NASA Taps Top Climate Researcher for New Advisory Role on the Climate Crisis

The National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) announced on Wednesday that it has created a new position: senior climate adviser. The role will be filled in an acting capacity by Gavin Schmidt, who currently heads the NASA Goddard Institute for Space Studies in New York.

The agency’s new senior climate adviser will work to communicate the agency’s climate findings with the rest of the scientific community and help to align different parts of NASA with climate goals. Schmidt will be the first person at NASA to have a sole focus on climate, and told The Washington Post that his goal is to have “just one person that’s kind of really focused on the climate issues.”

“This position will provide NASA leadership critical insights and recommendations for the agency’s full spectrum of science, technology, and infrastructure programs related to climate,” said Steve Jurczyk, acting NASA administrator. “This will enable the agency to more effectively align our efforts to help meet the administration’s goals for addressing climate change.”

Activists, journalists and researchers in the climate community celebrated Schmidt’s appointment. He is “one of the nation’s most well-respected and outspoken modelers of how Earth’s atmosphere traps heat,” wrote The Washington Post. Though NASA studies space, it also is tasked with studying the Earth and has a vast set of tools to do so, making it well equipped to partner with President Joe Biden and the climate community to further our knowledge on the climate crisis.

Having a point person for climate at NASA will help the agency with monitoring and reporting on issues that are critical for the climate movement in keeping track of things, such as the Earth’s rising temperature and deforestation around the globe.

The new role is a continuation of Biden’s “whole-of-government” strategy on the climate crisis, a strategy that the climate community has advocated for over several years. New appointments have also been made to oversee climate issues at the Securities and Exchange Commission, the U.S. Department of Agriculture and the General Services Administration.

While an organized national response to the climate crisis has been virtually nonexistent so far, the climate community is hopeful that this latest move to prioritize climate within the White House will catalyze progress across the country and smooth out disparate and uncoordinated responses.

Recent research has found, for instance, that U.S. cities have been vastly underestimating the amount of greenhouse gas they emit, by an average of about 18 percent. While emissions reductions — as called for by the Paris agreement that Biden recently rejoined — are an important part of a nation’s climate response, monitoring is crucial to understanding the volume of emissions that need to be reduced.

Biden’s response to the climate crisis is thus far a sharp rebuke to former President Donald Trump’s climate-denying years, in which climate was subjugated and shunned. Trump rolled back over 100 environmental policies during his presidency and over 1,000 scientists at federal agencies left their posts during his tenure, the Union of Concerned Scientists reports.