Surviving the Trump Research Funding Drought

A Model for State Support of Climate and Energy Research

Federal funding for research on renewable energy and climate change is likely to take a nose-dive under Trump. For instance, a senior advisor recently announced that NASA’s earth sciences research program would be scrapped. In a previous post, I argued that state governments should help pick up the slack. Doing so could have economic benefits in energy tech for those states, as well helping to fight climate change around the world. By the way, in referring to renewable energy I’m also including related subjects like increased energy efficiency.

There’s already a successful model for this kind of research funding. When the Bush Administration cut back on stem-cell research, California voters stepped into the breach with Prop 71, which created the California Institute of Regenerative Medicine (CIRM).

The Little Hoover Commission – California’s state think-tank on administrative reform – had this to say about Prop 71 in 2009:

“CIRM has been successful in getting money out the door quickly and establishing California as a global leader in stem cell science. Its investment of more than $700 million since 2004 has provided demonstrable results, including new and expanded facilities under construction, an influx of out-of-state and foreign scientists, published articles on research progress and growth in California’s life-sciences industry. Moreover, it has leveraged the state’s investment by attracting $900 million in matching funds.”

With the benefit of California’s experience with the CIRM, we can actually do better with a new energy research initiative. The Little Hoover Commission had important recommendations, such as changing the governance structure and making the grant process more transparent.

We might also think about replicating the CIRM Discovery Inception Program.   The Inception program is something like DARPA, the Defense Department’s renowned funder for cutting-edge research. The CIRM initiative provides seed money for “great ideas” that need testing and early data before they can compete for later, larger funding opportunities. We can imagine something similar in the areas of energy and climate research. Maybe we could call it the California Advanced Research Project Agency – Energy and Climate or CARPA-EC. Its assignment should include not only renewable energy and climate modeling, but related topics like energy efficiency and methods of adapting to climate change.

One beneficial side effect of the CIRM is that it actually boosted similar efforts in other states, which were worried about losing top experts to California. Thus, there was a national multiplier effect. Something similar could happen with CARPA-EC.

There are two reasons why such a similar energy and climate program makes sense for states like California. First, it would be good for the host state. The energy research would boost research programs in the state, with spinoff benefits for start-ups and ultimately for local consumers. The climate information would help guide local climate adaptation efforts.

Second, new energy technologies and better climate information would be helpful for other, less progressive states. In particular, cheaper, more reliable, renewable energy technologies could penetrate markets even in adamantly red states and even outside the U.S. The resulting reduction in carbon emissions would benefit the host state, as well as everyone else, and create markets for firms in the host state.

Of course, it would be great if none of this turns out to be necessary – if climate denier Donald Trump and the pro-fossil fuels GOP Congress keep funding energy and climate research at present levels. But don’t count on that happening.



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Reader Comments

2 Replies to “Surviving the Trump Research Funding Drought”

  1. Dan, the election of Trump along with the additional failures by the democratic party to gain control of the House and Senate, plus the rapidly increasing arctic ice melt nightmare are now facts of life that can guarantee an unacceptable quality of life for all of our newest generations around the world if we don’t find immediately implementable solutions to prevent disaster.

    Our last remaining hope to prevent accelerating destruction by politicians depends on the ability of intellectuals such as social scientists to produce ways to communicate with and motivate peoples around the world to demand immediate political actions to protect the human race more than ever before.

    This is the equivalent of WWIII and we must join together with peoples around the world once again in a common defense of the human race.

    1. It is worth remarking that there are a number of actions other than alternative energy and improved energy efficiency that can help. Some that I have some expertise in include:

      Artificial ocean upwellings have been suggested by Lovelock and Rapley to increase biosequestration of carbon. One interesting way to do this is via Ocean Thermal Energy, which moves prodigious amounts of water up from the deep ocean. We are not yet certain if this alone will enhance biosequestration, though natural upwellings suggest it might, but OTEC energy can also be used to fix nitrogen, which may be the limit (due to the Redfield Ratio) for biosequestration.

      Improvement of water quality in littoral waters will also improve biosequestration, and perhaps more important will reduce methane generation in anoxic waters. This is important because methane is a more powerful greenhouse gas than CO2. An interim shortcut in the meanwhile is artificial aeration of deeper littoral waters, and this is relatively easy, using wave or wind energy on floating platforms in the body of water.

      Finally we “otter” consider aggressive effort to restore Pacific kelp forests, which are major carbon sinks. This will require restoring the “keystone” species that protects kelp from sea urchins, sea otters, which is probably worth doing for its own sake.

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About Dan

Dan Farber has written and taught on environmental and constitutional law as well as about contracts, jurisprudence and legislation. Currently at Berkeley Law, he has al…

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About Dan

Dan Farber has written and taught on environmental and constitutional law as well as about contracts, jurisprudence and legislation. Currently at Berkeley Law, he has al…

READ more