The Heat Is Online

Bush Administration Kills Climate Program for Developing Countries

Climate-Change Program to Aid Poor Nations Is Shut

The New York Times, Aug. 7, 2008


The National Center for Atmospheric Research, an important hub for work on the causes and consequences of climate change, has shut down a program focused on strengthening poor countries' ability to forecast and withstand droughts, floods and other climate-related hazards.


The move, which center officials say resulted from the shrinking of federal science budgets, is being denounced by many experts on environmental risk, who say such research is more crucial than ever in a world with rising populations exposed to climate threats.


In e-mail exchanges, these experts said the eliminated program, the Center for Capacity Building, was unique in its blend of research and training in struggling countries.


The Center for Capacity Building was created in 2004. It built on decades of work by its director, Michael Glantz, a political scientist who has focused on the societal effects of natural climate extremes and any shifts related to accumulating greenhouse gases.


One scientist, Ilan Kelman, a senior research fellow at the Center for International Climate and Environmental Research in Oslo, said he was "appalled" that the National Center for Atmospheric Research, based in Boulder, Colo., "would suddenly end one of the most productive programs and would let go of one of the most productive scientists within the institute."


"In terms of value for money," he added, "Dr. Glantz's science was among the best, being cutting-edge and cost-effective, yet influencing the world. He also ensured that science was used for humanity and by humanity."


Eric J. Barron, who was named the director of the atmospheric research center in May, said the step had been unavoidable given steady erosion of the center' budget, most of which comes from the National Science Foundation.


Dr. Barron said that over the last five years more than 110 positions at the center, of about 1,000 supported by the science foundation, had been cut from other programs as varied as solar physics, atmospheric chemistry and social science.


Altogether, the eliminated program had an annual budget of about $500,000. The budget for the entire atmospheric research center is $120 million.


In a telephone interview on Wednesday, Dr. Glantz said that he was let go Monday and that three other researchers were also losing their jobs. One, Tsegay Wolde-Georgis, left a similar program at Columbia University less than a year ago to work with Dr. Glantz. Dr. Wolde-Georgiss focus is bolstering the ability of African nations to anticipate and withstand drought and other climate shocks.


Roger A. Pielke Jr., a former staff scientist at the atmospheric research center and now a political scientist at the nearby University of Colorado , said the cut undermined an increasingly important branch of science.


Knowledge related to the societal dimensions of global environmental problems is fundamental to efforts to arrive at practical and effective solutions, Dr. Pielke said. If anything, we need to expand attention in these areas.


Clifford A. Jacobs, the National Science Foundations section head for the atmospheric research center and related programs, said the decision did not mean that the center was interested only in basic physical climate science.


This came as a very, very difficult decision, Dr. Jacobs said. You have to protect your core activities, but as budgets keep shrinking you have to redefine your core.


Copyright 2008  The New York Times Company