Opinion | Energy & Environment

Space is critical to climate: If you can't measure it, you can't manage it

The views expressed by contributors are their own and not the view of The Hill

Satellites in space are essential to successfully confronting the challenges we face from climate change. Spacecraft built and launched by America's commercial industry provide remote sensing data that allow scientists to better understand our changing planet and enable informed climate-related decision making by governments, industries, and individuals around the world.  

The commercial space industry is encouraged by the Biden administration's and Congress's renewed efforts to address climate change and it strongly supports policies and legislation that harness the continued innovation from the commercial space sector, particularly in the remote sensing community. These commercial capabilities should be fully leveraged across the public sector to measure, record, coordinate and disseminate climate change data across government, researchers, and state and local authorities. 

Without space-based data, scientists cannot adequately observe and understand the impact of changes to Earth's climate and policymakers won't be able to formulate effective strategies to respond to those changes. María Fernanda Espinosa Garcés, president of the United Nations General Assembly at the COP 24 in Katowice Poland, stated of space investments, "If you can't measure it, you can't manage it." 

Space-based sensors provide the scientific community with a wide range of data that further our understanding of the evolving climate and lead to a better understanding of where the greatest impacts from these changes will be felt. Commercial remote sensing capabilities complement government operated space and ground-based sensors and dramatically improve the spatial, temporal and spectral resolution of Earth imagery available to scientists, researchers and policy makers.

Millions of jobs and billions of dollars of economic activity related to climate change depend on actionable space-based data including monitoring real-time changes in wildfire progression in California, to tracking flood patterns over long periods of time in the Midwest, to recording daily changes in arctic ice, to understanding changes in crop production around the world, and monitoring changes in human interactions with the environment. Commercial space companies are playing a strategic role in empowering governments, companies and academic institutions with the daily data they need to address these challenges.  

Climate change is an existential threat to our way of life. Addressing this crisis effectively requires a national sense of urgency and a whole-of-society approach that leverages everything at our disposal and makes use of American ingenuity. Agile commercial aerospace can play a key role in ensuring that we have the observations and measurements needed to make data-based decisions.  

Commercial companies and research institutions remain steadfast in their efforts to develop, launch and deploy game-changing space hardware and data services that support our scientific community and broader national economy. We encourage policymakers and regulators to continue to streamline regulatory and contracting practices that encourage collaboration and leverage commercial capabilities and the innovation of the American commercial space industry. Through this collaboration, we can continue to help scientists better understand our changing planet with the promise of an improved environment for future generations. 

Karina Drees is president of the Commercial Spaceflight Federation, the leading voice for the commercial space industry, working to preserve American leadership in aerospace through technology innovation and inspiring young people to pursue careers in science and engineering.

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