Monday, April 27, 2009

President Obama Promises New National Committment to Science and Innovation

Originally posted at the Breakthrough Institute

The United States will restore its standing as the most innovative nation in the world, President Obama declared at a major speech on science, innovation, and education policy delivered today at the National Academies of Science in Washington D.C.

The President pledged to implement policies that will dramatically ramp up the United States' overall spending (both public and private) on innovation and R&D, bringing it up to three percent of the nation's total economic output (GDP). President Obama also declared that it was his goal to see the nation once again have the highest percentage of college graduates in the world by 2020.

The stimulus bill's $21.5 billion investment in science and technology was the largest investment in R&D in the nation's history, Obama said. He promised that his administration would build on these investments by continuing to expand budgets for key agencies funding science and research (DOE, NSF, NIST), making permanent the federal R&D tax credit to encourage private-sector investment in innovation, and launching a major increase in funding to support the transformative innovation necessary to overcome the nation's energy and climate challenges.

The President's speech was also laden with references to the critical role innovation plays in securing the nation's prosperity and economic competitiveness and said he was committed to expanding science and innovation funding, in spite of (and even because of) the current economic crisis:

"At such a difficult moment, there are those who say we cannot afford to invest in science. That support for research is somehow a luxury at a moment defined by necessities. I fundamentally disagree. Science is more essential for our prosperity, our security, our health, our environment, and our quality of life than it has ever been. And if there was ever a day that reminded us of our shared stake in science and research, it's today.


President Obama once again pledged to increase public investment in clean energy innovation by an order of magnitude, promising $15 billion in additional annual spending to support energy R&D, and highlighted the role innovation must play in overcoming the nation's urgent energy and climate challenges.

The speech was also a chance for the President to highlight the launch of the Advanced Research Projects Agency-Energy (or ARPA-E), a new agency focused on high-risk, high-reward translational energy R&D funded for the first time by the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act. As President Obama explains:
"[ARPA-E] is based on the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency, known as Darpa, which was created during the Eisenhower administration in response to Sputnik. It has been charged throughout its history with conducting high-risk, high-reward research. The precursor to the Internet, known as Arpanet, stealth technology, and the Global Positioning System all owe a debt to the work of Darpa.

ARPA-E seeks to do this same kind of high-risk, high-reward research."
Discussing these new energy R&D initiatives, Obama made clear that while the nation's energy innovation imperative will not come with as clear a warning sign as the Soviet launch of Sputnik that spurred our nation's robust entry into the Space Race, the country's response must be no less animated:
The fact is, there will be no single Sputnik moment for this generation's challenge to break our dependence on fossil fuels. In many ways, this makes the challenge even tougher to solve -- and makes it all the more important to keep our eyes fixed on the work ahead.

That is why I have set as a goal for our nation that we will reduce our carbon pollution by more than 80 percent by 2050. And that is why I am pursuing, in concert with Congress, the policies that will help us meet this goal.

My recovery plan provides the incentives to double our nation's capacity to generate renewable energy over the next few years -- extending the production tax credit, providing loan guarantees, and offering grants to spur investment. For example, federally funded research and development has dropped the cost of solar panels by ten-fold over the last three decades. Our renewed efforts will ensure that solar and other clean energy technologies will be competitive.
Still, while we face no clear starting shot, a new Sputnik Moment is upon us nonetheless.

Towards the end of President Obama's speech, as he talks about the importance of education and the critical role young innovators and entrepreneurs must play in both securing our nation's prosperity and solving pressing energy challenges, President Obama strongly parallels both the tone and substance of the Breakthrough Institute's call for a National Energy Education Act.

President Obama announced today the creation of a new joint initiative at the Department of Energy and National Science Foundation "to inspire tens of thousands of American students to pursue careers in science, engineering and entrepreneurship related to clean energy."
"[This initiative] will support an educational campaign to capture the imagination of young people who can help us meet the energy challenge. It will create research opportunities for undergraduates and educational opportunities for women and minorities who too often have been underrepresented in scientific and technological fields -- but are no less capable of inventing the solutions that will help us grow our economy and save our planet. And it will support fellowships, interdisciplinary graduate programs, and partnerships between academic institutions and innovative companies to prepare a generation of Americans to meet this generational challenge.
It seems President Obama isn't going to launch an energy education initiative in one fell swoop like my colleague Teryn Norris and I proposed last summer, (and like the National Defense Education Act that Congress launched in response to Sputnik in the 1950s). However, President Obama has begun (or pledged) to implement essentially all of our recommendations for such an energy education initiative, including:
  1. Improve quality of and access to education in clean energy-related fields

