Why investment in science pays
© Thinkstock

While students across the country are nervously awaiting end-of-school-year report cards, the Chesapeake Bay has recently received its grade from scientists — it got a C overall, which is a modest but noteworthy improvement from the C- it got last year.

More encouraging, it got an A for the state of its fish populations. This is great news for the economy of the region, as well as the environment. After years marked by the twin declines of water quality and the health of fish populations, we are finally making progress in cleaning up the Bay, thanks to decades of investment in science to diagnose the problems and find solutions.

ADVERTISEMENT
Of course, a grade of C means that there is still a lot of room for improvement and that there is more work to do. Sadly, that progress may be halted if the Trump administration’s proposed cuts laid out in his proposed fiscal 2018 budget become law.

 

The Chesapeake Bay Program, funded by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), and the Sea Grant Program, funded by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), are slated for elimination. Together, these agencies have supported research and guided outreach to farmers, fishermen, and policy makers at local, state, and national levels. As the grades show, those investments have paid off.

The budget impacts are nationwide. A similar program has made progress coordinating efforts to clean up the Great Lakes, where that freshwater resource is also important for drinking water. But the Great Lakes program is also zeroed out in the president’s budget.

The Sea Grant program is akin to the system of Land Grant universities that have so successfully advanced agricultural research and outreach to farmers with support from the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA), which also has been targeted for large budget cuts for research.

Sea Grant universities focus on research and outreach that help communities up and down the Atlantic and Pacific coasts, across the Gulf coast, across the Great Lakes states, and Hawaii. While each state’s Sea Grant program is tailored to its needs, there is also an exchange of information across the national network.

For example, lessons learned from Hurricane Katrina helped communities in New Jersey be better prepared when Hurricane Sandy hit and helped guide post-storm recovery, thus enhancing our overall ability to protect lives, reduce property damage, and enhance public safety. Lessons from both storms are helping communities to be ready for the next storm as hurricane season approaches.

Add in research by the National Weather Service, with support from NASA satellites and aircraft, and we have an effective continuum of investments, including technology for better storm prediction and science-based plans for community readiness to minimize loss of life and property damage. Yet all of these will also be severely cut in the proposed budget.

These are but a few real-life examples that demonstrate the strong payback that communities receive from an investment in the Earth sciences by NOAA, NASA, EPA, the USDA, the Department of Energy, and the US Geological Survey, and the National Science Foundation.

Fortunately, Congress has an opportunity to make sure that these investments in science continue, and by doing so we can continue improving those grades, from C’s to B’s to A’s, for science-based management of the nation’s natural resources, while securing wins for the economy, the environment, and human health.

Science is an investment not in special interests, but rather in the public interest, because it pays rich dividends for people from all states, from rural and urban communities, in rich and poor neighborhoods, for the young and the old, and independent of political viewpoints. Now more than ever, we need strong bipartisan support for science.

Eric Davidson is the President of The American Geophysical Union and the director of the Appalachian Laboratory of the University of Maryland Center for Environmental Science in Frostburg, Md.


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