The amount of money spent on medical research demonstrates the importance the scientific community places on human life, but some scientists think that environmental, not medical, research will be the key to sustaining human life in the future. Associate Biology Professor Arthur Dunham is one of those who thinks funding for environmental research is too low. Last year, the University received over $200 million in grants for research. From this amount, the Medical School received almost $42 million for research, but environmental research projects received only about $1 million. "Humans need to recognize that the greatest threats aren't medical, but ecological problems," Dunham said. "Environmental threats coupled with economical problems they may create are far more serious than any medical threats." Dunham says the earth is undergoing a change in climate, but the rate of this change is a mystery. The question of what will happen to the population under a new climate remains unanswered. "Climate change is complex," says Dunham, who specializes in global warming and the expansion of deserts. His main goal is to understand ecological systems well enough to predict what will happen when and if global warming occurs. If desertification -- the spreading of deserts as a result of global warming -- becomes widespread in the U.S., mid-west grain production would decrease and could eventually stop. The so-called bread basket of the west is a major food source for the world and makes up a large part of our national economy. "The collapse of that part of the U.S. agriculture would make the S&L; bailout look trivial," says Dunham. "The impact of global warming depends on how warm it will get, and we just don't know." Dunham said the world has grown warmer in the last decade. Although the change is small, he said, it is likely to continue. Other scenarios of environmental disaster include melting of the polar ice caps, which would cause ocean levels to rise and all major cities on the East Coast to become totally or partially submerged in water. Professor Dunham also stressed that small scale changes might seem of little significance now, but could eventually change the weather patterns, as well as human existence. During the last ice age the sea levels rose approximately 150 meters because of a simple change in the Gulf Stream. "Tens of years, not hundreds could change our environment," says Dunham. "These problems can happen over a decade and humans cannot produce the mass technology needed to respond to or divert the rapid rate of change with the research funding available." The economic consequences would be of incredible magnitude, Dunham said. He added that he feels people in the future will regret spending so little on environmental research today. Design of the Environment Professor Arthur Johnson, who researches acid rain, said he agrees environmental research is important but says the funding available is increasing. As environmental awareness has risen over the past decade, so has the amount of money available for research of acid rain, carbon dioxide in the environment, and global warming. Johnson said he did not know if science is ready to predict the human consequences caused by environmental changes. Unlike Dunham, he said he does not feel more money is needed for environmental research, as opposed to medical. But Anatomy Department Chairperson Eliot Stellar said that more money is needed in environmental research. He added, however, that he feels all research deserves more funding. "We cannot do everything," Stellar cautioned. "We have to make choices that will advance humanity and human understanding the furthest."Comments powered by Disqus
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