The head of NASA said he was not sure global warming was a problem and added that it would be "arrogant" to assume the world's climate should not change in the future. Scientists called the remarks ignorant.
"I have no doubt that global - that a trend of global warming exists," NASA Administrator Michael Griffin said in a taped interview that aired Thursday on National Public Radio. "I am not sure that it is fair to say that is a problem we must wrestle with."
"I guess I would ask which human beings, where and when, are to be accorded the privilege of deciding that this particular climate that we have right here today, right now, is the best climate for all other human beings. I think that's a rather arrogant position for people to take," Griffin said.
On Wednesday, Griffin's own agency put out a news release about a research paper written by nearly 50 NASA and Columbia University scientists and published in the journal Atmospheric Chemistry and Physics. The paper shows how "human-made greenhouse gases have brought the Earth's climate close to critical tipping points, with potentially dangerous consequences for the planet."
Jerry Mahlman, a former top scientist at the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration who is now at the National Center for Atmospheric Research, said Griffin's remarks showed he was either "totally clueless" or "a deep anti-global warming ideologue."
James Hansen, a top NASA climate scientist and lead author of the research paper, said Griffin's comments showed "arrogance and ignorance" because millions of people will likely be harmed by global warming in the future.
White House science adviser Jack Marburger said he was not disturbed by Griffin's remarks but distanced them from President George W. Bush, who on Thursday announced an international global warming proposal.
"It's pretty obvious that the NASA administrator was speaking about his own personal views and by no means representing or attempting to represent the administration's views or broader policy," Marburger told The Associated Press. "He's got a very wry sense of humor and is very outspoken."
In a news briefing Thursday, James Connaughton, chairman of the White House Council on Environmental Quality, also played down Griffin's remarks: "We're dedicated to action. And, in fact, I think the conversation's really moved beyond a statement of the problem."
NASA spokesman David Mould said the radio interviewer was trying to push Griffin into saying something about global warming. NASA's position is that it provides scientific data on the issue, but policy makers are the ones who decide, he said.
Hansen, director of the agency's Goddard Institute of Space Studies, said the consequences of global warming are dire, and Griffin should know better.
"The devastation with sea level rise of several meters, with hundreds of millions of refugees, would dwarf that of New Orleans," Hansen wrote in an e-mail to The Associated Press, referring to Hurricane Katrina in 2005. "Is it arrogant to say that such would be a problem?"