Remarks by Dr. Timothy P. White- November 13, 2020

Dr. Timothy P. White – November 13, 2020
Chancellor, The California State University
COAST Annual Meeting
Remarks (as prepared)
Via Zoom
November 13, 2020

Good morning and thank you, Dr. Kamer, for your kind introduction.

It’s a great pleasure to join you today – to celebrate COAST’s achievements, highlight your critically important work to protect our state’s natural environment and acknowledge our shared commitment to inclusive excellence by advancing diversity in scientific research and education.

With my days as chancellor quickly drawing to a close, I have – as you might expect – spent a bit of time reflecting upon my tenure. And high among the CSU’s bright accomplishments over the past eight years is the continued evolution and success of COAST – thanks to the steady leadership of Krista, the COAST executive committee and to all of your hard work.

And it couldn’t have come at a more important time, as we come to fully grasp the alarming magnitude of the negative impact human activity has had on our world’s fragile marine ecosystems. As you all know:

Climate change is real.

Our oceans are in crisis.

Our planet is in peril.

This is a troubling reality that transcends politics, race and class.

Globally, coastal areas and oceans face growing threats – and there certainly is no exception for California, with its coastal watersheds and 840 miles of stunning coastline that today are the envy of the world.

The environmental challenges we face impact a huge portion of our state’s population. About 70 percent of California residents live in coastal areas and are at risk of rising sea levels, storms and flooding, pollution and contaminated seafood. 

This is why your work is so critically important.

About 50 years ago, during a keynote address at the landmark “Teach-in on the Environment” at the University of Michigan – my former stomping grounds – Dr. Barry Commoner, the pioneering ecologist, said these prescient words:

“The environmental crisis is a grim challenge. It is also a great opportunity. We may yet discover how to devote the wisdom of science and the power of technology to the welfare –  the very survival –  of man.”

Indeed, it was an environmental crisis – a massive, devastating oil spill off the coast of Santa Barbara in 1969 – a year before Dr. Commoner spoke those words – that helped spark a global call to action to protect our natural environment.

That spark ignited a flame that continues to burn bright across our university, illuminating pathways to innovative solutions, groundbreaking research and transformative learning opportunities that Dr. Commoner envisioned half a century ago.

These are the hallmarks of COAST, where faculty members and research scientists – along with hundreds of undergraduate and graduate students – collaborate across our campuses, biological field stations and marine laboratories to address critical ocean and coastal issues.

COAST’s beginnings were humble – starting in 2008 as a grassroots effort led by a small group of faculty from San Francisco State, CSU Monterey Bay and San José State’s Moss Landing Marine Laboratories.

Today, COAST has grown to more than 600 members and active participants from each of the 23 CSU campuses. Since its founding, COAST has funded 1,424 student awards totaling almost $2.3 million – emphasizing high-impact practices like undergraduate research, as well as professional development in proposal writing and the presentation of research results at scientific conferences. COAST has also funded 187 faculty awards totaling over $2.5 million, with more than $15 million in resulting extramural funding. In fact, the total amount of extramural funding resulting from awards to faculty and students is more than $16.6 million – that is utterly remarkable – and it underscores the CSU’s growing capacity to conduct marine and coastal research that powerfully and positively impacts the most critical environmental issues facing our communities, state and nation today. 

Along the way, you’ve successfully cultivated strong relationships with state leaders, public officials and non-profit organizations. And notably, in today’s hyper-politicized climate of disinformation, COAST serves as an honest and transparent broker of scientific data and research. Your members are regarded as trusted resources for unbiased, scientific information that can be used to inform decision-making, policy development and, ultimately, public opinion.

So it should come as no surprise that your work continues to flourish. I am especially excited by two developments since I last spoke with you almost 15 months ago. The first is the State Science Information Needs Program – established thanks to a one-time appropriation of $3 million in last year’s budget – that focuses directly and exclusively on providing the marine, coastal and coastal watershed-related scientific information needed to fill knowledge gaps identified by state agencies and the legislature. The program promises to be a real game-changer for COAST; whereas previously your largest awards were approximately $20,000, SSINP will now allow you to fund projects in their entirety.

The first awards funded by the new program will address two of the most serious environmental problems we face on a global scale: microplastics and sea level rise. Funds totaling nearly $800,000 will be awarded to researchers at San Diego State and CSU San Marcos to investigate the role microplastics play in contaminating marine and estuarine organisms, and to more fully understand their prevalence in our environment. This research will help regulators address risks to humans and wildlife.

An additional award of up to $800,000 to fund sea-level rise research will be announced in early 2021. 

I am also excited about COAST’s efforts to promote equity and diversity.

Under Krista’s leadership, COAST has launched a campaign to fight institutionalized racism and to create a more diverse, inclusive marine science community. That campaign includes professionally facilitated implicit bias training and rigorously evaluating COAST award programs to look for practices that may unintentionally discriminate against students and faculty of color.

And on a panel later this morning, COAST members will discuss ways we can strengthen our commitment to ​championing diversity in scie​ntific research, teaching and mentoring​.

While I know this is just the start of your efforts in this regard, I applaud you for this consequential work.

Indeed, together, you have built COAST into a strong community – one that is far more than simply a collection of smart people working on marine and coastal issues. You are a collective that shares a profound respect for our environment, sustainability, your students and one another. You work with a collaborative and indomitable spirit, and I know you will ultimately realize your vision of a California that actively and sustainably manages its coast and ocean through the application of scientific knowledge by a well-educated, diverse, environmentally literate workforce and citizenry.

I am simultaneously a scientist and sailor at heart – with an enduring love for the ocean and our majestic coastline – and a deep concern for its future. So it has always been a special pleasure to support COAST. And I will continue to closely follow your important work as you advance your mission, which so closely and powerfully reflects the broader mission and values of the California State University.

The full impact of your hard work may not always be realized immediately. But I hope you continue to find inspiration in the joy of discovery and in California’s uniquely beautiful natural environment.

Dr. Commoner, all those years ago, stood in the University of Michigan’s Crisler Arena and declared to the gathered crowd of 13,000: “The proper use of science is not to conquer nature, but to live in it.”

Let us continue to heed his call to rise to meet the threats to our environment, using science as a tool to create a more sustainable future not only for the oceans and coastal areas we all hold so dear – but for future generations of Californians.

Thank you for everything you do for the CSU, its students and our great state.