Posted by: greeningwashington | February 16, 2009

Scientific Revolution to the Rescue

If I were to ask you to list three solutions to the world’s energy and environmental problems, what would you say? Not so simple is it?

Maybe not for you, but for the new the secretary of energy, and Nobel laureate, Steven Chu, electric batteries, solar power and the development of new crops that can be turned into fuel are among his top solutions.

During a press conference last week, Chu addressed many topics related to energy and the environment, but what really stood out was his proclamation that a scientific and technological “revolution” is required in order to successfully solve problems of this magnitude.

For what it’s worth, which isn’t much, I agree with Chu one hundred and ten percent. History can attest to the breadth and impact science and technology —discovery and ingenuity — has had on all sectors of society: health, transportation, manufacturing, education, agriculture, etc.

       As Chu said, “I think science and technology can generate much better choices. It has, consistently, over hundreds and hundreds of years.” 

In order to assure that scientific research can help find the solution, the government, along with private investors, must provide adequate funding to universities and other scientific research organizations. The 2009 economic stimulus package allocates 3.0 billion dollars to the National Science Foundation, 2.0 billion to the Department of Energy, and 830 million to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.

Many scientists see the election of a Democratic president and Congress as a win for the scientific community. During the tenure of President Bush, science was ostracized and thrown into the “intellectually elite” category — in other words, if Bush couldn’t understand it, why should anyone else bother to? It wasn’t just environmental or energy research that was left without funding, important medical issues —with life-saving potential — were misconstrued and rebutted with half-truths.  Thankfully, the political climate is ripe for America to regain its place as a leader of scientific discovery.

As for me, I believe that scientific and technological innovations will be an invaluable tool for solving the energy crisis. Solar power, electric power, wind power, hydrogen fuel cells, ethanol, cleaner coal, efficient automobiles, efficient household appliances, etc., will all help bring us into the future of smart energy consumption. However, science will not suffice on its own. Smart energy policies and even smarter politicians must contribute in order to implement progress. Government at all levels must influence consumers and producers to act responsibly, conserve more and use less. The age of waste and over-consumption is coming to an end. People must realize (i) that the resources we take for granted in America are in high-demand all over the world and (ii) that the world’s supply of certain resources is limited.  All good things come to an end sometime, even cheap fuel. Some might try to argue that the market is the solution we really need when in reality the market is incapable of having a comprehensive energy policy. The market is concerned with short-term profits at a low cost — even if that means coal mining every last mountain in the Appalachians.

Until next time.

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