05/31/2007 09:01 am ET | Updated May 25, 2011

Of Idiocy and Optimal Climates

By now it's zinging around more or less everywhere. NASA administrator Michael Griffin made this mind-boggling statement to NPR:

I have no doubt that a trend of global warming exists. I am not sure that it is fair to say that it is a problem we must wrestle with.

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 ever have had and that we need to take steps to make sure that it doesn't change. 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.

To be fair to Griffin, there's the germ of an interesting point here. Climate has varied dramatically in past eras of the Earth's history. And these variations in climate have most assuredly favored some parts of the world at the expense of others. Ongoing global warming is, inevitably, going to have the same effect. There are going to be at least some winners, along with all the losers.

So far so good.

But as the blog Prometheus points out, what Griffin is ignoring is the whole issue of risk and its distribution. Our global society is set up for--adapted to--the current climate. But now we're moving in the direction of raising the sea level considerably--even as much of the global population is coastal--and melting large amounts of ice, while also altering the occurrence of phenomena, such as droughts, that could have a dramatic impact on food and water supplies.

How can anyone think this is not a tremendous societal risk, even if there might be some people--in, say, Buffalo, New York--who may actually have more pleasant weather under global warming?

NASA is already backtracking. James Hansen, the agency's top climatologist, is slamming his boss. Assuredly there will be many more jeers and groans over the course of the day.

But let's not forget the big picture. Michael Griffin said something obtuse in one press interview. But the Bush administration has more or less acted, for seven years, as if it agrees with him.