During the last two decades, the atmospheric, oceanic, and geophysical communities have developed coordinated global research programs that use the new insights and technology that are now available.
The federal government has provided considerable support for research on the physical and chemical components of the global system, but good ideas for productive research outstrip the available support. Shortfalls in funding have already affected the global nature of some programs and could impair our ability to develop global data sets critical for sensing long-term trends and for testing hypotheses.
Moreover, the present structure for funding science in the United States is not well organized to support U. Global environmental research programs are costly, because they require expensive technology—such as satellites, weather stations, ships, and supercomputers—and dedicated personnel. In addition, to enable trends to be distinguished from normal environmental variability, long-term data sets are required. Such requirements make it difficult for this type of research to compete effectively for funding. Long-term monitoring inevitably appears less exciting than research designed to test new hypotheses.
Only recently has the value of long-term research been recognized by the scientific community, Congress, or the funding agencies. And no federal agency has been given a mandate, accompanied by appropriate resources, to support long-term, large-scale research on the global environment.
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Ecological research has the potential to make major contributions to our understanding of the ability of the environment to sustain human activities and populations of other species in the long term. Ecological science is unable to provide answers to the key questions posed by ESA. Not only are the underlying processes complex, but they must be studied at different spatial and temporal scales.
For example, we must be able to understand how changes in the physical environment affect individual leaves and then extrapolate what we learn to effects on whole plants, interactions among plants, and vegetation dynamics. In addition, we need to consider different species, many of which are as yet undescribed and each of which has unique responses and its own relevant scales of space and time.
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We need to understand how important are species differences for the behavior of larger-scale systems. Because dominant organisms in many ecosystems, such as trees, in forests are long-lived, many important ecosystem changes are too slow for us to sense directly. Our abilities to interpret slowly-occurring cause-effect relationships are even less developed. Therefore, processes acting over decades are hidden and reside in what has been called the invisible present Magnuson, In the invisible present, one finds the time scales of acid precipitation, the invasion of nonnative plants and animals, the introduction of synthetic chemicals, and carbon dioxide-induced climate warming.
Only long-term, sustained research can reveal the slow but important changes of the invisible present, but such studies are rare. It is still a relatively young program, but it has already made important contributions to our understanding of responses of watersheds to disturbance, lake acidification, wood decomposition, and modeling of ecosystem processes Franklin et al. The unsatisfactory state of current ecological science reflects both the complexity of the processes it studies and the relatively low level of funding that has been allocated to ecology.
Shortage of funds has resulted in intense competition between the still-needed small-scale, investigator-initiated research and large-scale, and often multi-investigator, long-term research. Until recently, computational power was insufficient to handle the complex data sets being generated by ecologists. Ecologists traditionally have concentrated their attention on small-scale processes and have seldom continued experiments or observations for long periods.
Large-scale and long-term experiments were often deemed too expensive relative to the resources available to support ecological research. Consequently, the field was unprepared intellectually to respond to challenges of global research. This problem is fortunately diminishing rapidly.
Nonetheless, support for long-term research is still meager, and ecologists still have only modest ties with the physical scientists with whom they must interact if they are to deal effectively with regional and global problems. Research on biodiversity provides basic information on the earth's biota—its taxonomy, distribution, uses for human society, management, and contribution to ecosystem services. Biodiversity has genetic, taxonomic, and ecological components Appendix B. The study of biodiversity should do for biology what the U. Geological Survey USGS does for geology, that is, the study can provide better knowledge about biological resources and thus increase society's ability to realize economic benefits from those resources e.
Research priorities in biodiversity need to be set and continually influenced by four groups of people: users of biotic resources, those concerned with protecting it, scientists, and those responsible for setting policy for land use, water resources, etc. Biodiversity research requires a long-term perspective and sustained funding because the tasks of description and inventory are complex and because monitoring of trends must continue for many years to reveal useful patterns. The infrastructure elements required by research on biodiversity include museums, specimen-based databases, and data synthesis.
Also critical are systematists and taxonomists qualified to identify and classify specimens, especially of the more difficult and special taxa. The United States has only a few scattered centers of research on biodiversity. As recognized by several reports, including an Office of Technology Assessment OTA report commissioned by Congress OTA, and the report of the National Commission on the Environment NCE, , there is a need for centralized research planning, for assembling and synthesizing existing information, and for making information more accessible to policy-makers.
The Smithsonian Institution performs some research in biodiversity, but its programs are not centrally planned. For most biodiversity programs, there is no connection between research and policy needs and little integration between fields of study even between ecology and systematics, both of which are performed within the same institution but largely in different laboratories.
University research in biodiversity is difficult because funding cycles are too short. There is no national data center or network for biodiversity, as there is for medicine and several physical environmental disciplines. USGS and the National Aeronautics and Space Administration conceptually include biological data in some of their plans, but they do not have the staffing or the resources to place a high priority on biodiversity data-collecting or even on building a database of databases.
Several conservation organizations, state agencies, and the Fish and Wildlife Service have databases on endangered taxa and environments, but they are necessarily narrowly focused and often developed from secondary sources. One of the greatest needs for biodiversity research is to provide quality data to state agencies continuously. Research institutions are becoming overwhelmed by requests for biodiversity data and lack the resources to support their activities.
