calls for the service to “fully commercialize its forecasting operations”.

He goes on to say that Americans already rely on private weather forecasters, specifically mentioning AccuWeather and naming a PR release issued by the company to claim that “studies have found that the forecasts and warnings provided by the private companies are more reliable” than those of the public sector. (The mention is notable since Trump once tapped the former AccuWeather CEO to lead Noaa, though his nomination was imminent withdrawn.)

The claims come amid years of effort by American conservatives to help private companies enter the forecasting arena — proposals that are “nonsense,” Rosenberg said.

Right now, all people can access high-quality forecasts for free through the NWS. But if predictions are made only by private companies with a profit motive, important programming may no longer be available to those in whom business executives don’t see value, Rosenberg said.

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“What About Air Quality Forecasts in Underserved Communities? What about forecasts available to farmers who are not rich farmers? Storm surge forecasts in communities that are not rich?” he said. “The front lines of most climate change are black and brown communities who have fewer resources. Are they going to get the same service?”

Private companies such as Google, thanks to technological advances in artificial intelligence, can indeed now produce more accurate forecasts, said Andrew Blum, author of the 2019 book The Weather Machine: A Journey Inside the Forecast. However, those private predictions are all built on Noaa’s data and resources.

Fully privatizing forecasts could also threaten forecast accuracy, Gloninger said, citing AccuWeather’s famous 30- and 60-day forecasts as one example. Analysts found these predictions to be just right half the timesince peer-reviewed research found that there is an eight to ten day limit on the accuracy of forecasts.

“You can say it’s going to be 75 degrees on May 15, but we’re not in the capability right now in meteorology,” Gloninger said. Privatizing predictions could push readings even further into the future to increase views and profits, he said.

Commercialization of weather forecasting — an “incredible example of intergovernmental, American-led, postwar, technological achievement” — would also betray the spirit of the effort, Blum said.

In the post-World War II era, John F Kennedy called for a global weather forecasting system that relied on unprecedented levels of scientific exchange. A privatized system could potentially inhibit the exchange of weather data between countries, producing less accurate results.

The establishment of weather forecasting itself shows the danger of giving control to profit-driven companies, Rosenberg said. When British V Adm Robert FitzRoy first introduced Britain to the concept of forecasting in Victorian times, he was often bitterly attacked by business interests. The reason: workers were unwilling to risk their lives when they knew dangerous weather was on the horizon.

“The ship owners said, well, that means maybe I lost a day’s income because the fishermen wouldn’t go out and risk their lives if there was a forecast that was really bad, so they didn’t want a forecast that they would not give. a day’s warning,” Rosenberg said. “The profit motive ended up trying to force people to do things that are dangerous … there’s a lesson there.”

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