  2. Increase funding for clean energy R&D at universities

  3. Support the development and implementation of new workforce training programs in clean energy industries

  4. Create "clean innovation pipelines" to move new products out of research labs and into private sector ventures

In particular, President Obama's concluding remarks (and policy recommendations to date) have included:
  • A new focus on K12 and higher ed curriculum development and teacher training for science/math/engineering/technology (STEM) and other energy-related fields

  • Create clean energy research opportunities for undergrads and graduates

  • Expanded graduate fellowships to support graduates engaged in energy research and innovation

  • Expanded access to higher education in general (this has been less focused on directly incenting study in energy-related fields so far, as we recommended in NEEA)

  • Major increase in public funding for energy innovation.
  • And of course, a crucial national 'call to service' for a new generation of scientists, innovators and entrepreneurs that will inspire and rally my young generation to see this as their life's work.

As Teryn and I have written, for the budding scientists, researchers, innovators, entrepreneurs and engineers of our young generation, if we want to save the world, we need to make clean energy cheap, and invent the energy technologies that will form the backbone of a clean and prosperous 21st century economy.

The energy innovation imperative is clear and urgent. Yet as President Obama recognizes, the new generation of innovative Americans we need will not emerge without the proper inspiration and the proper support from our nation's government.
"For we must always remember that somewhere in America there's an entrepreneur seeking a loan to start a business that could transform an industry -- but she hasn't secured it yet. There's a researcher with an idea for an experiment that might offer a new cancer treatment -- but he hasn't found the funding yet. There is a child with an inquisitive mind staring up at the night sky. Maybe she has the potential to change our world -- but she just doesn't know it yet.

As you know, scientific discovery takes far more than the occasional flash of brilliance -- as important as that can be. Usually, it takes time, hard work, patience; it takes training; often, it requires the support of a nation.

But it holds a promise like no other area of human endeavor."
Well said (as usual), Mr. President.

For those interested in the full speech, the New York Times' Andy Revkin has begun an annotated version of the full speech at his blog, Dot Earth here. You can also read a fact sheet accompanying the President's speech and summarizing the policy initiatives discussed today here.

1 comment:

Vernon Malcolm said...

Now that the anti-science, superstition-based initiative presidency is behind us, we need Manhattan projects to make us great again and boost us out of this Grotesque Depression. First we must provide free advertising-based wireless internet to everyone to end land line monopolies. Then we must criscross the land with high speed rail. Because bovine flatulence is the major source of greenhouse gases, we must develop home growable microbes to provide all of our protein. Then we must create microbes which turn our sewage and waste into fuel right at home. This will end energy monopoly by putting fuel in our hands. We must address that most illness starts from behavior, especially from parents. Since paranoid schizophrenia is the cause of racism, bigotry, homelessness, terrorism, ignorance, exploitation and criminality, we must provide put the appropriate medications, like lithium, in the water supply and require dangerous wingnuts who refuse free mental health care to be implanted with drug release devices. Churches should be licensed to reduce supersition and all clergy dealing with small children should be psychiatrically monitored to prevent molesting. Osama bin Laden and Timothy McVeigh were the ultimate superstition based initiatives. Aborting future terrorists and sterilizing their parents is the most effective homeland security. Preganancy is a shelfish, environmentally desturctive act and must be punished, not rewarded with benefits, preference and leave. Widen navigation straits (Gibraltar, Suez, Malacca, Danube, Panama and Hellspont) with deep nukes to prevent war. In order to fund this we must nationalize the entire financial, electrical and transportation system and extinguish the silly feudal notion that each industry should be regulated by its peers. Technology mandates a transformation of tax subsidies from feudal forecloseable debt to risk sharing equity. Real estate and insurance, the engines of feudalism, must be brought under the Federal Reserve so we may replace all buildings with hazardous materials to provide public works. Insects, flooding and fire spread asbestos, lead and mold which prematurely disables the disadvantaged. Disposable manufactured housing assures children are not prematurely disabled and disadvantaged. Because feudalism is the threat to progress everywhere, we must abolish large land holdings by farmers, foresters or religions and instead make all such large landholding part of the forest service so our trees may diminish greenhouse gases. Darwin led to the worst colonial, militarist, attrocity and stock market abuses in history - Lamarkian inhertiance and mitochondrial DNA show that Darwin was not all he is crackered up to be. We must abolish executive pay and make sure all employees in a company are all paid equally. We must abolish this exploitative idea of trade and monopoly and make every manufactured disposable cottage self sufficient through the microbes we invent. Southern Oligarchs destroyed the Democarts in the sixties and destroyed the Republicans this decade - they would not allow viable candidates like Colin Powell, Mitt Romney or Condi Rice to even be considered!