Add this to your list of ways Washington is failing to do anything serious about the energy crisis: for the second consecutive year, federal funding for R&D in science and engineering has failed to even keep pace with inflation, according to the National Science Foundation. This while greenhouse gas emissions continue to rise, Congress drags its feet on deployment incentives, and our international competitiveness continues to decline in terms of providing opportunities to young talent in STEM (science, technology, engineering, and math) education and research. As an article posted yesterday on LocalTechWire puts it:
As the threat of globalization and the rise of China and India cut further into the U.S. lead in so many aspects of knowledge, is this really the time to fund bridges to nowhere at the expense of science, technology, engineering and math?
…While our leaders in Congress fiddled away on earmarks, R&D took a hit. (You can’t blame all this on the Bush administration; which party has controlled Congress for the past two years? This is a bipartisan challenge.)
Breakthrough has already laid out a case for scaling up funding in a serious and sustained way in energy-related fields at our nation’s higher education institutions, which you can check out in an op-ed published last month in the San Francisco Chronicle. I am personally more convinced by the day that funding for education and energy R&D at universities and national labs is the best investment we can make in our nation’s future growth and competitiveness, and also an absolutely crucial part of a transition to clean energy.
But there is a worrisome pattern here in the energy debate of systematically undervaluing long-term payoffs in favor of short-term gratification (see: offshore drilling). The legislature is probably structurally myopic, and so maybe we’ll have to wait until November and a new administration. Til then, I’ll keep assembling my evidence in favor of long-term thinking.