$1.5 million for a grant on how humans hurt the environment?

The headline read, “NASA Grants MSU $1.5 Million to Study How Humans Hurt the Environment.”

This is wrong in so many ways, starting with the headline. I’m horrible at writing headlines. They are supposed to be a tease, not the whole story. Even my weak headlining skills could produce something like, “Millions for Environmental Grant.”

Journalism aside, the next thing popping into my mind is that NASA – National Aeronautics and Space Administration – is one of the most beloved agencies of the federal government. Ranks up there with … what? Maybe the National Park Service or the Secret Service? NASA sent men to the moon, sent rockets to Saturn, spawned the Star Trek TV series.

How does a government strapped for cash and NASA in particular, laying off their rocket scientists, have an extra $1.5 million laying around to bequeath to Michigan State University? Not to belittle the staff or students at MSU – there are probably many there capable of helping NASA design a better space toilet or rocket ship.

A study about how humans hurt the environment? Doesn’t the EPA do stuff like this? Aren’t there environmental scientists working on these questions at the U.S. Department of Agriculture, National Weather Service, departments of energy, interior, health, CDC and probably another half dozen bureaus and agencies? What does space exploration have to do with fertilizer run-off or strip mining?

Regardless of which governmental bureau is involved, is there a need for another $1 million-plus expenditure to enumerate the ways humans screw up the environment? I tell you what, Mr. NASA administrator, shave $1 million off the grant money to put towards a satellite that can monitor and deliver real time reports of where schools of trout, walleye or perch are swimming in the Great Lakes. Give me the other half million and I’ll produce you a list 20 pages long of how humans hurt the environment. You’ll have your list, cost savings, and I’ll have a new boat.

Even if identifying human-caused environmental threats is in NASA’s purview, even if MSU can come up with a half-dozen or more new discoveries about how badly mankind is treating Earth, there are 20 pages of problems ahead of them.

Wouldn’t putting that money into solutions make more sense?

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