In any other country in the world, this would not be news. But nevertheless, take a deep breath and get ready to hear something big: a Trump administration official used scientifically accurate terms to talk about climate change.
I know. Big.
Recently-minted NASA Administrator Jim Bridenstine held a town hall with NASA employees on Thursday at NASA headquarters. During the event, the moderator read a question from employees at NASA’s Jet Propulsion in Pasadena, California, which he said was an “easy one because it’s about climate change” to audible laughter in the room. (He then followed up with “yeah, we’ll see if I’m still working here next week.”)
The question specifically asked Bridenstine about his views on climate change and climate science at NASA. Here’s his response (you can hear it for yourself by skipping to the 3:19 mark in the video below):
“I don’t deny that consensus that the climate is changing. In fact, I fully believe and know that the climate is changing. I also know that we humans beings are contributing to it in a major way. Carbon dioxide is a greenhouse gas. We’re putting it into the atmosphere in volumes that we haven’t seen, and that greenhouse gas is warming the planet. That is absolutely happening, and we are responsible for it.”
This represents a huge turnaround from Bridenstine’s previous position, something he acknowledged earlier in his answer. As a member of Congress, he said during a 2013 floor speech that temperatures stopped rising 10 years ago (they didn’t) and that “global temperature changes, when they exist, correlate with sun output and ocean cycles” (they don’t when it comes to the recent warming trend).
In his confirmation hearing, Bridenstine inched closer to acknowledging the scientific reality of climate change, but stopped short of saying to what extent human carbon pollution was causing it (the answer is virtually all of it). In that light, Thursday’s town hall is a huge breakthrough.
No Trump appointee has come even close to plainly stating this reality. In fact, folks like Scott Pruitt and Rick Perry said some semi-accurate things in their confirmation hearings only to fall back on saying extremely wrong things once they were confirmed.
Bridenstine also offered a full-throated defense of NASA Earth science, calling it “the one agency on the face of the planet that has the most credibility to do the science necessary to understand it better than ever before.”
He spoke highly of the NASA’s carbon-monitoring satellite program, Orbital Carbon Observatory. The program’s third satellite was slashed in Trump’s budget, but Congress put it back in and Bridenstine said the agency would go forth with the launch in January. One part of the question that Bridenstine didn’t answer, though, was what would happen to the Carbon Monitoring System that was recently quietly canceled.
But hey, progress is progress. Maybe Bill Nye got through to him after all.