Top NASA official 'not sure' about fighting global warming
Nick Juliano
Published: Thursday May 31, 2007
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The top NASA official said in a radio interview Thursday that he is "not sure" whether global warming is a problem that societies should work to prevent.

"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 have had and that we need to take steps to make sure it doesn't change" NASA administrator Michael Griffin said on National Public Radio's Morning Edition.

Griffin said he accepted that the planet's temperature has risen about 1 degree centigrade over the last century and that human activity is responsible for the increase, but he questioned the necessity and effectiveness of efforts to fight climate change.

"First of all, I don't think it's within the power of human beings to assure that the climate does not change, as millions of years of history have shown," Griffin said. "And second of all, 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."

Griffin's comments drew quick rebukes from advocates of efforts to fight global warming, including some of NASA's own scientists studying the issue.

James Hansen, the space agency's top climate change scientist at the Goddard Institute for Space Studies in New York, called Griffin's comments "arrogant and ignorant," according to ABC News.

"It indicates a complete ignorance of understanding the implications of climate change," Hansen told ABC News.

In a statement released by NASA late Wednesday night -- following the release of a transcript of his NPR remarks -- Griffin re-iterated his position.

"NASA is the world's preeminent organization in the study of Earth and the conditions that contribute to climate change and global warming," Griffin said. "...It is NASA's responsibility to collect, analyze and release information. It is not NASA's mission to make policy regarding possible climate change mitigation strategies."

Hansen published new research this week that finds the Earth's climate is nearing a "tipping point" where a relatively small amount of further warming will have dire consequences.

"If global emissions of carbon dioxide continue to rise at the rate of the past decade, this research shows that there will be disastrous effects," Hansen said in a press release announcing the research. These include "increasingly rapid sea level rise, increased frequency of droughts and floods, and increased stress on wildlife and plants due to rapidly shifting climate zones."