Saturday, March 26, 2011

"Nothing Succeeds Like Failure"

In Warnings, I devote a fair number of words about the dysfunctional culture of Washington, D.C. where "nothing succeeds like failure." Translated for those outside the Beltway, it means that there is usually no money for proactive programs that can prevent problems. But, when a problem (preferably, a large problem) occurs, the money flows like water.

Here is a new example, courtesy of The Wall Street Journal, talking about the geohazard threat to the U.S. in wake of the Japanese earthquake+tsunami+nuclear issues:

But here's the reality check: Under the White House's proposed budget for fiscal year 2012, the U.S. Geological Service would experience a 9% cut in its earthquake programs budget.
Another crucial federal agency is this regard is NASA. Its orbiting satellites can monitor movement of the Earth's surface with exquisite fidelity. Properly equipped, they could identify elastic strain in tectonic plates (which will inevitably be released in earthquakes) and moving magma in the Earth's crust (which can lead to volcanic eruptions). These satellites also have global sweep and promise to provide highly detailed maps of post-disaster devastation spanning hundreds or even thousands of miles. They could even track oil slicks after drilling accidents.
But at present, the U.S. doesn't have a radar satellite with the appropriate imaging characteristics for these applications. In fact, the National Research Council has said that a U.S. radar mission, the DESDynI radar satellite, should be a top priority for NASA. In addition to helping us mitigate against earthquakes and the like, such a mission would also revolutionize our ability to predict the fate of the polar ice caps and monitor carbon stock held in the Earth's biomass.
The DESDynI mission was well along in the planning stages at NASA, with funding provided in the 2010 and proposed 2011 budgets and a realistic launch date set for 2017. But in the White House's 2012 budget proposal, all funding for the DESDynI radar satellite mission was cancelled for the foreseeable future.
Read the entire article. I virtually guarantee that if there is, for example, an inadequately warned-of volcanic eruption in the Sierra or Cascades, Congress and the Administration will rush to write blank checks. So, how about going ahead and funding these projects now? An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure.

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