Dr. Neal Lane
Assistant to the President for Science and Technology

Sea-Space Symposium National Academy of Sciences

October 28, 1999


I'm delighted to be with so many friends here today.  Whether our passion is exploration of space or the oceans, we are all joined by a common interest, a common devotion and love for scientific discovery.

This is truly an extraordinary group of pioneers - so many of you have made unique and valuable contributions to sea and space exploration, that it would be impossible to list them all, and so - with apologies - I won't mention any!  But I do want to recognize Skip Johns, former Associate Director for Technology at OSTP, for his valuable leadership in this Administration.  The Office of Science and Technology Policy works closely with the National Security Council and other White House staff offices to develop and oversee the implementation of the President's National Space Policies.  Since 1993, the Clinton Administration has established and implemented a series of eight space policy directives that address a broad range of civil, national security, and commercial activities.  Much of the credit for those directives belongs to Skip, and we're grateful for his outstanding contribution.

Most of us spend our entire lives at the interface of the land, the sea, and the atmosphere.  But as members of Sea-Space, you represent a unique group of professionals who have spent considerable time in the most remote environments, making scientific discoveries high in the atmosphere and deep below the ocean's surface.  Your collective work is a priceless resource for science and technology as we step, swim and soar into the next century.

One of our greatest human, but also scientific challenges is achieving sustainable development worldwide.  Today, I want to focus on this challenge and discuss the kinds of policies we will need if we want to make such global sustainability a reality.  I'll tell you what the Administration is doing to meet this challenge, particularly in the area of oceans policy.  Finally, I will take a few minutes to emphasize how critical science and technology are to achieving our goal of sustainable development.

Former Norwegian Prime Minister Gro Bruntland gave the most widely accepted definition of sustainable development in the Our Common Future Report:  "…meeting the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet theirs."  The sobering truth of our world today is that more than 1 billion people live in poverty, and roughly 2 billion lack access to fresh water and basic sanitation.  Our goal of global sustainability must include a global standard of living.  The recent birth of the world's 6 billionth person should remind us that this challenge will only increase in magnitude.  A great collective effort is required if we are to achieve sustained environmnetal health, economic prosperity, and quality of life.

We have made some progress toward sustainable development and protecting the natural environment, but critical problems remain, including air and water pollution, devastated forest lands, and declining fish stocks.  These, in turn, contribute to a set of global environmental problems that pose even greater challenges, such as ozone depletion, climate change, and the loss of biodiversity.

There are three steps we must take - on our own and in collaboration with other nations - to work toward sustainable development:

The world's oceans are vivid examples of vital natural resources desperately in need of sustainable development.

It is difficult to overstate the rich biodiversity of the sea.  Of the 34 groups in the animal kingdom, 33 are found in the oceans - 17 of them exclusively in the oceans.  Additionally, our oceans may be a powerful pharmaceutical resource in the ongoing fight against human disease.  For example, marine "bioprospecting" has yielded an antiviral medication derived from a sponge (Tethya crypta).  Research funded by the Sea Grant has led to development of five new drugs with an estimated annual market potential of $2 billion.  The seas are a rich - and virtually unexplored - source of all kinds of organic and inorganic compounds with potential medicinal applications.

Moreover, the seas affect our climate and weather patterns in complicated ways that we are just beginning to understand.  We know that understanding ocean-atmosphere interaction is central to understanding long-term climate change.  Deep-ocean circulation, which is caused by the sun's heating of equatorial waters (a part of the ocean I particularly like) and the cooling of the seas at the poles (where I have been - but just to visit), sets up climatic patterns across the globe.

Based in part on a better understanding of ocean circulation, we successfully predict the 1997-98 El Nino conditions in the Pacific Ocean.  El Nino brought home to every American citizen the stark fact that what happens in the oceans has a major effect on our weather here at home.

We're also making exciting new discoveries about relationships between climate patterns and abundance of marine fishes.  The Pacific Northwest Index, Pacific Decadal Oscillation (PDO), and the North Atlantic Oscillation are just a few of the indices that have been developed in recent years to better explain these climate-ocean-fishery relationships.

Besides controlling our weather and climate, the oceans are a critical source of food for the world.  According to a recent National Research council report, every person on Earth consumes an average of 14 kg of fish and fish products per year.  In Asia, one billion people rely on fish as their main source of protein.

The oceans are also a significant means of transportation and trade.  Many of the products in our homes are imported by sea.  In fact, 95 percent of U.S. foreign trade arrives through our seaports.  The sea-lanes of the world remain open because of our Navy's strength.  Our national security depends in large measure on our knowledge and command of the seas.

