Dear Scientists

I have watched with embarrassment as employees with various federal agencies have gone rogue on social media to criticize President Trump.  The alternative agency Twitter feed that I find the most upsetting is Rogue NASA.

I became a scientist and engineer because of NASA.  My dad took me to see Apollo 13 in theaters, I was 12 years old.  There is that great scene in the movie where a bunch of engineers are tasked with making the CSM filters function in the LM.

BOOM!!!  That’s it.  I was hooked.  That’s what I wanted to do with my life.  I wanted to solve technical challenges.  Also, SPACE!!!  Space is awesome!

From Apollo 13 I was introduced to The Right Stuff, both the book and the movie.   The more I read about what those men did, pushing the boundaries of engineering and design, the more I was inspired.

It is one of the greatest joys in life that I get to drive by an Saturn V rocket on my way to work everyday.  The Saturn V is perhaps in the top 10 engineering advances in human history, right up there with antibiotics and splitting the atom.

NASA was founded by President Dwight D. Eisenhower with the signing of the National Aeronautics and Space Act of 1958.  The purpose of which was:

To provide for research into problems of flight within and outside the earth’s atmosphere, and for other purposes.

As an adult, I was dismayed when President Obama turned NASA’s gaze around to stare at earth to study climate change.  NASA’s vision it outer space.  We already have an agency that studies the earth and its atmosphere, the NOAA.  NASA didn’t need to become a redundancy.  A refocus of NASA on deep space exploration is exciting to me.  I am thrilled about the impending launch of the James Webb Space Telescope.  I look forward to a NASA that I hope will inspire my son with new discoveries the way NASA inspired me.

Then I read the Rogue NASA Twitter feed.  It is 100% climate change.

I am not inspired.

Well, the first stage of the Saturn V burned 203,400 gallons of kerosene in 162 seconds to produce 7.5 Million pounds of thrust.  We did that 10 times, not to mention all the unmanned launches of the Saturn IB that we conducted to get the Saturn V ready.

The advancement in knowledge and reach we gained was worth every molecule of CO2 we made doing that.

Climate change is all these alt agency Twitter feeds are yammering about.  A group of scientists are planning a march on DC to protest, and what is their march all about?  Climate change and Social Justice intersectionality.

This brings me to my point, or should I say points.

First of all, I am dismayed that in Liberal America, “science” is synonymous with climate change.  Any speculation about anything less than a totally apocalyptic future brought about by burning fossil fuels is “science denial.”

The attitude regarding climate change has become such an article of political faith that climate change and science hardly belong in the same sentence anymore.

So much of the climate change noise sounds like the street preacher screaming “The End is Neigh” only to change the date when the world doesn’t end when he predicted.

This brings me to my second point.

I remember when the panic was mass starvation and Soylent Green was made of people.  Then Norman Borlaug came along with genetically engineered crops and saved a billion people from starvation.  When I was a kid, acid rain was going to dissolve the forests and turn the world into a dust bowl.  Then some next generation scrubbers came online and industry changed, and nobody talks about acid rain anymore because its all but gone away.

This is where the problem of the combination of political religion and scientists really kicks in: fixing the problem.

Now is when I take of my scientist lab coat and put on my engineer hard had.  Let’s say for argument’s sake that man made climate change is completely real.  Now what?

The response from the “scientists” (the use of scare quotes was deliberate) is to destroy the economy.  Our economy thrives on shipping goods around the world on oil burning ships and across the country in diesel burning trucks.  Our economy is possible because the cost of power in Western World is so very low.

Two thirds of US energy comes from coal and natural gas.  Just how fast should we shut down these power plants?  To listen to the environmentalists, we need to stop burning fossil fuels for energy by 2018.

That is a call for rolling blackouts.  People would starve to death just due to the amount of food spoilage from shut off refrigerators.  Innovation would end.  Our economy would die overnight as electricity became prohibitively expensive.  There is no way to replace 66% of our energy infrastructure with wind and solar in 5 years (the article was published in 2014).  It took 20 years to electrify America.  Rebuilding our energy infrastructure will take at least that long.

