Trump bid to cut research budgets ‘sends wrong signal’

Astronaut and oceanographer Dr Kathryn Sullivan to speak at SeaFest in Galway

Kathryn Sullivan: the scientist was undersecretary of commerce for oceans and atmosphere. Photograph: Steven Voss

Kathryn Sullivan: the scientist was undersecretary of commerce for oceans and atmosphere. Photograph: Steven Voss

 

The Trump administration’s attempts to cut research budgets are “sending the wrong signal” to young scientists of the future, a former US presidential adviser on climate change has warned on a visit to Ireland.

Dr Kathryn Sullivan, a former Nasa astronaut and leading oceanographer, said she is deeply concerned about the impact on marine and climate-change research of narrowly averted proposals to cut up to 20 per cent of the funding of the United States’ National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.

The scientist, who is due to speak at the Our Ocean Wealth summit at the SeaFest maritime festival in Galway this week, said that the organisation took “some reductions”, and that cuts were not as severe as anticipated, but noted that “research always suffers first” when there is any attempt claw back funding.

“Research is always easier to cut than permanent administration when it involves scientists on contracts and grants to third parties, and cuts have a long tail, as they send a signal to young people that this is not a career to be pursuing,”she said.

Dr Sullivan said a “really clear and deep-rooted commitment to stewardship of the ocean” was required if humans are to continue to extract resources from it.“So if we are to continue to extract hydrocarbons, there has to be a strong commitment to stewardship,”she said. “We also need to improve our environmental intelligence, to do a better job of taking the pulse of the ocean – as in a strong, vibrant, fragile, depleting and complex system which is far more difficult to measure than terrestrial remote sensing, for instance.”

Dr Sullivan – the first American woman to walk in space, in 1984 – was chief adviser on climate change during the presidency of Barack Obama, who appointed her undersecretary of commerce for oceans and atmosphere, and administrator of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.

Dr Sullivan said she was worried about research, climate change and related issues at a time of “a strident tone” across the globe and a “very bizarre and shifting transition period”.

The former president of the Republic Mary Robinson, an advocate on climate-change issues, is the keynote speaker at the Our Ocean Wealth summit, which will also be attended by Orla Doherty, producer of the BBC nature series Blue Planet II, who has roots in Donegal, and is an expert on underwater filming.