As our economy slowly picks itself up from recession, it makes sense for the federal government to tighten its belt as all Americans must. However, keeping our common goals for a healthy and prosperous future in mind, we must also avoid the tendency to be penny-wise and pound-foolish.
In an effort to rein in government spending and reduce the federal deficit, House Republicans were successful last week in passing numerous cuts to climate change funding in their version of a bill that would keep the government running through September.
Among the victims of cuts in the House Continuing Resolution is the National Climate Service, an office proposed in 2010 within the National Oceanic & Atmospheric Administration, to provide scientific assistance to farmers and managers of fisheries, water supplies and transportation systems.
From The Nature Conservancy’s perspective, the National Climate Service is a step towards bringing cohesiveness to the information and science being developed across the federal government. The Service is not a new program but a reorganization that would consolidate roles and existing funding from now-disparate places.
NOAA acts as the eyes and ears of the nation when it comes to monitoring the latest conditions of our air and oceans.
From their Web site: “NOAA’s mission is to understand and predict changes in the Earth’s environment, from the depths of the ocean to the surface of the sun, and to conserve and manage our coastal and marine resources.”
No small mission. And certainly not a frivolous one.
More and more decision-makers from town halls to state houses are demanding good science (in other words, multiple peer-reviewed studies based on real-world observation and data collection) to inform planning and action on the climate changes they are experiencing. Coordination of reliable information about our climate at the federal level has become increasingly important.
Even if you don’t buy that people are contributing to climate change by burning fossil fuels, doesn’t it make sense to keep abreast of changing natural conditions? Isn’t it in the nation’s best interest to study what is actually happening by measuring ocean chemistry, sea levels and atmospheric conditions?
The data that this agency collects has real meaning for many sectors of the economy, including fisheries, coastal tourism and transportation, as well as health and welfare issues such as preparedness for natural disasters. The NOAA Climate Service would gather valuable information to help people, businesses and governments (not to mention the U.S. Navy) to prepare as much as possible for the future by understanding what is happening now.
Because Congress did not pass a complete 2011 spending plan, the government could shut down by March 4, without further budget agreement. As the debate over appropriate spending ensues, The Nature Conservancy welcomes the opportunity to explain why funding for climate research is so crucial to the lands and waters we protect for people and for the natural world we all depend on.
Tom Fry is a senior policy advisor at The Nature Conservancy.
Image from NOAA’s Climate Services Web site: (January 12, 2011, NOAA Climate Program Office: Capping off the warmest decade on record, the average global temperature in 2010 tied 2005 as the warmest year since reliable records began in 1880.)
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