NASA and NOAA work together, but the relationship between them and the DOE needs an overhaul. The relevant programs of these agencies could all report to a new energy and climate czar, preferably with budgetary authority (being the convening impetus). Alternatively, the U.S. could even form a new "Energy and Environment Agency," along the lines of a similar department recently created in the U.K.—forcing the marriage of energy and climate change problems and a pooling of all the above investment. The Obama administration should also consider boosting the authority and size of the White House's Office of Science and Technology Policy so that it has the muscle to coax agencies into working together. It should seriously consider the benefits of such cross-organizational collaboration at an international level, as seen in the successful cases of CERN (the European Organization for Nuclear Research) and the European Space Agency.
8. Create an Earth Systems Directorate. NASA should be instructed to elevate its Earth Science Division to the status of a directorate—bringing it on par with human exploration, space science and aeronautics as key functions of the agency. This directorate would bring together all the other NASA programs relevant to energy and the environment, including Earth observation and modeling, green energy technologies, and supercomputing capabilities.
9. Increasing public participation in green programs. Climate challenge cannot be tackled without the participation of the public, and NASA is well-positioned to help connect the public with the exciting research being undertaken on ways to address our energy and climate change problems. One example of this is an Web effort called OpenNASA.com which is an open dialogue between NASA employees and the public on all of the agency's policies.
Of course, NASA is far from the end-all solution to climate change. Effective solutions must occur on a global scale with all nations coordinating their efforts and even, perhaps, resources. But NASA does have much untapped potential in this regard. Moreover, most of the changes above do not require new money so much as organizational changes: Small satellites just enable more within the same budget and opening up facilities to green tech companies costs very little, relatively speaking. The only recommendation that would require more than several million dollars annually would be a serious program on green aviation. That would likely cost about $100 million annually according to a recent study by NASA Ames: This could either come from new monies forked over by Congress or from existing aeronautics funds diverted toward that effort. All told, the above programs might add up to $200 million, or approximately 1 percent of NASA's annual budget.
NASA's primary function has been the exploration of the solar system. Along the way, however, it has contributed greatly to our understanding of Earth. Whereas NASA should certainly continue to conduct space exploration, its engineering muscle should be applied in a more focused manner to solve the biggest problems in our home world. Thus, the Obama administration should make better use of NASA's talents when implementing its energy and environment plan. Perhaps the new NASA motto could be: Science, Settlement and Sustainability.