PCAST Letter - January 7, 1997

January 7, 1997

President William J. Clinton
The White House
1600 Pennsylvania Avenue, N.W.
Washington, DC 20500

Dear Mr. President:

The President's Committee of Advisors on Science and Technology (PCAST) believes that theUnited States must continue to lead the nations of the world through the transition to a moresustainable future. The work of the President's Council on Sustainable Development has placed us on the right path. Now America needs a comprehensive andintegrated science and technology agenda to support such a transition, one that addresses majorinterrelated issues of national and global consequence.

PCAST has identified five sustainable development issues that provide "targets of opportunity";they offer the potential for significant progress toward a more sustainable future, and we wantyour support in making them priorities in the Administration's science and technology portfolio during your second term in office. The issues are climatechange, biodiversity, energy, ecosystems, and food supplies. PCAST proposes the followingspecific actions:

  • CLIMATE CHANGE: The Earth's climate is changing because human activitieshave seriously altered the chemical composition of the atmosphere. The burning of fossil fuelshas added vast quantities of greenhouse gases. Temperatures have increased IOF over the last century, glaciers are retreating worldwide, and the 10 warmest years on recordhave all occurred since 1980. Because the rate of climate change is faster than that experiencedover the last 10,000 years, ecosystems may not be able to adapt.

    The U.S. should vigorously continue to play a leadership role internationally in the climatechange issue. To date, most research has focused on the physical climate system. As evidenceof a changing climate becomes ever clearer, we must rapidly increase our ability toanticipate and mitigate the ecological and economic consequences for the United States. Theseissues are poorly understood, have been inadequately studied, and must become a larger part ofthe climate research portfolio. The Federal government should begin analyzing the regional implications of climate change and possible mitigation andadaptation options. This effort should involve regional representatives of Federal, State, andlocal governments.

  • BIODIVERSITY: The loss of biodiversity is progressively limiting our futureglobal productivity and sustainability. The information encoded in billions of diverse packets ofDNA, accumulated over billions of years, is literally irreplaceable. We are destroying species many times more rapidly than new ones are appearing. Currentextinction rates are accelerating and are already about 100 to 1,000 times historic rates.

    Yet, we depend on biodiversity for our general welfare. Individual organisms -- plants, animals,fungi, and microorganisms -- are sources of our food, medicines, clothing, and shelter. We mustbegin to reduce the rate of biodiversity loss and protect our heritage in the genes. species, and ecosystems of the world. Only in this way can we preserve ourcapacity to adapt to future global changes, including those associated with a growing humanpopulation. The United States should take a leadership role in preserving biodiversity by ratifying the International Biodiversity Convention; providingenhanced funding for research and training in systematics through all relevant agencies; andunderstanding, sustainably managing, and conserving our biodiversity.

  • ENERGY: Projected increases in fossil energy use in developed and developing countries will cause costly and unacceptable environmental degradation. Continuedover reliance on fossil fuels, which are the primary sources of emissions of the greenhouse gasescarbon dioxide and methane, will accelerate global warming and cause continued deterioration inurban and rural air quality. Without the further development and wider implementation oflow-polluting energy-supply technologies and more efficient energy use, achieving sustainableeconomic progress, both in the United States and in the rest of the world, will be impossible.

    The United States needs a more comprehensive and robust program of energy R&D to respondto the challenges of building environmentally sustainable prosperity in this country, and aroundthe world. Addressing global climate change requires the revolutionary development of moreefficient and less polluting technologies for energy supply. The mostimmediate priorities should be substantial increases in Federal funding for R&D on energyefficiency and renewable-energy options, which have particularly high leverage in reducingdependence on fossil fuels.

  • ECOSYSTEMS: Many parts of the United States are subject to the increasingpressures of population, movement toward the coasts, and urbanization. We need to understandthe effects of fragmentation in specific land and water ecosystems, to know the causes and extent of ecosystem changes, to develop indicators of ecosystem health, and toimprove our capacity to anticipate impacts on existing ecosystems. Natural adaptation to globalchange, such as migration of forests, is hindered by both the pace of change and extensivehuman development of the landscape. Facilitating adaptation will depend on developingadequate knowledge about ecosystems so that appropriate management decisions can be made ina timely and effective manner.

    An ecosystem approach to managing our natural resources requires increased emphasis onintegrating ground- and space-based monitoring systems, and making maximum use ofdeclassified satellite data. Although there is a tremendous array of capabilities to assess physical and biological resources at Federal, State, and local levels, most were developedto provide resource-specific information. Currently, there is little coordination between thesecapabilities in terms of spatial or temporal scale. We must integrate all available information to help us understand why change has occurred, what changescan be anticipated, and how we can best manage resources in the face of change. Federalagencies should develop a coherent monitoring system capable of producing a report card on thestate of the Nation's ecosystem health by 2001.

  • FOOD SUPPLIES: The world's food supplies are increasingly strained bypopulation increase, pollution, land-use changes, and many other interacting environmentalfactors. To feed the current human population adequately requires the urgent development of new and sustainable systems of agriculture. To feed future populations will requireeven greater efforts. Achieving reliable food supplies demands increased attention to sustainableapproaches to farming as a way of life.

    Federal agencies must help farmers understand and adopt the most appropriateagricultural practices to enhance the capacity to produce food while sustaining the ecosystems onwhich human communities depend. Limiting the application of pesticides on agricultural cropsand reducing nonpoint pollution from farming are extremely important. The possibility ofshifting from our principal dependence on annual crops. which have high requirements for waterand fertilizers, to greater use of perennials and mixed crops, should be explored more frilly. Integrating highly sophisticated satellite information about crop quality and nutrient requirementinto everyday farming offers great promise for reducing the need for multiple agriculturalinputs. Federal agencies should be challenged to initiate multiple agriculturaldemonstration projects based on sound ecosystem management, including improved methods ofcultivation, the use of genetically modified crop species, integrated pest management, lowpesticide use, and water conservation.

    In the attached report, R&D Priorities for Sustainable Development, PCAST offers abrief description of each area and recommendations for Federal research investment priorities foradvancing the Nation's goal of sustainable development.


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    Federal Energy R&D for the Challenges of the 21st Century

    Fusion Energy Report 1995

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    PCAST Letter - December 6, 1996

    PCAST Letter on Educational Research

    PCAST - Consistent priority for American policy

    PCAST Letter - January 7, 1997

    John A. Young Letter to the President

    PCAST letter on the 2000 Budget

    PCAST Principles

    PCAST - Nation's Investment in Science and Technology

    PCAST 2001 budget to POTUS

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