For those who vacation, most choose to visit coastal areas and beaches.  Coastal tourism and recreation are the largest and fastest-growing segment of the U.S. service industry.  My wife and I have had our most relaxing and enjoyable vacations near coral reefs, with snorkel and mask - even better if the grandkids are along!

The importance of the oceans is indisputable.  I am reminded of President kennedy's thoughts that we are all committed to the sea because we all came from the sea.  As he pointed out, "…it's an interesting biological fact that all of us have, in our veins, the exact same percentage of salt in our blood that exists in the ocean, and,
therefore, we have salt in our blood, in our sweat, in our tears.  We are tied to the ocean.  And when we go back to the sea - whether it is to sail or to watch it - we are going back from whence we came."

Even though we all seem to instinctively understand the ocean's importance, we can cite numerous examples of our failure to efficiently manage this vital resource.

We now know that increased nutrient flow to the continental shelf, a byproduct of human activity, is producing hypoxic zones of low dissolved oxygen.  These zones are lethal to many forms of benthic marine life.  Each summer in the Gulf of Mexico, an area the size of New Jersey becomes hypoxic, and this area is expanding at an increasing rate.  Outbreaks of toxic organisms, such as pfiesteria, are increasing in frequency and intensity in our coastal waters.  In addition, harmful algal blooms, may be responsible for as much as $1 billion in economic losses during the past decade.

We've also mismanaged our ocean resources by adopting destructive fishing methods.  For example, bottom trawling, increasingly used worldwide, uses large, weighted nets towed behind boats and ships.  The effect on the seabed is similar to the effect of clearcutting a forest, but the area of seafloor affected each year is 150 times greater than the total area of clearcut forest worldwide.  Such fishing gear causes the greatest damage to the world's seabed, and could be a major reason why so many fisheries are in decline.

The declining populations of many commercial fish stocks present a pattern of increasing concern.  In a recent report, the UN's Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) concluded that 60 percent of commercial fishery stocks are either overfished or fully harvested.  For exdample, Atlantic halibut, once common off New England, is now rare.  Despite clear signs that we have reached capacity, the world's fishing fleet nonetheless continues to grow.

Coral reefs are in dramatic decline, for reasons we don't fully understand.  High water temperatures in 1997 and 1998 sparked unprecedented bleaching in all major tropical regions, including the Pacific and Indian Oceans, the Red Sea, the Persian Gulf, the Mediterranean, and the Caribbean.  Large numbers of corals are turning white and dying, with over 90 percent mortality in parts of the world.  We must assess whether this is a natural phenomenon, a response to man-made pollution, or even a result of global warming.

Although the current threats to our oceans' systems are ominous, important efforts are underway to address them.  As new ocean problems have come to light, we have suggested new ways to deal with these threats.

The President has made sustainable oceans policy a high priority.  For example, last June, at the National Oceans Conference, the President directed the Cabinet to recommend to him "a coordinated, disciplined, long-term Federal oceans policy" within a year.  His directive began the first comprehensive look at oceans policy since the Stratton Commission in the 1960s.  The scientific landscape has dramatically changed.  Today, we are fortunate to have NOAA - and satellite, computing, and communications power that was unimaginable then.  The Administration seeks to change our policies by implementing the 148 recommendations in a new report entitled Turning to the Sea:  America's Ocean Future..

I am also encouraged that we have just established an oceans task force within the Executive Office of the President that will bring together senior representatives from all civilian and military agencies whose activities involve the oceans.  Through this group, the White House itself will have a role in the major decisions about oceans - including the priorities of the science and technology program.

To improve our ocean-observing capabilities, the President has strongly supported efforts at NASA, NOAA, and other agencies.  In the past several years, NASA has worked with commercial and international partners to successfully deploy new space-based observing systems to provide important new data on ocean biology and surface winds.  We are devising new instruments to extend these data records; we are developing new satellite altimeter missions to better measure sea-surface
topography; and this year we are expanding the array of sea buoys in the equatorial Pacific.  These are needed improvements on the very systems that enabled us to predict the onset of the 1997-98 El Nino, and consequently saved lives and prevented billions of dollars in damages.

We are also conducting three assessments, focusing specifically on the Gulf of Mexico, on hypoxia, and harmful algal blooms.  The National Science and Technology Council, through its Committee on Environment and Natural Resources, has prepared reports, now in review, that examine the ecological and economic consequences of harmful algal blooms, alternatives for reducing, mitigating, and controlling them, and the social and economic costs and benefits of such alternatives.

In addition, the President has signed a Proclamation extending the contiguous zone of the United States from 12 to 24 miles, which gives the United States authority to enforce our sanitary laws and prevent removal of our undersea cultural heritage.

