The Science Budget Talking Point

REPOSTING: The following was originally posted April 8, 2007. (Note: the first dozen comments are also from 2007.)

I am hoping to see recent numbers. I imagine the 2010 budget will show some improvement but as far as I know the annual US budget for climate science research (as opposed to data collection or impacts studies) through 2009 remains comparable to the budget for a Pixar movie.

I believe that the sort of auditability people are asking for is 1) actually a good idea and 2) not supportable by tghe present small community with its tightly constrained budget. Given that the actual issue is four or five orders of magnitude larger than the science budget, it makes sense to expend considerably more on a more formal science. Meanwhile, people who are complaining about the informality and close-knit nature of the community should be advocating for budget increases, not cuts.

The auditability people are butting heads against the myth that the climate science community is wealthy.


April 8, 2007

The claim that scientists have been conspiratorially drumming up climate fears to increase our funding appears specious to most of us. How would such a conspiracy be organized? How would we prevent defections? Nevertheless this idea has currency with the public. Supporting this argument is the idea, apparently promoted by Lindzen that the climate science budget has ballooned enormously.

It is true that there are 2 billion under a “climate change” rubric, but in fact half of it is NASA’s earth observation missions, a program which I would think any sane person would support. The massive “growth” of the program in its early days was not due to new projects but due to enfolding existing projects under the new name.

So what has happened to the science budget over the past sixteen years in fact? It has increased by 9% after inflation. Adjusted for inflation, actual US climate research (not data collection, not data dissemination, not technology or adaptation research, not impacts research, but the part that climate scientists stand to benefit from, has increased by 9% since 1993 according to the GAO.

More or less. The GAO adds the caveat “these data were difficult to compare over the entire time period because CCSP periodically introduced new categorization methods without explaining how the new methods were related to the ones they replaced”. (page 4)

Can the climate research budget actually been in decline? Anecdotally, I have been hearing about “belt tightening” through my entire career.

The climate research budget of NSF, which funds most of what most of us think of as climate science, including most climate modeling, is inconsistent over the period. It has wild oscillations but shows no trend. (see p 35 of the GAO report; note these figures are not inflation-adjusted) and is about 10% of the total CCSP budget, about 200 million, enough to support maybe about 600 scientists and professional staff (consider infrastructure needs, travel and publication costs, and equipment).

What about the near future? Well, here I can only report the entire CCSP aggregate, which is [12/09: sorry, link is dead] in a period of rapid decline, of about 20% over 4 years.

Boy, this scaremongering isn’t paying as well as you might think.

Admittedly, most of the cuts are out of NASA’s earth observation budget, which is a bit beside the point, though it is really enormously unfortunate. However, Mars seems to be a bigger priority than the Earth these days, because, um, well because you don’t need a rocketship to get to the Earth, now do you?

Government as Them vs Government as Us

Globe and Mail on Red River flooding (h/t Kathy Austin @kdaustin):

Mr. Shaefer moved to higher ground in the north part of the city. Yesterday, the Red was lapping at a sandbag dike in his backyard. “We guessed this place would keep us clear of the river,” he said. “Maybe we guessed wrong.”

Downriver in Manitoba, authorities have taken some of the guesswork out of the Red equation. Starting with the construction of the Red River Floodway in 1962 – informally named Duff’s Ditch for Premier Duff Roblin – provincial governments have consistently taken a longsighted approach to flood protection. The floodway diverts overflow from the Red around Winnipeg. In 37 years, the floodway has been opened 20 times, saving $10-billion in flood damages, according to government estimates.

“It’s an amazing piece of engineering,” said Dr. Schwert, one of North Dakota’s foremost flood experts. “In 1997, if you were in downtown Winnipeg you were oblivious to the fact that there was a flood going on.”

Since 1997, various levels of government in Manitoba have invested more than $800-million to nearly double the capacity of the floodway and erect ring dikes around small towns capable of keeping out 1997-level waters plus .6 metres.

But the political culture in North Dakota resists such solutions.

Earlier this week, one homeowner 15 minutes north of Fargo talked with pride about the flood-protection measures he’d erected with his neighbours. “That’s how it should be,” he said, trudging through knee-deep water inches from flowing into his home. “We don’t need government in here screwing things up.”

North Dakota hasn’t voted for a Democratic president since Lyndon Johnson, and Libertarian Ron Paul nearly beat John McCain in last year’s Republican primary.

“We have a lot of individualism here – that’s just the North Dakota way,” Dr. Schwert said.

(For the benefit of those from far away, this is not the Red River of cowboy lore, by the way.)

Dr. Austin tweets “Parable for climate change?”


Image of 1997 Red River flood from usgs.gov