POLITICS
05/11/2018 02:55 am ET

Trump Administration Axes Funding For NASA System That Monitors Greenhouse Gases

One scientist calls the decision to cancel the program a "grave mistake."

The Trump administration has quietly eliminated funding for NASA’s research program that tracks greenhouse gases around the world.

According to Science, the Carbon Monitoring System (CMS) tracks the world’s flow of carbon dioxide from space. Such a system is critical to monitoring any improvements — or failures — in attempts to cut the pollution linked to climate change.

NASA spokesman Steve Cole told the magazine that the program was canceled due to ”budget constraints and higher priorities within the science budget.” Usually, Congress battles such cuts, but this time, there was simply no mention of the program’s $10 million annual budget in the White House budget.

Although existing grants will finish, Cole said, no new projects will be undertaken. NASA’s budget report for fiscal year 2019 assumes the “termination” of CMS.

Getty/Alexandros Maragos

Many of the projects CMS has tracked involved how effectively forests, including tropical forests, trap carbon dioxide. Carbon measurements were also critical for compliance with air pollution reduction goals, such as those required by the Paris climate agreement. In June 2017, Trump announced that the U.S. would withdraw from the accord.

“If you cannot measure emissions reductions, you cannot be confident that countries are adhering to the agreement,” Tufts University environment professor Kelly Sims Gallagher told Science. She also called canceling the NASA program a “grave mistake.”

Climate change expert Rachel Licker of the Union of Concerned Scientists also told the BBC  that “dismantling CMS will adversely affect our ability to track flows of carbon through our land, oceans and atmosphere.”

Europe has one carbon-monitoring satellite of its own and is on track to develop more. As the U.S. under Trump turns increasingly to fossil fuels, including coal, experts warn that it will cede developing cutting-edge technology focusing on pollution reduction and alternative fuels to other nations. 

“We really shoot ourselves in the foot if we let other people develop the technology” and lose that edge in the economies of the future, Phil Duffy, president of the Woods Hole Research Center in Massachusetts, told Science.

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