Earth 100 years safe from asteroid

The New York Times

A policy strategy of Biden: send in the scientists

More than a decade ago, a woman at a bar near the Columbia University campus turned to Gavin Schmidt and asked if he knew the most important constituent of air. “Yes, nitrogen,” he replied. His answer left her guessing whether the average stranger at the bar would know anything about atmospheric chemistry. They got married two years later. Sometimes the nerds win. Today, Schmidt is one of the foremost scientists to warn the world of the risks of a warming world. He was recently appointed to a newly created position as NASA’s senior climate advisor, a job that presents the challenge of showcasing NASA’s climate science and helping figure out how to apply it to save the planet. Sign up for The Morning’s newsletter from the New York Times Schmidt, who has headed NASA’s Goddard Institute for Space Studies since 2014, will partner with a government that makes combating climate change one of its priorities. The Biden team is adding positions all over the government for policymakers and experts like Schmidt who understand the threats to our planet. “Climate change isn’t just an environmental issue that belongs to the EPA, it’s not just a scientific issue that belongs to NASA and NOAA,” said Katharine Hayhoe, a climate scientist at Texas Tech University. “Climate change is an issue of everything,” she said, and “it should be considered by every federal agency.” President Joe Biden has returned the United States to office on his first day to the Paris climate accord and has signed piles of executive orders to begin undoing the Trump administration’s rollback of more than 100 environmental regulations. Announcing Schmidt’s appointment, Acting NASA Administrator Steve Jurczyk said, “This position will provide NASA leadership with critical insights and recommendations for the full spectrum of climate science, technology and infrastructure programs.” Announcing the new position, which does not come with a separate budget or staff, Jurczyk said the task will be to “promote and participate in climate-related investments” in the agency’s earth science work and to help the world. help explain what NASA’s climate-related research and technology development is like. The space agency, which launches the satellites that track the state of the Earth’s atmosphere, oceans, snow, ice, and more, is one of the sources of hard science that informs us all about climate change. But the leaders have sometimes had a hard time talking about it. “Not every government was interested in calling it ‘climate change,’ especially the Trump administration,” said Lori Garver, a former NASA deputy administrator who is now CEO of Earthrise, a nonprofit that promotes the use of satellite data to combat global warming. Garver said she was “excited” about Schmidt’s appointment, calling it a message that “this will be a top priority for NASA.” She said that while the agency has provided important science to help understand global warming, it hasn’t been deeply enough involved in the search for solutions. She compared the situation to what could happen if scientists at the National Institutes of Health studied cancer but failed to find a cure. With a more aggressive stance, she said, “We can count on NASA’s brilliant scientists to do more than just take measurements.” Astrophysicist Neil deGrasse Tyson called the new post “a long time ago,” but added that the position will be most meaningful if Schmidt “gains routine access to Congress and the President.” Why? Because “NASA itself,” he said, “isn’t the one that needs advice on climate change.” Schmidt has written about 150 scientific articles and has an active and sometimes acerbic presence on social media. At the Goddard Institute, he led the development of one of the most authoritative models of the climate system on Earth. When scientists tell us that climate trends are due to greenhouse gases generated by humans, they are partially relying on Schmidt’s work. On a recent bright, icy morning, Schmidt sat for a socially aloof interview on a bench overlooking Harlem Lake in New York City’s Central Park and spoke about the new job. “Climate change is changing what you need to worry about,” he said, and the space agency can help the nation and the world figure out what we all need to know. That includes things like “How do we speed up the information you need to build better coastal flood defenses?” and “What do we really understand about intensifying rainfall – how do we predict that in the future?” He will not have budgetary power or workers’ armies under him. Instead, he will have to rely on his voice. “Having people who know how science works from scratch is useful when you’re sitting in a room full of policymakers.” When officials ask, “can science make this happen?” he said, “the answer may be ‘well, no. Not really. But we could do this – this is the kind of question we could answer, ” and suggest the parts from NASA that could work on the problem. Schmidt did not always seem destined for such heights. Growing up in a village outside of Bath, England, his early ambition was to move elsewhere. Because he was good at math, he came to Oxford on a scholarship. When he graduated, he was unsure what to do next, and for two years he “bummed around the world”, working various odd jobs: driving for Avis, picking grapes in Australia. After a while he admitted that he was bored. “I said the most intellectual thing I do is the weekly crossword puzzle in The Guardian.” So he went to University College London, as he puts it, and asked if he could participate in a doctoral program. They scoffed because the deadline was long gone, but suggested talking to a researcher who just happened to need a graduate student. “He said, ‘So when can you start?’” The researcher needed someone with math skills for his work on subterranean ocean waves. Schmidt found that he liked the research, and also found that “people are much more interested in the oceans than they are in math.” He would lead the development of the Goddard Institute Earth System Model, a massive computer program that can simulate the planet’s climate system and show how phenomena such as rising carbon dioxide levels cause warming. Over time, he began to draw on so many fields that he had to become a climate polymate, broadly focused rather than delving into one topic, as many experts do. It helped make him a gifted communicator of science. In 2004, he helped start a blog, Real Climate, hoping to explain climate science to the general public and science journalists. But an additional audience paid attention: other scientists. “One of the big surprises that came out of that was how much other climate scientists actually needed help to understand climate science” outside of their own field, he said. When the American Geophysical Union awarded its first prize for climate communications in 2011, it went to Schmidt for “transforming the climate dialogue on the Internet,” the group said in its quote. Everything Schmidt has done came together, he said – and that even includes his skill at juggling, a hobby he started in high school when he thought he remembered, “Oh, that will be useful to the ladies. ” He improved his juggling skills over the years, starting in Australia when he lived with a juggling busker. Today, he credits the hobby by helping him build the confidence needed to perform in front of large crowds – his 2014 TED Talk has been viewed 1.3 million times. “It turns out that the things I’ve spent doing, learning, or practicing have all played a part in furthering that evolution,” he said. He also took up unicycling, which in turn led to the sport of unicycle hockey, and that’s about what it sounds like. He played on the UK national championship team for the sport and broke an arm at one point. Joshua Wolfe, who wrote a book with Schmidt on climate change and who is a fellow member of the Carmine Street Jugglers group in Greenwich Village, said Schmidt’s efforts to educate the world about global warming have not come without cost. Schmidt, like other major climate scientists, has been attacked by the denial community, which has made attempts through court to access their private email accounts, ostensibly to track down evidence of scientific fraud. Those intimidating registrations were unsuccessful and no fraud has been demonstrated, but the attack campaign stung. “He paid an emotional price,” said Wolfe. “It is exhausting to be the target of lawsuits” and to be attacked on social media and by hackers. Wolfe helped establish the Climate Science Legal Defense Fund, which helps target scientists. “With his modeling skills, he could have earned 10 times his salary, 130 blocks south of Wall Street. He chose to communicate the science despite very real personal costs to do so. Now, every year, on the Tuesday two weeks before Good Friday, the anniversary of the night Schmidt met his future wife, he posts harmless tweets about nitrogen, with the hashtag #NitrogenTuesday. Sitting on the sofa, Schmidt pointed to a fluttering cardinal. and worried aloud about the people trying their luck by stepping over the frozen surface of Harlem Lake. “I won’t bet my life on it,” he said, and saw another ice walker. people who don’t make wise decisions, “he said. This article originally appeared in The New York Times. © 2021 The New York Times Company