A personal note: To all of you who have followed our news for many years, this is the first time we’ve taken a long break from publishing. I’ve been dealing with difficult health issues in my family and to top that off, it’s been hard to write about what the Trump Administration is doing. But here we go.
Last week, Energy ministers from many countries met in Beijing to report on a key commitment they made as part of the Paris Climate Agreement – to double spending on renewable energy research. Countries such as China, Canada, Australia, Japan, France, Norway, and India all say they are moving on track to meet the goal.
Under Mission Innovation, 20 governments – including the US, China and India – pledged to double federal investments in basic research over the next five years to reach about $20 billion. 28 of the world’s wealthiest people, spearheaded by Bill Gates, promised to invest in early-stage companies that emerge from those government research programs to get those technologies into the marketplace.
But the US is now a reliable outlier, moving in the opposite direction with deep cuts proposed for energy research. Under Trump’s budget, EERE, the energy efficiency and renewables arm of the Department of Energy (DOE) faces a 70% budget cut and ARPA-E would be eliminated altogether.
Why? Because the “private sector is better positioned to advance disruptive energy research and development and to commercialize innovative technologies,” it says in the proposed budget. The fact is that’s not how basic research works. The private sector becomes interested when a new technology is profitable, not when it is first being developed – that’s always been left to the federal government.
Launched in 2007 by Congress in the “America COMPETES Act”, ARPA-E’s mission is “to overcome long-term, high-risk technological barriers in development of energy technologies.” On a budget of $290 million a year, it does basic research that has the potential for significant breakthroughs, such as energy from algae and advanced batteries. In a 240-page report released this week, the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering and Medicine concludes that ARPA-E is so successful that it should be a model for federal agencies.
Only great innovations will prevent climate catastrophe, and the US should lead, says Bill Gates, who pushed for much greater funding for energy research and development under President Obama.
Even the ability to track US greenhouse gas emissions could be gone, including NASA’s satellites that measure carbon in the atmosphere. That too can be done by the private sector, instead of “wasting taxpayer money,” says Nick Loris at the Heritage Foundation – the group behind many of these cuts. EPA’s requirement for corporations to track and report their emissions would lose 86% of funding.
To learn more about what’s at stake for NASA, read our article, Data On Earth’s Vital Signs Grows in Leaps & Bounds.