What others say: Science can safeguard America’s future

  • By Chicago Tribune editorial
  • Tuesday, June 20, 2017 9:31am
  • Opinion

For decades, Chicago has had a backyard view of science at its most sublime. At Fermi National Accelerator Laboratory, physicists hone our understanding of the universe by trailblazing the frontier of the subatomic. At Argonne National Laboratory, scientists probe ways to make lighter, cheaper batteries for electric cars and smartphones, and tackle global water scarcity with membranes fine enough to filter out viruses and nanoscale pollutants.

That’s practical research that recognizes how finite the planet’s resources are. Advancing battery technology helps ensure a reliable power source for tomorrow’s driverless cars and taxi drones. How bad are the world’s water troubles? Water scarcity affects at least 700 million people in 43 countries, according to the United Nations. By 2025, the number of people living in areas without enough water will rise to 1.8 billion, the U.N. projects.

It’s disturbing to see where that research fits into President Donald Trump’s federal spending priorities. Under Trump’s proposed budget for fiscal year 2018, the Department of Energy’s Office of Science, which oversees Fermi, Argonne and eight other national laboratories, would take a $900 million budget cut. That likely would translate into a reduction of 150 to 200 jobs from Fermi’s 1,700-strong workforce, says U.S. Rep. Randy Hultgren, R-Plano, a member of the House Science, Space and Technology Committee. Greg Hinz at Crain’s Chicago Business reports that Argonne could lose as many as 500 jobs.

Many of those Argonne employees are in the business of breakthroughs in clean energy — vital research for a world that has been pummeling its environment with fossil fuel pollution. Clean energy’s not a Trump priority, though. The president has put his chips behind oil and coal. Under Trump’s spending outline, the Department of Energy would face a 70 percent cutback in funding for energy efficiency and renewable energy research, according to an analysis by the American Association for the Advancement of Science.

If Trump can’t see how science can safeguard our future, Congress should. Just how much of Trump’s vision for spending is actually realized is up to Congress — more often than not, its spending plan veers considerably from a president’s budget wish list. When lawmakers start debating spending priorities, cutting-edge research at places like Fermi and Argonne should be championed.

It helps that the Illinois delegation has its share of strong advocates for Fermi and Argonne, including Hultgren and U.S. Rep. Bill Foster, D-Geneva, a physicist who worked for decades at Fermi. Foster was one of 13 Democratic lawmakers from Illinois who signed a letter to Energy Department Secretary Rick Perry last month warning that Trump’s proposed budget “would cause permanent damage to our research infrastructure and force our national labs to lay off critical scientific staff.”

“This is no way to keep America great or maintain our position as a leader in science and innovation,” the letter read.

Well said. Trump’s renewed push for fossil fuels is shortsighted and wrongheaded. Coal jobs aren’t going to make a comeback. Oil’s on borrowed time — the supply isn’t endless, and we should be bracing for a future without it. Clean energy is key to that future. That’s where we should put our focus — and that means funding the science that will make it happen.

— Chicago Tribune,

June 13

More in Opinion

Rep. Ben Carpenter, R-Nikiski, speaks about teacher bonuses during consideration a bill increasing state funds for public education in the Alaska House of Representatives on Thursday, Feb. 22, 2024, in Juneau, Alaska. (Ashlyn O’Hara/Peninsula Clarion)
Rep. Ben Carpenter: Supporting better outcomes in education

Capitol Corner: Legislators report back from Juneau

Sen. Jesse Bjorkman, R-Nikiski, listens to testimony during a Senate Community and Regional Affairs Committee hearing on Thursday, Feb. 22, 2024, in Juneau, Alaska. (Ashlyn O’Hara/Peninsula Clarion)
Sen. Jesse Bjorkman: Managing Cook Inlet basin for the benefit of all

Capitol Corner: Legislators report back from Juneau

Rep. Justin Ruffridge, R-Soldotna, speaks Monday, May 8, 2023, on the floor of the Alaska House. (Photo by James Brooks/Alaska Beacon)
Rep. Justin Ruffridge: Time is growing short

Capitol Corner: Legislators report back from Juneau

Sarah Vance (Photo provided)
Point of View: A moment of agony for Sarah Vance, and for Homer

The emotions driving Sarah Vance to the brink of tears during her agonizing silence in front of the Legislature suggested a battle of ideas

The Alaska State Capitol. (Clarise Larson / Juneau Empire file photo)
Opinion: Millions needed for Alaska’s child care sector

Without public investment, Alaska will continue to witness an inadequate and diminishing supply of child care services

Rep. Ben Carpenter, R-Nikiski, speaks about teacher bonuses during consideration a bill increasing state funds for public education in the Alaska House of Representatives on Thursday, Feb. 22, 2024, in Juneau, Alaska. (Ashlyn O’Hara/Peninsula Clarion)
Rep. Ben Carpenter: Time to disrupt our legislative process

Capitol Corner: Legislators report back from Juneau

Sen. Jesse Bjorkman, R-Nikiski, presents information on a bill establishing a voluntary buyback program for Cook Inlet’s east side setnet fishery on Monday, Feb. 19, 2024, in Juneau, Alaska. (Ashlyn O’Hara/Peninsula Clarion)
Sen. Jesse Bjorkman: Fishing, energy move into spotlight

Capitol Corner: Legislators report back from Juneau

Rep. Justin Ruffridge, R-Soldotna, speaks in support of debating an omnibus education bill in the Alaska House Chambers on Monday, Feb. 19, 2024 in Juneau, Alaska. (Ashlyn O’Hara/Peninsula Clarion)
Rep. Justin Ruffridge: Finding common ground on education

Capitol Corner: Legislators report back from Juneau

Sen. Jesse Bjorkman, R-Nikiski, speaks to attendees at a town hall event on Monday, Nov. 20, 2023, in Nikiski, Alaska. (Ashlyn O’Hara/Peninsula Clarion)
Sen. Jesse Bjorkman: Taking action for workers, supporting kids

Capitol Corner: Legislators report back from Juneau

Most Read