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Environment Magazine September/October 2008


January-February 2018

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Editorial - We Need Both Governance and Science

Though disparate in their contents, the articles in this issue of Environment point to two important issues: the role of science and the role of government. These issues, closely connected in many ways, take on growing importance as we face a future increasingly influenced by global climate change and myriad other environmental problems.

Headlines aside, Flint, Michigan, is a focal point for many environmental and governmental problems, as pointed out by Bhawani Venkataraman in her insightful article on the situation there. Those of us who live in the United States assume that when we turn on the tap, the water that comes out is safe to drink. We assume that the government, whether it be federal, state, or local, is doing what it needs to do to make sure that is true. As pointed out by Venkataraman, however, such was not the case in Flint, due to the failure of the government to take the necessary steps to ensure clean water, and a concomitant failure to understand the science involved. Careful attention must be paid by the government(s) involved to make sure we don't get poisoned by the water we drink. We live in an era in which distrust of government is profound, which seems to go along with a distrust or denial of science.

Environment columnist Henry Huntington has done so much to inform us about issues in the Arctic and Alaska. Constantly reminding us of what science knows as well as what science does not know, he eloquently allows us to infer the need for continuing our scientific explorations, many of which are funded by government research money. The loss of sea ice, he tells us, is a true threat to mammals in the Arctic; why, then, are some mammals flourishing far better than we thought possible? The intricate connections between the Arctic ecosystem and our global climate require considerable research, and government, again, must step in as it has done in the past to help us better understand these connections.

The financial sector is another area where the government has a role to play in fostering a sense of responsibility in environmentalism. As Professor Henry Schäfer reminds us, the government—in this case, the German one—and the financial sector are both essential to establishing the “green economy” that will aid in achieving the goals set by the Paris Agreement. Read his article for a cogent analysis of the positive actions taken and the work yet to be done in Germany, which has a strong track record on renewable energy.

On the other hand, not every action of the government is friendly to the environment, as Bob Harriss—a longtime Environment contributing editor—points out. Ecosystems and wildlife do not know national boundaries; any barrier to communication or travel across these boundaries, such as the border wall proposed by President Trump, seriously upsets the ecosystem involved, at a time when we badly need those ecosystems to be preserved.

It is distressing to learn today as I write this—October 23, 2017—that the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), formed by President Nixon to perform the science and formulate the regulations aimed at protecting our environment, has prevented four scientists from attending a workshop on climate change in Rhode Island. This action comes on the heels of numerous proposed budget cuts at federal science agencies dealing with climate change, most notably the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) and the EPA. The politicization of science that this represents is an act of government that harms us a great deal more perhaps than we realize. With the many questions at hand in regard to sustainable development and the environment yet to be answered, scientists must be allowed to do their work unfettered by political constraints.

It is in the face of such obstacles that we must continue our efforts to promote sustainability science. Among those who make such efforts, day in and day out, are our contributing editors, of whom Bob Harriss has been such an outstanding example. They are the lifeblood of the magazine, writing articles and commentaries, suggesting areas the magazine should cover, recruiting authors to write for the magazine, and generally supporting the work we do. It is wonderful to work with them; we thank Bob and all the rest of the contributing editors for their hard work and dedication to the magazine.

Talk to us! We love to hear from our readers, whether or not you agree with us—particularly, actually, when you disagree.

—Alan H. McGowan

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