CANDIDATES ARE BEST FOR THE ENVIRONMENT?
by Whit Gibbons
October 31, 2004
the environment, which is going to affect all communities, all nations,
and all people for longer than anything else, has received minimal attention
from the two most visible presidential candidates this election year.
Ecological research and environmental education are essential for maintaining
the peak of environmental health. All environmental changes affect us
either directly or indirectly. No matter what happens with wars, economics,
or public health, the environment we have to live in afterward will shape
the future quality of all our lives. Giving careful consideration to various
outcomes should be of political concern.
approach would have been for each political candidate to openly address
the challenges in environmental sciences offered by the National Research
Council in a 2001 book. Collectively, these challenges define the direction
of future environmental investigations and provide indicators of where
the country must focus its efforts to maintain a high quality environment.
CyclesAccording to the book, the first challenge is to determine
how human activities can disrupt the world's major chemical and biological
cycles and then to predict what the consequences of these impacts might
be. An additional consideration is to search for ways to restore cycles
to their natural condition.
Diversity and Ecosystem FunctioningThis challenge, to explain the
diversity in the world around us, has been evolving since before Darwin.
A part of the challenge is to find out how to maintain biodiversity because
of its important role in ecosystem function.
VariabilityWeather forecasters successfully demonstrate a problem
almost daily-they cannot accurately predict the weather, even for an approaching
hurricane. A grand challenge of environmental science relates to understanding
long-term changes in climate variability and how we can "assess its
impact on natural and human systems."
ForecastingA challenge of predicting "changes in freshwater
resources . . . in a context of growing demand on water resources"
relates to our increasingly limited freshwater resources. The environmental
topic is of vital importance and concern to all regions of the country
and the world.
Disease and the EnvironmentI like the way the book stated part of
this challenge: "to understand the ecological and evolutionary aspects
of infectious diseases." Bacteria and viruses evolve like all other
organisms, and while we invent defenses against them, they are changing
to adjust and survive. Anyone not believing that life evolves should look
at the history of medical microbiology over the last four decades.
and Resource UseThe title of this challenge confused me until it
was explained that "institutions" refers to rules and regulations
governing the use of natural resources. For example, several sets of rules
and regulations govern fisheries and whaling in the world's oceans. The
research challenge is to understand the role of the institutions of all
nations, world organizations, regulatory agencies, etc. in terms of global
impacts on natural resources.
DynamicsDemonstrating that some land uses dramatically affect natural
and human systems is not difficult. The challenge is to understand the
global and cumulative impact of changes in land-use patterns on the functioning
of ecosystems. Of all the challenges, this one may be among the easiest
to understand and among the most difficult to alter.
the Use of MaterialsThe straightforward goal is to understand the
principles of recycling and the "global budgets and cycles of key
materials used by humanity." Included in such an overview are not
only materials in short supply that must be reclaimed but also environmentally
grand and worthy challenges for environmental scientists worldwide. Each
shows how closely we are tied to our environment, demonstrating that what
we do to our environment eventually dictates what our environment will
do to us. But since neither major candidate has addressed all eight of
these environmental challenges, we will have to make some assumptions
about what each might do environmentally based on other issues they have
taken positions on. Giving some thought to the issue might help you decide
for whom you should vote, not only for president but for other political
positions as well.
you have an environmental question or comment, email