Sunday, June 22, 2008

Why is the Ocean Underappreciated by Congress?

Daniel Hall, at Common Tradegies, has a good post discussing an article by Gregg Easterbrook in the June Atlantic Monthly. The Easterbrook article, which discusses threats from asteroids, has recieved significant criticism, as noted in Hall's post. Discusion of asteroids is beyond the scope of this blog, so I will let you read those posts so you make your own conclusions. I would like to focus on what I think is Hall's most important point:

My ultimate point is that the article has value because it highlights our screwy priorities when it comes to spending money on space. Why does almost all our $17 billion NASA budget go to getting humans in orbit and bases on the moon and Mars? We need a more Earth-centric NASA. It could be doing far more good developing enhanced Earth monitoring systems — satellite data is going to be invaluable to understanding climate change in the next century — and yes, protecting us from space debris.

While NASA has a $17 billion budget, NOAA has a $4 billion budget. It seems pretty obvious that coastal and marine issues have been under-represented in the budgetary process for a long time - at least relatively speaking. According the US Oceans Commission Report, ocean related economic activity was estimated at $117 billion in 2000. Also, coastal watershed counties accounted for almost 49% of the US economic activity in 2000 ($4,512,357,000 out of $9,415,552,000). This does not even fully account for the importance of the National Weather Service to the economic activity for the entire nation. As the climate continues to change, shouldn't we put more emphasis on things a little closer to home?

On a side note, Robert Ballard has an interesting talk at on exploring the oceans. It is remarkable how little we know about much of the ocean.

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