As part of the spoils of their midterm victories, Republicans now get to remake many of the congressional oversight committees that hold power over federal agencies. As is typical for the party that has for decades been moving from the ideology of “limited government” to “no government at all,” when it came to who would oversee the nation’s science programs, the GOP wasted no time in appointing one of their own who not only doesn’t agree with most current scientific discoveries, but has actively tried to defund science research in the past.
Sen. Ted Cruz (R-TX), a man who doesn’t believe climate change is real and who’s dad recently claimed evolution was a communist lie to “convince you that you came from a monkey” as a way to disprove God, will now oversee the subcommittee on Space, Science, and Competitiveness, including NASA. We’re screwed.
After all, Cruz is the kind of Tea Party extremist that probably cried during the Apollo moon landings – not because of the amazing achievement, but because that was money that could have been spent giving tax breaks to job creators. He has expressed no interest in science, and his anti-government agenda makes an agency like NASA a natural enemy.
However, as much as it may seem like a bad Onion article, a scientifically-ignorant Cruz is a very intentional pick by the Republican Party. Cruz’s appointment to oversee NASA fits the general trend of subcommittee appointments being motivated primarily by people with an agenda, rather than people with the requisite knowledge or interest in the field. Like many politicians, Cruz was tapped for the job specifically because he is anti-science and Republicans reason that animosity will make him a tough nut to crack when NASA comes to him for money.
In fact, we’ve already caught a glimpse of just how little Cruz thinks of NASA. In 2013, Cruz tried to slash funding to the space agency by sneaking an amendment into a spending authorization bill. Thankfully, Democrats in the Senate told him to get lost and removed the amendment before it could be finalized. Now the other party holds the power and Cruz looks hungry.
This may be convenient for Republicans eager to prove an ideological point, but it may be disastrous for – ironically – America’s space and science competitiveness. For example, much of the research NASA has been conducting – from space and here on earth – has been focused on the devastating effects of climate change. Arguably, it’s the most important research of the 21st century, because those effects will have dire consequences for people and the planet in the decades to come. But the terrifying thing is this: Cruz doesn’t believe any of it.
Unlike many of his conservative colleagues, Cruz doesn’t just believe climate change isn’t man-made, he doesn’t think it’s happening at all. In an interview with CNN last year, he was certain that he was right:
“The last 15 years, there has been no recorded warming. Contrary to all the theories that they are expounding, there should have been warming over the last 15 years. It hasn’t happened,” said Cruz. “You know, back in the ’70s—I remember the ’70s, we were told there was global cooling. And everyone was told global cooling was a really big problem. And then that faded.”
It’s a favorite conservative talking point, but it’s false. The world is definitely warming, and there are reams of data to support that conclusion. Cruz recalls the 1970s, but lets see if he can remember as far back as last year – also known as the hottest year ever recorded.
Cruz’s power over NASA comes at a crucial time in the agency’s history. Apart from the terrestrial-based science its researchers have been conducting, NASA has several major space projects cooking, including a proposed manned mission to Mars by 2030. With Cruz holding the purse strings, the funding for such ambitious projects now has to be called into question. For those of us who long to see the exploration of space put back on the national agenda, there is nothing good about an anti-science Tea Partier getting to decide whether or not that’s important enough to spend money on.