The Government Shutdown Could Be Devastating for Climate Research

Climate scientists are warning that the U.S. government shutdown will have negative consequences for the environment, as climate and weather research are slowed during a crucial time. Some disaster relief efforts may also be hindered, and access to data will be limited, as will some field work.

While hurricane season generally occurs between June and November, forecasters and researchers say they do some of their most important work during the off-season, particularly in terms of improving forecasting models and technology, according to CNN.

Eric Blake, a hurricane specialist with the National Hurricane Center told CNN that, “it is much worse for this to happen during the off-season.” He explained, “It’s a tight schedule [and] we try to fit in as many improvements as possible before the next hurricane season.”

Forecasters will continue working, but of the 200 employees at the National Center for Environmental Prediction, just one person will remain on staff during the shutdown.

“A shutdown would interrupt potentially life-saving information and observations from the scientists working at these agencies,” the American Geophysical Union warned ahead of the Dec. 21 shutdown date, Think Progress reported.

A spokesperson for the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) told CNN: “There are improvements scheduled in the next upgrade window that may be delayed due to the shutdown.”

The Trump administration has been making significant changes to environmental policy since day one. In 2017, the president approved construction of the Dakota Access and Keystone XL oil pipelines, and signed an executive order to overturn the Obama-era Clean Power Plan that sought to reduce carbon dioxide emissions. More recently at the COP24 U.N. climate summit in Poland, the U.S. held an event promoting greenhouse-gas-causing fossil fuels, which was met with protests.

“This is lost time that cannot be made up,” Suru Saha, a computer modeler at the Environmental Modeling Center told CNN. Saha is on furlough during the shutdown.
“It’s gone and it will affect future operations,” she warned.
The shutdown may also impact short- and long-term disaster relief efforts and preparedness, which could hurt communities hit hardest by climate-related disasters, like hurricanes.
As Blake told CNN, “If the shutdown continues and we have to cancel [upcoming] meetings with [the Federal Emergency Management Agency], then that will hurt America’s hurricane readiness.”
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