The Path Forward for Climate Resiliency and Energy Efficiency

Every October, the federal government marks National Energy Awareness Month. This is a time for us to lead by example, providing energy solutions that strengthen every community across our country.  

Inaction is not an option. 

Extreme weather continues to wreak havoc across America. To put this crisis in perspective, nearly one in three Americans experienced a weather disaster during this past summer alone. Five million people from Texas to North Dakota were left without power during a deep freeze in February. So far this year, over 47,000 wildfires throughout the country have burned almost 6.5 million acres. It’s almost certain the 2021 hurricane season will use up its allotted names for the Atlantic – something that has only happened twice since the 1950s.    

None of this is a coincidence. It’s a consequence of climate change, which President Biden calls “the existential threat of our time.” I completely agree with the President. The cost of the climate crisis is hard to completely capture. It is lost homes and businesses, decimated infrastructure, and – worst of all – lost lives. 

Many may think NASA is solely focused on exploring the heavens. While we will always push out farther into the cosmos, one of NASA’s greatest missions is protecting the plant we have: Earth. 

That was a point I made during a climate roundtable earlier this month at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Southern California. Even if most Americans don’t realize it yet, NASA is the point of the spear on climate change. 

Right now, NASA is equipping Americans – and the world – with better data to track natural hazards – from hurricanes to wildfires. Our mission is clear: to better prepare and support communities, families, and businesses. 

Last month, NASA launched Landsat 9, a satellite built to monitor the Earth’s land surface and provide data and imagery to help make science-based decisions – from water use wildfires impacts. For a half-century, Landsat satellites have observed our home planet, providing an unparalleled record of how its surface has changed over timescales from days to decades. Through this partnership with the United States Geological Survey, we’ve been able to provide continuous and timely data for users. This information empowers people to understand, predict, and plan for the future.  

Take OpenET, a new web-based water data platform launched earlier this month. Building on more than two decades of research, OpenET puts NASA data into the hands of farmers, water managers, conservation groups, and others to accelerate improvements and innovations in water management. It provides satellite-based information on water consumption in areas as small as a quarter of an acre at monthly and yearly intervals.  

OpenET is a new web-based platform that puts NASA data on water in 17 western United States into the hands of farmers, water managers and conservation groups, Based on more than two decades of research, OpenET uses publicly available data and open source models to provide satellite-based information on evapotranspiration (the “ET” in OpenET) in areas as small as a quarter of an acre and at daily, monthly and yearly intervals.
Credits: NASA Applied Sciences/Mike Brophy


In addition to many other existing Earth Science programs, we are continuing to develop a new concept at NASA: a climate mission control center. The idea is to equip state, local, tribal, and territorial governments with climate data to develop strategies. We can’t mitigate climate change and its impacts like energy inefficiency unless we measure and understand it. And that’s NASA’s expertise.   

In a few days, leaders from around the world will gather in Glasglow, Scotland for the United Nations Climate Change Conference. America’s space agency’s commitment is to build on our long history of Earth science and accelerate our efforts for the benefit of all humanity.  

Climate Change Mission Control

NASA supercomputer model shows how greenhouse gases like carbon dioxide (CO2) – a key driver of global warming – fluctuate in Earth’s atmosphere throughout the year. Higher concentrations are shown in red. Credits: NASA’s Scientific Visualization Studio / NASA’s Global Modeling and Assimilation Office

How do we work together to create a nation resilient against climate change?   

Earlier today, NASA joined forces with FEMA to co-host their Resilient Nation Partnership Network Alliances for Climate Action Virtual Forum Series 

NASA’s researchers, innovators, and pioneers are on the forefront of climate action.  NASA’s Earth observation and research supports the Biden administration’s climate agenda, which outlines putting the climate crisis at the center of our country’s foreign policy and national security. President Biden has been clear: the climate crisis requires an all-hands-on-deck, whole-of-government approach.    

Of course, we can’t mitigate climate change unless we measure and understand it. That’s NASA’s expertise.     

The sad reality is that climate change is already impacting our communities. The cost is enormous. It is loss of life. It is loss of livelihoods. And it is loss of communities.  Unless we act, and we act decisively, the poorest among us will suffer disproportionately, and instability will increase – both here at home and abroad. 

Over the past year and a half, we have all experienced firsthand the importance of looking ahead and the importance of understanding and planning for potential disasters. The poorest and most vulnerable among us are too often those who pay the highest price for inaction.     

 The Biden administration has made advancing racial equity and support for underserved communities a top priority. It is such a priority, that President Biden signed an Executive Order to do just that on day one of his presidency.   

The Biden administration has also focused on advancing environmental justice, which we know is closely linked with equity. Together, we need to further develop the capacity to monitor and reduce the detrimental impacts of hurricanes and floods. This will have a tremendous impact on America’s underserved communities.    

With the clear effects of climate change, the devastation from hurricanes and floods is severe, and growing more severe with each new year.       

In the face of disasters, there are significant equity issues when it comes to which communities gets support, and when.  But we need more. We need continued agency cooperation. We need a mission control center for climate change.    

NASA uses a mission control center for every launch and mission. In the case of the International Space Station, it has operated 24/7, 365 for over two and a half decades.  No less effort should be made to reverse the heating of our planet and to restore mother nature’s environmental balance.  

NASA is one of the world’s greatest experts in climate science, engaged in a broad range of activities to track and mitigate the effects of climate change. And we are actively focusing on making that data available and useful to U.S. citizens and beyond.  

Today I also announced that in addition to our existing Earth Science programs, we are exploring a new concept at NASA: A climate resilience design center that can help state, local, tribal, and territorial governments develop their climate resilience strategies.   

This is not something that we can do alone. It is an endeavor that is going to take collaboration with other agencies, like FEMA, and it’s going to take data from commercial companies and from international partners.    

But as one of the lead U.S. climate science agencies, NASA will take a leading role in helping our nation, and the world, prepare for the challenges to come.    

Our decisions will determine the fate of Earth. Let us protect it. Let us act boldly and with urgency. Let us preserve it for this generation – and generations that follow.       

You can watch my full remarks here. 

Stronger, Together

NASA’s role has long been to set the vision for space exploration. 

To successfully accomplish our missions and build on the agency’s incredible legacy, we must be fully committed to Diversity, Equity, Inclusion, and Accessibility (DEIA) for our entire workforce. We must remain united to empower these values, enable the best teamwork, and accomplish our common purpose and vision – to discover and expand knowledge for the benefit of all humanity.

As President Biden stated in Executive Order 13985, “[e]qual opportunity is the bedrock of American democracy, and our diversity is one of our country’s greatest strengths.” It is our duty at NASA to remain steadfast in “advancing equity, civil rights, racial justice, and equal opportunity.”

Linked here is NASA’s new Policy Statement on Diversity, Equity, Inclusion, and Accessibility for NASA’s Workforce and Workplaces to make clear NASA’s full commitment to DEIA. It is with this framework we can reinforce our agency’s commitment to inclusion and equity to accomplish our missions together and set the standard across the world.

We are stronger together, and our diversity is our strength.