The US Anti-Science Budget Proposal is an Insult to our Earth

by Duane Nichols on April 23, 2017

Science is the Answer in Fact

Trump’s anti-science budget will be a disaster for America’s bottom line

From an Article by Denis Hayes, Los Angeles Times, April 22, 2017

In its approach to scientific research, President Trump’s budget can be accurately described as a mugging. I’ve watched this happen before, up close and personal. It does not end well.

In 1979, President Carter set an ambitious but achievable goal to get 20% of the nation’s energy from renewable sources by the year 2000. I then headed the federal Solar Energy Research Institute, which spearheaded the Manhattan Project to Harness the Sun. In the late 1970s, the United States had more PhDs in the solar field, filed more solar patents and made more commercial solar modules than the rest of the nations in the world combined.

In its first year, the Reagan administration slashed the solar institute’s staff by 40%, reduced its budget by 80% and abruptly terminated all of its 1,000-plus university research contracts (including shutting down work by two professors who later went on to win Nobel Prizes). The firings were so wantonly brutal that many of the researchers were driven into other fields. The consequences have been huge.

In 2016, solar energy was the United States’ largest source of new electricity-generating capacity, contributing roughly 40% of the total from all sources. The U.S. solar industry now employs 260,000 people, more than three times as many workers as the coal industry. Most of them install and maintain photovoltaic panels that convert free, nonpolluting sunlight into power. But nearly all the solar modules these workers install are being developed and manufactured abroad. The U.S. makes just 5% of the world’s solar panels.

Defunding science is the intellectual equivalent of eating our seed corn.

America ought to own the solar-electric industry. By rights, we ought to be exporting solar technology, not importing it. Our second-tier status, in a field that we once absolutely dominated, is a direct consequence of budget decisions made by President Reagan’s Office of Management and Budget, and a go-along Congress.

Adjusted for inflation, the budget of the solar institute (since renamed the National Renewable Energy Laboratory) did not recover to its 1979 level until 2008. Science research can’t be revved up and down like an engine and succeed. If you pull the funding out from under a field of inquiry, it will stall and fall behind at best.

Now the Trump science budget proposes to make Reagan’s mistake all over again, across many more fields.

The administration’s funding plan entirely eliminates the Department of Energy’s most exciting, cutting- edge, high-risk, high-potential research program, ARPA-E, the Advanced Research Projects Agency-Energy.

Its double-digit cuts to the National Institutes of Health — America’s research bulwark against infectious diseases, cancer and other threats to public health — could mean the NIH will be unable to issue any new research grants in 2018.

The Trump budget cuts the Environmental Protection Agency’s Office of Research by 50%. (Earlier, the EPA’s new overseers eliminated “science” from the mission statement of its Office of Science and Technology Policy, as though science were now a dirty word.)

Federal climate studies will be eviscerated, and references to climate change have been scrubbed from some federal websites. (But, as Neil DeGrasse Tyson famously said, “The good thing about science is that it’s true whether or not you believe in it.”)

The Sea Grant program — which supports more than 3,000 scientists, engineers, educators and students working to protect and sustain coastal ecosystems, communities and resources at 300 institutions — is entirely eliminated. So is the Chemical Safety Board.

Funding for restoration of the Great Lakes, Chesapeake Bay, Puget Sound, San Francisco Bay and other waterways is also essentially deleted.

Science has always been at the heart of America’s progress. Science cleaned up our air and water, conquered polio and invented jet airplanes. Science gave us the Internet, puts food on our tables and helps us avoid pandemics. Science and technology are widely considered by economists to be responsible for at least half of American economic growth since World War II.

Defunding science is the intellectual equivalent of eating our seed corn.

On Earth Day — April 22 — I see millions of Americans are joining the March for Science. They include researchers, teachers, students and people who simply support good sense.

We are marching because, if we let politics overtake the search for truth, much of what has made America great will disappear.

>>> Denis Hayes, president and chief executive of the Bullitt Foundation, was the convener of the first Earth Day. He was a primary speaker at the March for Science on Earth Day this year.

{ 2 comments… read them below or add one }

Jane Hirshfield April 23, 2017 at 2:51 pm

POEM: On the Fifth Day

By Jane Hirshfield, Washington Post, April 22, 2017

On the fifth day the scientists who studied the rivers were forbidden to speak or to study the rivers.

The scientists who studied the air were told not to speak of the air, and the ones who worked for the farmers were silenced, and the ones who worked for the bees.

Someone, from deep in the Badlands, began posting facts.

The facts were told not to speak and were taken away.

The facts, surprised to be taken, were silent.

Now it was only the rivers that spoke of the rivers, and only the wind that spoke of its bees, while the unpausing factual buds of the fruit trees continued to move toward their fruit.

The silence spoke loudly of silence, and the rivers kept speaking, of rivers, of boulders and air.

Bound to gravity, earless and tongueless, the untested rivers kept speaking.

Bus drivers, shelf stockers, code writers, machinists, accountants, lab techs, cellists kept speaking.

They spoke, the fifth day, of silence.

Jane Hirshfield is a chancellor of the Academy of American Poets. Her most recent collection is “The Beauty.” She read this poem from the stage at the March for Science in DC on April 22.


S. Thomas Bond April 24, 2017 at 8:29 am

Earth Day gives us focus on the importance of science.

Not only the seed corn, but the fertilizer, too. It takes scientists to run much of our modern apparatus. The idea all you need for progress is a lot of money is a headless monster.

Tom Bond, Lewis County, WV


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