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9 ways NASA can help fight Climate Change

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Scientists tell President Obama how the space agency could help solve the world’s number-one problem.

By William S. Marshall and James Clay Moltz, Scientific American Posted Jan 27, 2009

A recent article in Scientific American suggests that NASA is perhaps one of the best equipped agencies to help tackle the causes and consequences of global climate change. Although NASA specializes in space exploration, the advanced engineering tools, data collection technologies and experience in monitoring weather patterns can be applied to the challenges presented by climate change.

The following is a summary of the 9 reasons why NASA can help the climate crisis.

1. Develop an integrated, global plan for energy and the environment.

This plan would utilize the information NASA has on global climate change patterns, and with the help of international partners and agencies, create a system that will show the rates that renewable resources would be required and used, what new climate data information is required, including the proper levels of carbon trading and caps and what mitigation technologies need to be implemented. The plan would make clear whether nations could meet internationally agreed-on carbon dioxide emission limits and still fulfill their energy needs.

2. Open NASA facilities to “green tech” companies.

NASA has a wide range of facilities that are of relevance to green technologies from research stations in the arctic and desert, to the world’s largest wind tunnels, to supercomputers. Green technology companies could have access to these facilities to advance climate change knowledge, test theories and improve green products.

3. Create an energy/environment data center.

NASA has an extensive database which could be coupled with data from agencies such as the Department of Energy and NOAA, and offered in an accessible format to parties engaged in climate research.

4. Utilize small, inexpensive spacecraft to collect climate data.

NASA should establish a venture class of smaller. less expensive satellites and spacecraft for Earth observing to enable the collection of more data for less cost.

5. Invest in “green” aviation.

NASA could be tasked to help to develop some of the key technologies that would enable “green aviation”—technologies that could help aircraft use less fuel or be carbon neutral.

6. Use of UAVs for regional climate modeling.

NASA UAVs could be used to fill information gaps between aircraft observations and satellite data, which would create a system that provides regional, high-resolution collection of climate data.

7. Greater U.S. Government collaboration.

NASA could work closer with other U.S. and international organizations that are working in on climate change. Improved access and information sharing programs can avoid duplication and facilitate advances in research and technologies. Agencies could report to a new energy and climate czar, or a new Energy and Environment Agency which would have the added advantage of coupling energy developments with climate change science.

8. Create an Earth Systems Directorate.

NASA could elevate its Earth Science Division to a ‘directorate’ which would be equal to space exploration and science as critical agency functions. Bringing together all the relevant agencies inside of NASA would improve its capabilities to study climate change.

9. Increasing public participation in green programs.

NASA is already in a position to engage the public on research and iniatives directed toward climate change. One example of this is an Web effort called which is an open dialogue between NASA employees and the public on all of the agency’s policies. Another is NASA’s Quest Atlantis program. (Note: Eartheasy is a ‘green living’ content provider to the NASA Quest Atlantis program.)

According to the authors, addressing the inherent complexities of climate change will require a coordinated effort of thousands of scientists and engineers, and large-scale deployment, perhaps not unlike the retooling of manufacturing during World War II or the Apollo project. While effective solutions to climate change must occur on a global scale with all nations coordinating their efforts and resources, there are few organizations today with the relevant capacity of NASA.

The above is a summary of the article written by William S. Marshall and James Clay Moltz.
The original article in its entirety is available at the Scientific American website.

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