Strong climate activist to be Obama's science adviser

Posted: 7 January 2009

Environmentalists have welcomed the appointment of John Holdren to head the White House Office of Science and Technology. As such he would manage about 40 Ph.D-level experts who help shape and communicate science and technology policy. He will also head the president's Council of Advisors on Science and Technology.

John Holdren
John Holdren
John Holdren is Barack Obama's chief science and technology adviser. Photo © AAAS
Holdren, of Harvard University, is a strong advocate of action to confront climate change as evidenced in interviews he gave during the UN cimate conference in Indonesia in December 2007. Speaking to OneWorld at that time he said: "I think the biggest obstacle to moving forward on the climate issue in the world today is the failure of the United States, up until now, to take serious steps to reduce the greenhouse gas emissions of our own country."

"It's also important," Holdren added, "to cooperate with developing countries. It's important for a number of reasons, including the big opportunity for sharing insights and for sharing technology that can help address the climate change problem in ways that also pursue the goals of sustainable development."

Reporting the appointment, Associated Press described Holdren as follows:

"Holdren, 64, is a former president of the American Association for the Advancement of Science in Washington who has pushed for more urgent action on global warming. Colleagues say the post is well-suited for Holdren, who at Harvard went from battling the spread of nuclear weapons to tackling the threat of global warming. He's an award-laden scientist comfortable in many different fields."

A year ago, in a speech at Harvard, Holdren stressed the urgency of the problem: "Global warming is a misnomer. It implies something gradual, something uniform, something quite possibly benign, and what we're experiencing is none of those. There is already widespread harm...occurring from climate change. This is not just a problem for our children and our grandchildren."

Outstanding scientists

Holdren's appointment follows the naming of Steven Chu and Jane Lubchenco to other top science posts in the Obama adminstration. Of these three appointments Jonathan Lash, President of the World Resources Institute (WRI) said:

Jane Lubchenco
Jane Lubchenco
Jane Lubchenco has been named as administrator of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Association (NOAA). Photo credit:
"These are outstanding scientists of enormous integrity. They will tell the president and the American people the truth about the scientific findings on our most important challenges. Each of them has shown a deep understanding of the risks created by human pressure on our environment, and each has experience and skill in helping policy makers understand and base their decisions on science."

Chu is a Nobel-prize winning physicist already named by the president-elect as secretary of energy. Lubchenco is a top marine biologist and a lead author of the Millennium Ecosystem Assessment. She has been named as administrator of the National Oceanographic and Atmospheric Administration and undersecretary of Commerce for Oceans and Atmosphere.

Obama's full energy and environment team (along with Steven Chu, have been named as Carol Browner, who will lead a new council on climarte, environmental and energy issues, Lisa Jackson as administrator of th Enviornment Protection Agency, and Nancy Sutley as Head of the White House Coucil on Environment Quality.

Larry Schweiger, president and CEO of the Natioanl Wildlife Feeration, said these appointments demontrated Obama's commitment to change the course of America's energy policy. "Presidemt Obama's team knows that the most important thing America can do in 2009 to galvanise investment in clean energy technoogy is to enact a cap-and-invest plan that reduces global warming pollution and grows clean energy technologies that will recharge our economy."

Holdren took questions about his views on climate change and US responsibilty on the issue from viewers taking part in OneWorld's "Virtual Bali" event. A video of that discussion can be seen in three parts here.

Details and reaction to President-elect Obama's science appointments, by the American Associaton for the Advancement of Science (AAAS), can be seen here.