President George W. Bush's State of the Union Address last week was remarkable for its focus on energy, innovation, and math and science education. These subjects, as critical as they are to our nation's future, rarely receive more than a passing mention in State of the Union Addresses. President Bush deserves credit for emphasizing the importance of these issues and for proposing ways to address them.
It was startling to hear the President state: "America is addicted to oil, which is often imported from unstable parts of the world." Just as startling was his prescription for breaking that addiction through technology, because this President has consistently argued in the past that the best way to deal with our dependence on imported oil is to drill for more in the U.S.
The President announced an Advanced Energy Initiative designed to "invest more in zero-emission coal-fired plants, revolutionary solar and wind technologies, and clean, safe nuclear energy" and in new approaches to powering vehicles, including better batteries for hybrid and electric cars, cars that run on hydrogen, and better methods to produce ethanol. "Breakthroughs on this and other new technologies will help us reach another great goal, to replace more than 75% of our oil imports from the Middle East by 2025," the President declared.
The President also announced the American Competitiveness Initiative "to encourage innovation throughout our economy and to give our nation's children a firm grounding in math and science." The President proposed doubling the federal commitment to the "most critical basic research programs in the physical sciences over the next 10 years. This funding will support the work of America's most creative minds as they explore promising areas such as nanotechnology and supercomputing and alternative energy sources."
In the area of education, President Bush said that "we need to encourage children to take more math and science and to make sure those courses are rigorous enough to compete with other nations." He proposed "to train 70,000 high school teachers to lead advanced placement courses in math and science, bring 30,000 math and science professionals to teach in classrooms, and give early help to students who struggle with math."
The American Chemical Society can take some justifiable pride in President Bush's emphasis on science and technology. ACS presidents and other elected officials have worked tirelessly to raise awareness of these issues with the Bush Administration and on Capitol Hill. The society's Office of Legislative & Government Affairs is well-known among congressional staff and throughout the Administration as a reliable source of expert and unbiased information on the chemical aspects of issues ranging from energy to innovation to sustainability.
A recent example of such effective advocacy is a Jan. 13 letter from ACS President Ann Nalley to President Bush. In it, she wrote: "As president of the American Chemical Society, I am very concerned about the growing threats to our nation's economic and technological competitiveness. I appreciate your leadership in addressing these threats. ... I urge you to continue that leadership by using the State of the Union Address to highlight this issue so that our nation's energies, resources, and talents can be focused to propel the U.S. along the path of further technological and economic progress."
Nalley also noted that a "growing national consensus is emerging that America's future global competitiveness increasingly depends upon our ability to educate our children in math and science and on a strong investment in basic research in the physical sciences."
It seems possible that we have reached a tipping point in the U.S. with regard to science and technology issues. There have been many reports over the years bemoaning one aspect or another of the nation's commitment to science and many calls for improvement. I sense that the nexus of globalization, the looming energy crisis, and concerns over issues ranging from global warming to science education has begun to focus Americans' attention on the need for concerted action.
As chemists and members of ACS, we have a role to play in shaping this debate. One action you can take is to join the ACS Legislative Action Network (LAN), the society's electronic grassroots program for updating members on federal legislation and facilitating contact with members of Congress. LAN currently has 11,000 members, and one of Nalley's goals for her ACS presidency is to double that number.
Thanks for reading.