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Linking Science and Technology to Society's Environmental Goals
The nation's future environmental goals should be to maintain the progress made thus far.…We would not want to see water or air pollutants increase, nor would we want to undo proper handling of hazardous wastes.
Nonetheless, every area of current environmental activity should be reassessed and priority given to the areas most affecting public health—long-term, as well as short-term health. Ecological concerns that do not relate to public health deserve serious consideration but should not be presumed to have transcendent intrinsic worth. The loss of a subspecies must be weighed against the costs visited on ordinary citizens.
All risks should be considered in the context of natural hazards and assumed risks. While there is no magic cutoff for acceptable risk, rankings of the cost of risk avoidance and of natural and man-made risks can help to defuse the hysteria that causes an allocation of resources to low-risk, high-cost concerns.
—Forum Participant Comment
As particular environmental concerns became prominent, systems of measurement were put into place to provide the needed information. The interest in temperatures and rainfall led to the establishment of national weather bureaus, which then proceeded to add other dimensions as demands arose. Some of the data systems use relatively simple instruments and training, as with the thousands of amateur observers around the United States who report daily measurements. Others are highly sophisticated, such as the satellites that furnish the images that record the approach of tropical hurricanes. Some need to be global because the phenomena being investigated and recorded occur on a global scale—for example, satellite measurements of stratospheric ozone.
Although the desirability of directly comparable measurements has long been recognized, the great majority of environmental data collected over the last several decades fails to meet this criterion. Most scientific environmental research has the primary goal of understanding a particular system at one time and in one place, and only later and separately does the question of whether this understanding is substantially different in another place or in the same location at some future time arise.
Science and technology can contribute to achieving environmental goals by identifying and developing improved data-collection methods, systems and sensors that are faster, have wider collection area(s), and are less expensive, more accurate, and more remote.
—Forum Participant Comment
Environmental monitoring has been going on in a quantitative instrumental manner since before the 1870s. In general, the development of research efforts in long-term environmental monitoring originated first in the geophysical sciences and only much later spread to the biological sciences.