Last week, U.S. Representative Brian Baird introduced H.R. 14, the Federal Ocean Acidification Research And Monitoring Act, into the House of Representatives. If passed, the bill would support an interagency research program to understand the extent and ecological impact of ocean acidification. Ocean acidification is taking place as a result of an increase in atmospheric carbon dioxide resulting from human industrial and agricultural activities. The change in ocean chemistry is dangerous because increasing acidity in ocean waters interferes with skeletal formation among ocean animals such as corals and crustaceans. Significant changes in rate of skeletal growth and regeneration have already been measured, and are likely to get worse as the acidity of the oceans increases.
It’s a real crisis, to be sure, and is having an impact on human beings. As much as we like to think of ourselves as urban beings who depend only on taxi cabs and cable television, our survival and prosperity are propped upon the wealth of the seas.
But can we afford it? How can we, you may ask, in these times of severe economic recession, manage to pay for scientific research into ocean acidification? The research and administrative costs forecast by H.R. 14 are between eight and twenty million dollars annually. At a time when the government has had to fork over 700 billion dollars in a Wall Street bailout to stave off economic depression, where will we find the money?
Actually, you can look at ocean acidification research as an important long-term economic investment. Jobs will be created by the research funding, but even more importantly than that, livelihoods will be saved. The income from ocean-related work, such as fishing and tourism, is huge. If the marine ecosystems of our oceans fall apart, that income will disappear. Tracking and learning to ameliorate ocean acidification is essential to our economic future.
Besides that, let’s keep this research spending in perspective. There are many programs much less worthy, with much more funding.
The Sexuality Information and Education Council of the United States reports that the U.S. federal government spent 176 million dollars on grants supporting state programs of abstinence-only sex education. Abstinence-only has been demonstrated to be a complete failure. Teenagers who pledge sexual abstinence until marriage turn out to be just as sexually promiscuous as teenagers who do not make such pledges. Furthermore, teenagers who take abstinence pledges are more likely than other teenagers to get pregnant or catch sexually transmitted diseases.
So, that 176 million dollars being spent on abstinence-only education is a complete failure, an example of government waste at its worst. That money could be spent much better in other places – such as the proposed research into the problem of ocean acidification. Yes, we can afford it. We can afford a lot of things, if we don’t blow our money on fundamentalist mumbo jumbo.