California could launch its own climate satellites if Trump cuts NASA programs


An artist rendering shows NASA’s Jason-3 satellite.

California has a back-up plan if President-elect Donald Trump cuts funding for NASA’s fleet of Earth-observing satellites, which are crucial to gathering climate change data.

“If Trump turns off the satellites, California will launch its own damn satellite,” California Gov. Jerry Brown said to applause during a Dec. 14 speech at an Earth science conference in San Francisco.

“We’re going to collect that data.”

Brown was speaking to an energized crowd at the American Geophysical Union’s annual fall meeting, which brings together thousands of Earth scientists. Worries about Trump’s plans to squelch climate research has been a key topic at the event, with Interior Secretary Sally Jewell also addressing the issue on Wednesday.

Scientists held a rally outside the meeting this week, vowing to “stand up for science” if the Trump administration hinders their work.

Trump’s advisers have indicated the incoming administration will target NASA’s $2 billion Earth science division, which is responsible for gathering data on everything from rising surface temperatures and greenhouse gas emissions to retreating glaciers, shifting rainfall patterns and changes in vegetation.

In an Oct. 19 op-ed, two advisers vowed strip NASA of its “politically correct environmental monitoring” duties and return the agency to its “core missions” of space exploration and science.

“These are the fundamental underpinnings of a Trump civilian space program,” Robert Walker, a former congressman, and Peter Navarro, an economist, wrote in Space News.

Walker later told Scientific American that NASA’s Earth-centric work could instead be transferred to other agencies, such as the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration and the National Science Foundation.

The budgets for both of those agencies pale in comparison to NASA, and NASA’s mission explicitly tasks the space agency with monitoring our home planet.

A NASA satellite image taken Aug. 29, 2016 shows Hurricane Madeline, left, and Hurricane Lester over the Pacific Ocean.

Image: NASA via AP

An instrument on NASA’s Terra and Aqua satellites shows the land surface temperature in Thailand, center, and surrounding countries between April 15-23, 2016.

Image: Reto Stockli/NASA Earth Observatory Team/MODIS Land Science Team via AP

Back in San Francisco, Brown reminded the crowd that, as California’s governor in the 1970s, he had already proposed launching a state-sponsored satellite, earning him the moniker “Governor Moonbeam.”

He noted that California one of the world’s largest economies has advanced the nation’s most ambitious policies for curbing emissions from power plants, vehicles and agriculture. The Golden State’s own work has helped drive national policy under the Obama administration.

“Whatever Washington thinks they’re doing, California is the future,” Brown said.

Video credit: American Geophysical Union

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