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The U. Department of Agriculture USDA has a germplasm program that concentrates on wild relatives of crop plants. Collection of germplasm of plants that are not agriculturally important has little support and depends primarily on volunteer centers, such as the Center for Plant Conservation, and botanical gardens. Zoos, a few museums, and such institutions as the American Type Culture Collection a private, not-for-profit research and culture-distribution center hold animal and microbial germplasm. However, all have resources inadequate to cover demands made on them for research and conservation purposes.
There is potential industrial support of research on biodiversity, but the sums involved are small. Some pharmaceutical companies are engaged in prospecting for natural products. Most tropical countries receive no payment from prospecting within their boundaries, but Merck Pharmaceutical Company recently signed an agreement with Costa Rica's National Institute of Biodiversity to share in the costs of exploration for and benefits of the marketing of useful natural products; the agreement has attracted much international attention, but it is too early to evaluate the long-term potential of such arrangements.
The serious underfunding of biodiversity research is due, in part, to a lack of public appreciation of the importance of knowledge about biodiversity. Within the biological sciences, taxonomy and systematics have been overshadowed by the spectacular successes of molecular biology and have been crowded out of biology departments at many leading research universities.
Many universities have found it difficult to continue supporting museums and herbariums during times of fiscal stringency. Therefore, although there is now increasing recognition of the importance of biodiversity research, the United States lacks a sufficient cadre of trained taxonomists, has inadequate and insufficiently curated collections, and is confronted with huge backlogs of specimens waiting to be identified or described as new species.
Engineering research is needed to develop new environmental-control and pollution-prevention technologies, advances in process-engineering concepts and techniques that are pollution-free, recycling technologies, resource-conservation methods, and energy-efficient technologies. The need for research and related technological advances is important because of global population growth and the related drive to increase the developing world's standard of living.
The currently known methods are inadequate and expensive, and additional investments in research and development will return substantial economic benefits. Engineering solutions coupled with better approaches to public participation and communication might lead to increased public acceptance of environmentally benign technologies. Some critical technologies are being developed by the private sector. For example, decreasing the emission of pollutants by a process is often possible through process changes and material substitutions.
Science of the Total Environment
Secondary pollution effects can be reduced in some industries by creating more efficient manufacturing or pollution-control technologies, which might, for example, require much less energy. If industry can capture the economic benefits of those technologies, no government incentives are needed to encourage them. However, development of new technologies is usually possible only for large companies. The aggregate of small entrepreneurs e. They need a government-organized effort to create new effective, efficient, and economical pollution-prevention and pollution-control technologies. Government programs have so far been inadequate to the task.
Indeed, creating incentives to develop better pollution-control technologies has received a low priority in the federal government for many years. Dealing with hazardous materials, solid wastes, waste-treatment residues, and radioactive wastes already released into the environment will require substantial local, regional, state, and national programs. Superfund and its parallels in state governments, Department of Energy DOE cleanups, underground storage tanks, Resource Conservation and Recovery Act actions, and radioactive-waste disposal programs are estimated to cost thousands of billions of dollars.
Not one of these problems has adequate technology to meet the needs of our nation, let alone of a growing world population. Breakthrough research is essential, if the collective costs of these programs are ultimately to be affordable.
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Municipalities face serious environmental problems in dealing with human wastes, especially because higher population densities require higher levels of treatment to keep discharges within the capacities of the receiving environments. Municipalities also need better methods of detecting and treating toxic substances and nutrients. Timely research in those issues alone could save hundreds of billions of dollars' worth of pollution-control facilities over the next several decades and potentially enable local and state governments to improve environmental quality and public health at substantially lower cost.
Most of the engineering research needed to develop technologies to solve pollution problems is not being conducted. Much of the mission-oriented engineering research of federal agencies appears to be overlapping; good interagency communication is lacking, there is little peer review by outside scientists and engineers, and results are not adequately diffused to the governments, firms, and citizens most likely to use them.
No federal agency has a central mandate to foster pollution-control research and development of suitable control technologies. Because the United States has relied almost exclusively on a regulatory command and control approach to environmental pollution, the private sector perceives little incentive to invest in development of cleanup technologies from which a direct economic benefit appears unlikely. Therefore, the task of carrying out most pollution-prevention research has been thrust on federal agencies whose primary responsibilities are to promulgate and enforce regulations.
Resources have been insufficient to address even the regulatory component of their responsibilities, and there is little money to devote to pollution prevention. In addition, in contrast with the governments of Japan and Germany, the U. Although many environmental problems are the result of natural disasters, most are created by human activities.
Attempts to solve the latter kind are at bottom experiments in political science, economics, psychology, and sociology. Many proposed solutions to environmental problems require changes in human behavior, and they suggest methods by which behavior can or should be changed persuasion, economic incentives, or prohibitions. The natural environment and the activities of humans that modify it have been studied to different degrees by the social-science disciplines. We briefly summarize below their contributions to knowledge as related to environmental policy and environmental studies.