In a strange way, you could claim that the more theoretical branches of science share much in common with peacekeeping — and both seem to be esoteric concepts that escape government thinking.
Invest in peacekeeping, and, with a dollop of luck thrown in, you can save yourself from having to invest in much, much more expensive — both in lives and cash costs — warfare. Invest in the theoretical side of science, even though it does not show immediate cash potential today and tomorrow, and you keep the kind of minds and skills you need to solve more practical industrial problems later.
We don’t fund much peacekeeping any more, and since the Mulroney era, successive federal governments have shown less and less interest in any science, beyond that which has immediate commercial implications (and which probably should be funded by the companies that stand to benefit from it commercially anyway).
The problem is the same for both: politicians like the connection between spending and results to be blissfully short, so that a single administration can announce that its funding of a particular project has immediate commercial benefits.
Likewise, a quick and expensive dip into combat in a war, such as in Libya, can cast politicians as dynamic problem-solvers — even if the problems left behind on the ground are every bit as complicated and deadly as those that existed before the solution.
Leadership by this country in both peacekeeping and theoretical science has gone more and more by the wayside — because the payback time is too long to bolster an individual political career.
It is, in the end, a problem of vision and credit, and a short attention span.
Elected for periods of four years or less, politicians crave things they can add to their resumés. Big dams, big weapons, big discoveries all have almost instant credit: paying for them is someone else’s problem.
But nations actually have different concerns than their politicians do: all of us, except for the truly unlucky, live for much longer terms than four years, and have goals that do not fit neatly into the tight little electoral calendar.
New federal changes for fisheries, for example, focus protections almost exclusively on commercially valuable species.
Other species may well be critical to the food web — and therefore, valuable in their own way to the commercial species, sometimes in hitherto unknown ways that might be discovered through, oh, more theoretical science — but that is not a problem for those focusing on the next four years and the next election.
We’ve got to get back to long-term thinking. We’ve got to return to understanding that developing ideas and building nations are long-term ventures, with ends that are more important than the simple self-aggrandizement of the moment.
Building a future is more than planning for next week.
And as voters and citizens, we have to see that there is more at stake than “What have you politicians done for me lately?”