concern. I do not believe they are actually going to succeed. It turns out that the market is very thin and there are no indications that any of them are even beginning to cover their costs for reasons that I will come to later.
Additional issues are that the United States has a policy of encouraging public–private partnerships in the information provision area. These partnerships have to be thought through very carefully as to what the respective roles are of the partners and, in particular, what are the relative data rights. That has to be done on a case-by-case basis; it is not something that can be written into legislation.
Finally, the U.S. policy on commercialization of space is also introducing tensions into this area. Many applications, such as satellite observations, provide useful data for environmental science and potentially have commercial applications. That interface is, in fact, troublesome.
Let me now focus on the imperatives for environmental research and education, which is the primary purpose of this talk. As I have already indicated, there has been a movement over the past 20 years among the scientific community to face up to the fundamental problem, which is understanding human interactions with the natural environment. That is a huge canvas and I am certainly not going to touch on more than small pieces of it today. What I will assert, however, is that long-term global data, by that I mean many decades, are essential to document what is going on and to unravel a lot of the interconnections that exist between, for example, the ecosystems and climate. These data are also important in the distillation of interconnections to enhance the understanding of what is occurring, which can be conveyed not only among the specialists, but also to our children and grandchildren. If we do not understand what we are doing to their futures, they are not going to be in a position to do very much about it. A central requirement within all of this is a dependable, coherent observing and information system through which researchers can synthesize core information products. I am going to come back to this again and again, but let me just introduce an analogy.
The key analogy here is to a tree, as you can see in Figure 8-1. 2 The roots are where the data are actually collected in many different countries with many different types of instruments. As you move into the trunk and go up the trunk, data are being collated, cross-checked, and put into higher-order information products. That conversion of data to information is really seamless. There is a key point in this process, which I have labeled “core products,” that get distributed by a whole variety of mechanisms to the end uses and that are represented by the
2The tree analogy was originally proposed in the NRC Resolving Conflict report previously cited. For further explanation of the various components, please see Chapter 3 of that report.