Wednesday, February 25, 2009

Jindal vs. The Volcano

One of the many odd moments of Gov. Bobby Jindal's "rebuttal" to President Obama's address to the nation last night, was his criticism of the stimulus bill allocating $140 million for "Volcano Monitoring". First of all (and we're getting used to this) the claim is inaccurate:

For an additional amount for ''Surveys, Investigations, and Research'', $140,000,000, for repair, construction and restoration of facilities; equipment replacement and upgrades including stream gages, and seismic and volcano monitoring systems; national map activities; and other critical deferred maintenance and improvement projects.

And we have to wonder just what the GOP has against volcano and seismic monitoring? Are they unaware  that earthquakes and volcanic eruptions are a significant hazard in the United States?  Does Jindal understand what stream gages are, and why a state at the end of the Mississippi River should care? Would he poke fun at spending for the National Hurricane Center? When this speech was being prepared, was there nobody in the room with enough brains to raise their hand and ask "Uh - aren't people going to ask if maybe volcanoes need to be monitored?". 

It is not just some unlikely hypothetical disaster we're talking about. USGS volcano monitoring has already saved thousands of lives:

The USGS and PHIVOLCS estimate that their forecasts saved at least 5,000 lives and perhaps as many as 20,000. The people living in the lowlands around Mount Pinatubo were alerted to the impending eruption by the forecasts, and many fled to towns at safer distances from the volcano or took shelter in buildings with strong roofs. Additionally, more than 18,000 American servicemen and their dependents were evacuated from Clark Air Base prior to the June 15 eruption.

Perhaps the GOP believes that volcanic eruptions can be prevented by a prayer from Pat Robertson. Of better yet, throw a few virgins in the crater - just to prove that "abstinence works". Or maybe they think a volcano could be pacified with a big tax-cut.

This seems to be a continuing fad with Republican contempt for spending on scientific research and education. Senator McCain had his moment when he described a planetarium star projector as an "Overhead projector" and Governor Palin was unable grasp why fruit-fly research was important. I guess when your party is down to pandering to people who believe the universe is 6000 years old, you have to attack science at every opportunity.

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