There are two critical aspects to diagnosing and forecasting climate change: observational platforms (satellites) and models (software that performs numerical climate prediction).
The Earth system must be accurately and robustly observed. That goes for everything between NASA’s GOES-R next generation weather satellites, for which Lockheed Martin recently was awarded the opering contract (and which Bush tried to delay or cancel), to Europe’s planned climate satellite, Tropomi (the Dutch are going to finance it). Both of these announcements came recently, which is good news.
The United States under George Bush introduced a large and quite frankly unacceptable window of time between current technologies in orbit and development of future platforms to observe Earth. The responsibility to monitor Earth for everybody’s benefit has not so quietly shifted to the Europeans and the Asians. Nothing is inherently wrong with that – they’re just as capable of doing so as we are. But the seriousness of the impeding climate crisis was thumbed at by Bush and his controllers. If U.S. platforms break down before the next series are operational, the world loses out on the capability to validate the second tool identified above: models.
2) The Earth system must continue to be modeled. That effort has to include upgraded observations from the platforms explicitly and implicitly listed above. Take for instance the Community Climate System Model (CCSM). This model was instrumental in formulating the conclusions of the IPCC‘s most recent report. The UK’s Met Office is another quick example of an entity that continually develops and upgrades climate models. These efforts require substantial support from their respective governments. The benefit to society should be plain to see, but has been effectively subverted by deniers and delayers in the current U.S. “administration”.
On this front, another piece of good news was also recently announced. President-elect Obama has named Bill Richardson to head the Dept. of Commerce, the entity under which quite a bit of scientific research related to climate change is conducted. Bill Richardson seems to me to be somebody who largely understands the challenges we face and the necessary actions to take to confront those challenges. The largest obstacle in his way will be the upcoming fight over every dollar appropriated by Congress. He will have to convince Congress and President Obama that requested dollars are warranted. I personally don’t think that should be that hard – climate research funding hasn’t exactly been outstanding, especially when you compare the increases to war contracting during the same recent period. War profiteers have received billions in no-bid contracts while the sciences have had their budgets stall or decline. I hope and expect the next administration to fund science as much as it deserves.