by Whit Gibbons

December 28, 2008

With the changing of the year come the obligatory New Year's resolutions. I have some of my own, but fulfilling them will not affect anyone outside my own circle of friends and family. On the other hand, consider some statements related to ecological research and the environment that Barack Obama made during his campaign for president. If they are among his New Year's resolutions, their fulfillment will be beneficial for the whole country.

When asked about the condition of the nation's funding for basic research, Obama said the "situation is unacceptable." He further stated, "As president, I will increase funding for basic research in physical and life sciences, mathematics, and engineering at a rate that would double basic research budgets over the next decade." And his rationale for taking such a position? "We are clearly underinvesting in research across the spectrum of scientific and engineering disciplines." Ecology, being one of the major fields in the life sciences, will certainly benefit from this change in attitude. Recognizing the critical importance of funding basic scientific research is the first step in making the adjustments that will help America in the global competition for scientific supremacy. Despite the paranoia that is all too common these days, the scientific community is not something to fear. Having the best scientists in the world will help ensure that we have the strongest country in the world.

If the incoming administration resolves to embrace a scientific renaissance, we will be able to return to a national plan for making sound environmental decisions about pollution, overdevelopment, and global climate change based on scientific findings of ecologists. A healthy environmental situation will strengthen the United States' global presence and its influence on the world scene.

Obama's statement that he would "reduce carbon emission by the amount scientists say is necessary" is also a worthwhile resolution. Congress should make that resolution as well. The statement has two important points. First, Obama's acknowledgement that scientists are the best people to study scientific issues and interpret the results of such studies is a refreshing attitude.

Second, reducing the U.S. contribution to atmospheric carbon is an admirable goal. Pretty much every independent scientist in the world with knowledge of climate change and meteorology will tell you that carbon in the atmosphere has no long-range value for people--either in this country or the world. Incidentally, the scientific recommendation is ultimately to reduce our carbon output to only 20% of what it was in 1990! Of course people who rake in piles of money from carbon production (such as coal and oil) will disagree with this resolution, but what else would you expect?

A final resolution that can have nothing but positive results for our country is Obama's declaration that he will "make math and science education a national priority." His plan would be to ensure that all children "have access to a strong science curriculum at all grade levels." Encouraging young people to believe that achieving scientific knowledge is a worthy goal and then giving them the academic tools to accomplish that goal will certainly benefit our society. I hope this resolution will translate into promoting programs from grammar school through college that permit students who are capable of achieving excellence in science and math to do so. I further hope that programs about ecology and the environment will be in the forefront of such studies. Carrying out the first resolution above--to fund basic scientific research--will do more than simply increase funding. It will demonstrate to students the United States' commitment to scientific endeavors, which will in turn encourage them to participate in programs with strong math and science curricula.

If Barack Obama in his role as president of the United States is able to fulfill these resolutions, our country will be on the move again scientifically, technologically, and environmentally. Our wildlife, natural habitats, and overall environmental health will benefit from the ripple effects of a return to scientific excellence. And, yes, the economy, which is on everyone's mind, will be boosted by programs that put people to work doing what is best for the environment.

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