Climate change. Growing population. Shrinking water supplies. Air and water pollution. Public health threats. Right now California faces a litany of significant public policy issues enmeshed in science.
Our ability to provide fresh, clean water depends on science to define what is safe. We must figure out how to deliver water without destroying our natural environment. The sustainability of agriculture and our ability to provide high-quality food at affordable prices depend on science.
Science helps develop and protect the plants and animals we find in agriculture; to control the pests that could destroy those resources; and to ensure the viability of our soils for generations to come. Science ensures we avoid poisons, helps thwart sickness and infestations, and allows us to manage epidemics.
Science helps craft emergency responsiveness and helps us define the tasks undertaken to minimize disaster losses and recover from disruption of our lives. It helps educate our people and define our commerce. Science is woven into every aspect of our daily lives.
Our state's intimate reliance on science often goes unnoticed. Yet our standing as a global economy, our ability to manage our infrastructure and support local, state, national, and global markets all depend on skillful exercise of science. And where does that science come from? It comes from universities, state agencies and the private sector.
Our universities seek ever-greater clarification about how the world works, supported through a network of government and private-sector funding. The private sector pursues science to provide competitive market advantage. State government is charged with protecting public trust resources, defining the nature of trade-offs and balance among competing needs for resources, and protecting public health.
All of which requires excellent science. State science also provides value and definition to the work of the universities and the private sector. Together this body of work provides an engine for innovation and safety in California.
Given this great dependency on science, it seems fair to ask: How is the state assuring that the best and brightest scientists are working on behalf of California taxpayers? Examination of the state budget shows we are not working toward this end.
Currently, nearly half of California's state scientists are at retirement age and all are paid 25 percent to 37 percent below their counterparts at local, federal and private institutions.
Meanwhile, state and federal support for university research and work of nonprofit corporations is on the decline. The private sector continues to push forward in a number of areas, but without the companion effort from the public sector, the value of private sector science is diminished.
For the past several years in California, much has been made of the need for fiscal responsibility. So it is fair that investments in science be weighed to find their value. However, neglecting scientific work needed by California has real and significant costs.
State support of science has been on the decline for more than a decade. Continuing down this path will lead to a loss of scientific expertise that the state cannot afford.
In response to recent media reports, the governor's administration recognized that critical employees at the Department of Water Resources were fleeing for higher-paying jobs, creating a staffing crisis. The state has agreed to pay those workers up to 37 percent more to keep them in state service. The same must be done to preserve scientific capacity in California.
The state is at a tipping point in its scientific competence. We can continue to pinch pennies and watch as our scientific know-how and ability wither away, or we can invest in science and re-establish the level of competency needed to prosper in the years and generations to come.
Seeking to stabilize and improve our science is a marginal cost well worth the investment.
Stefan Lorenzato is the Riparian Habitat Joint Venture coordinator for the Department of Water Resources.