As the Administration turns its knowledge into action and launches new efforts to help us care for our oceans more intelligently, there is a vital role for science and technology - for all of us - in the research that lies ahead.

First, we must expand our expeditions to the frontiers.  It is ironic how remarkably little we know about marine life forms - whether in extreme environments like deep-sea vents or in the very familiar environments of our coastal estuaries.  Years ago, I had the unique experience of exploring the ocean depths aboard the Alvin which observes the deep sea vents.  I would love to have gone down to the vents.  Interestingly, the worldwide system of these vents puts as much material into the oceans as do all the world's rivers.  Ten years ago we knew little of phytoplankton that was smaller than two microns.  Today, we know it accounts for up to one-half of oceanic productivity.  Coral reefs are among the most biologically diverse and beautiful marine ecosystems.  Our understanding of all these areas would increase dramatically with stepped-up exploration.
Second, we can increase our understanding of the physical, chemical, and biological processes of the ocean.  By building on the remarkable success of the El Nino forecast, we can assimilate vast new amounts of ocean data into far more sophisticated models that will allow us to better predict tomorrow's weather and the next century's climate.

Third, we need to take full advantage of advanced technology to help us explore and observe.  We need to continue to push the state of the art to maintain unmatched defense capability, the safest, most efficient transportation system, the healthiest environment, and the strongest economy.

Fourth, and perhaps most important of all, we need to upgrade our educational system, at all levels and for all Americans.  The degree to which our nation flourishes in the 21st century will rest upon our success in developing a well-educated workforce able to embrace the rapid pace of technological change.

That brings me to one final issue: our nation's enduring investment in science and technology research.  In 1994, the Clinton-Gore Administration endorsed a long-term national goal of funding R&D at a rate of 3 percent of GPD.  That would be a national rate of spending from all sources, not just Federal, but still, it would be a remarkable stretch for all of us in this climate of tight fiscal restraint.  (We are not at 2.6 percent.)  But the current economic boom compels us to think about being well-equipped for the challenges and opportunities that lie ahead.  Economists agree that our investments in science and technology have the highest and best payoffs.

As a nation, we simply cannot afford not to increase our investments, even as we keep the budget balanced.

It's the end of October - which means that - at least until last night - much of the country's focus was on the World Series, but Washington was concentrating on the Congressional appropriations process.  As you know, it has been a season of uncertainty and mixed results for science and technology.  DOE's science programs received a disappointing mark - particularly the Spallation Neutron Source - and Congress continues to turn a deaf ear to calls from industry and academia for strong and stable funding for energy R&D.  For example, their decision to zero-out funding for GPS modernization just as the Europeans announce their plans for a potentially competitive system called Galileo is baffling.  We are still awaiting the outcome of budget negotiations for several Federal agencies.

However, we were greatly heartened when - at the President's urging - the House and Senate conference rejected the initial House marks for the National Science Foundation and NASA and instead voted for budgets that the President requested.  But why should we have to rescue at the last minute our investments in science and technology?  Such investments drive economic growth, generate new knowledge, create new jobs, build new industries, ensure our national security, protect our environment, and improve the health and quality of life of our people.

Most of our Federal R&D portfolio enjoyed bipartisan support during the President's first term.  What caught my eye two weeks ago was an op-ed by former Speaker Newt Gingrich, who called for a 20 percent increase in all areas of scientific research before Congress leaves town - and a doubling in 5 years.  Of course, that's easy to say, but harder to find the required offsets.  Still, it's bold thinking!  As I mentioned, the Administration has called for a national rate of R&D funding - government and private sector combined - equivalent to 3 percent of GDP.  Meeting that goal also would require a radical departure from our current wrangling over annual increases in the R&D budget, which, overall, has just kept pace with inflation.  Meeting that goal will require restoring a national, bipartisan, long-term commitment to investment in the future, to sustaining U.S. leadership across the frontiers of scientific knowledge.

So I make a heartfelt appeal to all of my colleagues in the science community to become "civic scientists."  You may have heard me make this request before, but I encourage you to make your respected and strong voices heard individually and collectively in support of funding for science and technology.  There are enormous challenges and
exciting possibilities for science ahead of us, and even though some may say the future has no constituency, I would argue that all of us have a special duty - to ourselves, to our children, to future generations - to make these farsighted investments in scientific discovery to build a better America for the 21st century.

My special appreciation (and admiration) goes to each of you for your continued dedication to scientific discovery, and I am particularly grateful for your past, present, and future contributions to the nation.  And thank you again for the opportunity to address this most distinguished group.

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