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Research to Protect, Restore, and Manage the Environment
SCIENCE BY ITSELF IS NOT ENOUGH
No matter how good the science, environmental problems cannot be solved without integrating the science with environmental policy. To accomplish that, integrative study is needed to bridge the multidisciplinary gaps and to deal with the conflicting policy goals held by varied constituencies. Research is necessary but not sufficient to solve problems. As an example, consider environmental problems that are caused by multiple widely dispersed pollution sources. Water-quality problems dominated by emissions from a small number of major point sources have been attacked with relative success, and many badly polluted waters are now fishable and swimmable. But today's leading contributor to surface-water pollution in the United States is nonpoint pollution originating from thousands of households and farms. Determining the actual contributions of these dispersed sources and developing appropriate and effective remediation procedures will be much more difficult. Solutions to such problems promise to be even more difficult to devise and implement and promise to involve large social, economic, and political adjustment. Indeed, engineering solutions are not likely to be feasible, so understanding of how to induce changes in human behavior must supplement engineering in the search for solutions to problems.
Even if scientific methods and information are available, the effort to seek or implement solutions might not be forthcoming, especially if there is residual scientific uncertainty or if the solutions are potentially costly. Organizational, political, economic, behavioral, and legal issues often need to be resolved to achieve a solution.
The environmental problems we face are serious, and they are becoming more serious every year. We have poor understanding of many of the basic physical and biological interactions that cause them. Our government environmental agencies were created mostly two decades ago or earlier, and in the meantime the problems they were created to address have become more numerous and more complex. Understanding these problems is a daunting research task, but we have new tools to help us. The ways in which environmental research is organized are important, and new circumstances demand new ways. Research is essential but, by itself, is not sufficient. To solve problems, the best science must be combined with the legal, behavioral, economic, and political considerations required to provide people with opportunities to lead more secure lives, with assured futures for themselves and for their children.