The same with any technology that aims to replace the internal combustion engine.  There is no point to a commercial vehicle that takes an hour to charge up enough to drive 22 miles.  Sure, Tesla Superchargers exist, but until an electric vehicle is built that has the carrying capacity, range, and recharge/refill time as any current commercial gas or diesel vehicle, the investment in the infrastructure isn’t there.

That’s OK.  The Tesla today is like the Motorola of the 1980’s, battery life sucks, it is wildly expensive, and is mostly a toy for rich people to show off.  Fast forward 20 years and through innovation brought about by the consumer market, everybody has a really awesome smart phone.  Give the electric car industry another 20 years an I’m sure my son’s first new car after college will be something electric and awesome.

The point is we have to get there at a rate of technological progression that is economically feasible.  We need to keep the lights on with coal to do that.

We’re not going to get to Star Trek by taking a detour through The Flintstones to avoid putting out any more CO2.

This isn’t bowing to the oil industry or big coal or hating the planet.  This is Engineering Econ 101.

Without cheap energy our economy fails,  A failed economy can’t innovate.  Without innovation we have no solutions.  We can’t bankrupt the economy to save the planet… assuming we can even save the planet.

And yet my saying “hey, slow down, we’ll get to a future that is nearly free of energy and transportation generated CO2, we just have to do it in an economically sustainable way” makes me a science denier.

It is truly embarrassing.

 

6 Replies to “Dear Scientists”

  1. When your budget funding and grants (and the lifestyle they make possible) are contingent on producing “something” that will agree with all the other people who are getting grants for producing apocalyptic end-of-the-earth scenarios, speaking truth to that power behind the money becomes of null importance.

    The $God Almighty Dollar$ has spoken.

    As has been said elsewhere; “When we start seeing the High priests of anthropogenic global warming personally acting like it’s a real problem, I might begin to give favorable consideration of their point of view.

  2. The embarrasing thing is CO2 is NOT a bad gas. If you remember your 5th grade science class- we breath oxygen and give off co2. Ya know those green things outside? Ya know trees and bushes,even house plants? They take in co2 and give off OXYGEN.. so get rid of co2 and EVERYTHING DIES. Hey “climate changers” heres an idea- shut up! Imagine how much you could reduce your “carbon footprint” if ya just shut up. Besides, whats wrong with warming?? I havent seen too much grow in ice and snow.. the sky is falling the sky is falling! Geezus, shut up. Good article Mr JKB.

    1. Plus, the amount of energy CO2 can block is limited — and we’ve exceeded that limit. The only way to reduce the energy retained by greenhouse gasses is to reduce the amount of water vapor in the air.

  3. As an aerospace engineer, I ain’t happy about it either. Whether or not you believe in climate change (and if so, what’s causing it), NASA should not be in the business of it.

  4. Great article. I’ve made the same argument before: the way out of climate change is headlong advancement, not regression. Keep the economy pumping, keep pure science running, and see what happens.

    And yes, NASA’s job is not climate change. They might be surprised…with all the advancements NASA has made in pure science and invention over the years it might be while trying to solve a space problem that they figure out the key piece to solving climate change. That’s how pure science works…and why NASA is so valuable doing WHAT IT DOES, not tracking weather.

  5. Short story: I used to teach.

    I would ask my classes, “What should be done to reduce pollution?”

    Most common answer: Electric Cars

    I would counter, “And what form of energy will charge those electric cars?”

    Most common answer: Blank stares

    My conclusion: The Church of Climate Change is a PC cult that is incapable of discussing any currently obtainable solutions. CNG is bad because of fracking. Nuclear is bad because of (take your pick of historical meltdowns). Hydro is bad because is hurts the natural environment. Wave power will kill whales. Wind power kills birds. Solar power takes up too much land… and that’s not even discussing the unreliability of most of the above power generating technologies.

    In reality, “Climate change” is a simple way to transfer money from the public treasury to political donors, back to politicians. The political constituency simply cheers while being robbed… but I’m the “denier”.

Feel free to express your opinions. Trolling, overly cussing and Internet Commandos will not be tolerated .