CORVALLIS, Ore. - Jane Lubchenco, a marine ecologist at Oregon State University, will be nominated for a federal position from which she hopes to promote scientific research, education and assessment, especially in emerging environmental areas.
President Clinton yesterday announced he will nominate Lubchenco for a second term on the National Science Board, pending confirmation by the U.S. Senate. This board governs the activities of the National Science Foundation and members also provide advice to the president and Congress on science issues and policy.
The board consists of 24 members plus the director of the NSF, with members serving six-year rotating terms. Lubchenco and one other member are environmental experts, and Lubchenco chaired a recent task force for the National Science Board which has prepared a major new report about the needed direction of environmental research in the United States. That report culminates a two-year project and will be released this spring. It has significant federal policy and funding implications, she says.
"Our environment is changing faster than we are understanding the changes," Lubchenco said. "More comprehensive knowledge about these changes and how they affect people's lives will facilitate our making smarter decisions. Science has a key role to play here."
Lubchenco said she hopes to use her term on the board to help push for a major re-investment in science.
The new report which will outline some of the needed changes is titled "Environmental Science and Engineering for the 21st Century: The Role of the National Science Foundation." It looks broadly at the research activities of the NSF, the current issues facing the country and what needs are not being met.
But two key points the report will make, Lubchenco said, are that environmental research, education and communication programs should be one of the highest priorities of NSF funding; and that a more interdisciplinary approach must be used to deal with complex problems that cut across traditional scientific boundaries.
The bottom line, she said, will be a call to increase, over a period of five years, the current level of federal funding for environmental research at the NSF from about $600 million to $1.6 billion per year.
"This country is under-investing in science," Lubchenco said. "It's become clear in recent years that our current economic growth and productivity was made possible by investments years ago in basic science from which new breakthroughs later emerged.
"The technological revolution has set the stage for our current prosperity," she said. "But understanding and protection of our environment is going to be the next revolution. Progress in that area is going to have implications for our health, economy and national security much more than many people now understand."
Lubchenco and her colleagues say that changes in the world's air, soils, water, climate, biodiversity and ecological systems are happening at an unprecedented rate and a great deal more research is needed to understand these issues and help provide the scientific basis for development of sound policies. They also emphasize that new knowledge must be shared broadly with a variety of users.
"I was very pleased that the National Science Board gave a unanimous vote in support of the report we will soon be distributing," Lubchenco said. "And I've been encouraged by the recent bipartisan support in Congress for increasing the federal investment in science."
President Clinton has recommended a 17 percent increase in the overall budget of the National Science Foundation for the 2001 fiscal year, which Lubchenco said is a good start. But far more than that may ultimately be needed in new resources, she said.
Lubchenco said the $1.6 billion called for in the upcoming report "is a conservative estimate of what we really need to provide an adequate knowledge base."
"Investing in science is smart business, and we must ramp up our activities in this area significantly," she said. "Especially needed is the type of basic research that the National Science Foundation has provided so well."
And even if the resources are put in place for increased studies of the environment, Lubchenco said, the NSF must rethink the traditional ways in which it allocates funds and sets up programs, with more emphasis on integrating pieces into the big picture.
"By definition, good environmental research has to involve many scientific fields that traditionally have not worked closely together," she said. "Chemists, ecologists, soil scientists, climate experts, economists, social scientists and others all have to work together, and long-term studies have to be set up, coordinated, funded and then communicated to produce useful results."
"The NSF is fortunate to be led by a director who understands and articulates the importance of science to the nation," Lubchenco said. "Dr. Rita Colwell is championing environmental science and education through her focus on biocomplexity. It is an exciting time to be associated with the National Science Foundation."
Lubchenco, the Wayne and Gladys Valley Professor of Marine Biology at OSU, is a distinguished professor of zoology. She has received numerous career honors and awards, including recognition as a MacArthur Fellow, Pew Scholar in conservation and the environment, and past-president of the American Association for the Advancement of Science. She is currently in the last year of a four-year term on the National Science Board.