There are dozens of national polls that attempt to ascertain what issues are most important to the American public. Presumably, these are the issues that our presidential candidates should try to address in their campaign platforms and debates.
Just asking the average American what topic is at the forefront of their mind on any given day doesn’t necessarily tap into the most pressing issues facing our society and world.
Candidates often use highly emotional topics to polarize voters and engender support for their own platforms. It could be argued, however, that rather than focusing on the issues that divide us, we should prioritize those that affect us all equally regardless of religion or political persuasion.
Issues like climate change, agriculture, conservation of natural resources, and energy are vital to national policy making. Instead of obsessing about same-sex marriage or who deserves access to birth control, maybe we should be worried about what’s gonna happen when the drought lasts all year, or the Keystone XL pipeline spills into the Ogallala Aquifer, threatening 83 percent of Nebraska’s irrigation water.
To help get the public thinking more about issues that really matter, ScienceDebate.org invited thousands of scientists, engineers and concerned citizens to submit the most important science questions facing the nation.
Here are some of the questions that came out of the survey. Do you think they represent issues the candidates for president should be debating on the campaign trail? And if so, would your candidate answer them the same way you do?
1. Innovation and the Economy. Science and technology have been responsible for over half of the growth of the U.S. economy since WWII, when the federal government first prioritized peacetime science mobilization. But several recent reports question America’s continued leadership in these vital areas. What policies will best ensure that America remains a world leader in innovation?
2. Climate Change. The Earth’s climate is changing and there is concern about the potentially adverse effects of these changes on life on the planet. What is your position on cap-and-trade, carbon taxes, and other policies proposed to address global climate change—and what steps can we take to improve our ability to tackle challenges like climate change that cross national boundaries?
3. Education. Increasingly, the global economy is driven by science, technology, engineering and math, but a recent comparison of 15-year-olds in 65 countries found that average science scores among U.S. students ranked 23rd, while average U.S. math scores ranked 31st. In your view, why have American students fallen behind over the last three decades, and what role should the federal government play to better prepare students of all ages for the science and technology-driven global economy?
4. Energy. Many policymakers and scientists say energy security and sustainability are major problems facing the United States this century. What policies would you support to meet the demand for energy while ensuring an economically and environmentally sustainable future?
5. Food. Thanks to science and technology, the United States has the world’s most productive and diverse agricultural sector, yet many Americans are increasingly concerned about the health and safety of our food. The use of hormones, antibiotics and pesticides, as well as animal diseases and even terrorism pose risks. What steps would you take to ensure the health, safety and productivity of America’s food supply?
6. Fresh Water. Less than one percent of the world’s water is liquid fresh water, and scientific studies suggest that a majority of U.S. and global fresh water is now at risk because of increasing consumption, evaporation and pollution. What steps, if any, should the federal government take to secure clean, abundant fresh water for all Americans?
7. Ocean Health. Scientists estimate that 75 percent of the world’s fisheries are in serious decline, habitats like coral reefs are threatened, and large areas of ocean and coastlines are polluted. What role should the federal government play domestically and through foreign policy to protect the environmental health and economic vitality of the oceans?
8. Science in Public Policy. We live in an era when science and technology affect every aspect of life and society, and so must be included in well-informed public policy decisions. How will you ensure that policy and regulatory decisions are fully informed by the best available scientific and technical information, and that the public is able to evaluate the basis of these policy decisions?
9. Space. The United States is currently in a major discussion over our national goals in space. What should America’s space exploration and utilization goals be in the 21st century and what steps should the government take to help achieve them?
10. Critical Natural Resources. Supply shortages of natural resources affect economic growth, quality of life, and national security; for example China currently produces 97% of rare earth elements needed for advanced electronics. What steps should the federal government take to ensure the quality and availability of critical natural resources?
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