Dr. John Holdren, President Obama’s new science adviser, has been someone we have long respected and admired for his dedication, keen intellect, and valuable contributions to science. Over the years, we have noted some of his work, quoted him, and pointed out instances in which he has made a positive difference in the ongoing public dialogue about “global climatic disruption,” his more accurate description of climate change. We’ve assembled a compendium of our past posts about Dr. Holdren, going back to 2006.
It is being reported that President-elect Obama has picked John Holdren of Harvard University to serve as the President’s Science Adviser and director of the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy. We have long had the highest regard for John Holdren and have considered him all along as the very best possible choice for this position. If he is appointed, we will have a strong and brilliant advocate in the White House on forging the necessary connection between climate science and climate change policymaking.
Since I [Rick Piltz] first worked with him in 1991 on a House Science, Space and Technology Committee hearing on technologies and strategies for addressing global warming, I have admired Dr. Holdren for his analysis and for his exceptional citizen-scientist ability to communicate with nonspecialists — something we need more of from the science community.
A new “working paper” issued by Yale University— ”The Climate Crisis and the Adaptation Myth”—claims the US is in a poor state of preparedness for climate change impacts. “Private and public sector organizations face significant obstacles to adaptation” says author Robert Repetto, a Sr. Fellow of the United Nations Foundation and former Yale professor.
In stark terms, there are only three response choices in the face of global climatic disruption says Dr. John Holdren as often as he can say it: mitigation, adaptation, and suffering.
Strong mitigation policies at the national level are currently held hostage by slow and cumbersome post-Kyoto international negotiation processes, the public policy mess left behind by Bush and Cheney, and the complex political labyrinth standing between the need to slash emissions and the legislation needed to make it happen, whether that be cap-and-trade or some other policy tool.
Suffering is being felt as climate change increasingly acts as a threat multiplier for hurricanes, droughts, extreme weather, floods, and other hardships.
The third and only other choice is adaptation: somehow, we are going to have to learn to live with a climate future that is markedly different, and more hostile to human life, than anything we have ever seen in the past. Yet, Robert Repetto is joining a growing group of thinkers who are concerned that we are doing a poor job of preparing for climate disruption.
In a February 18 interview at the annual meeting of the American Association for the Advancement of Science, Harvard Prof. John Holdren, outgoing AAAS board chairman, said “I really think we’re close to a political tipping point in the United States on the climate change issue…I think deniers of the reality of the climate change problem have been more effective in the United States than they have been in Europe…Climate change deniers, or skeptics as they’re sometimes called, have received attention in this country out of all proportion to their numbers, their qualifications, or the quality of their arguments. And it has slowed down the whole discussion in the United States….It was basically a deliberate strategy—how some of the deniers continued to focus attention on some of the scientific uncertainties, to prevent the discussion from moving forward to what we could actually do about this problem, what the solutions are likely to be….I think the deniers are finally losing the battle and the discussion is now moving to solutions.”
“Global warming is a misnomer. It implies something gradual, uniform, and benign. What we’re experiencing is none of these,” says Prof. John Holdren, recently president and board chairman of the American Association for the Advancement of Science. “We are already experiencing ‘dangerous anthropogenic interference’ with the climate system,” Holdren said. “The question we have now is whether we can avoid catastrophic interference.”
Speaking at the Kennedy School of Government on November 6, 2007, Dr. Holdren said the disruption and its impacts have grown more widely than anyone ever expected a few years ago. “To fix the problem, society has only three options: mitigation, adaptation, and suffering. We’re already doing some of each, and will do more of all three.” A video of Dr. Holdren’s talk, and his slides, is posted in the John F. Kennedy Jr. Forum archive. [Postscript: this 1-hr-10-min video of his talk is excellent, well worth watching.]
On October 7, the Washington Post Sunday Outlook section featured a 1,900-word page one article by the notorious Danish statistician, adjunct business school professor, and “skeptical environmentalist” Bjorn Lomborg. The article exemplifies how the global warming disinformation campaign is shifting its focus from outright denialism to a more complex and misleading downplaying of harmful climate change impacts and positing of misleading arguments about mitigation. And its publication, with no alternative perspective from someone with scientific credentials, or at least a stronger reputation for accuracy and intellectual honesty than Lomborg has, shows a lack of good professional judgment by the Post’s Outlook editors, in their shaping of public discussion of the climate change problem. ….. If the Post really wants to stimulate and enlighten public discussion with some actual experts who are vastly more interesting and qualified than Lomborg, let’s see 1,900 words by recent AAAS president John Holdren. Or Jim Hansen of NASA. Or Steve Schneider at Stanford. Or a number of others we could suggest. Don’t wait for them—go get them.
In his February 15 Presidential Address to the American Association for the Advancement of Science, “Science and Technology for Sustainable Well-Being,” Harvard Prof. John Holdren called on scientists and engineers to get personally involved in developing solutions and suggested that fundamental changes on a global scale are needed. In talking with reporters he reflected our concerns in noting the Bush administration’s “tendencies toward fact-averse governance” and cutback in support for climate change research in the past four years. [See news release.]
We note that Dr. Holdren’s call for scientists and engineers to get “personally involved” in developing solutions is related to his frequent calls for scientists to tithe ten percent of their time to speaking to the public to help educate people about important scientific matters. For example, in a Jan. 25, 2008 journal article in Science, “Science and Technology for Sustainable Well-Being,” Holdren wrote: “I would urge every scientist and engineer with an interest in the intersection of S&T with sustainable well-being…to ‘tithe’ 10% of your professional time and effort to working in these and other ways to increase the benefits of S&T for the human condition and to decrease the liabilities. If so much as a substantial fraction of the world’s scientists and engineers resolved to do this much, the acceleration of progress toward sustainable well-being for all of Earth’s inhabitants would surprise us all.”
We posted an interview on climate change with Prof. John Holdren, Harvard University, President of the American Association for the Advancement of Science (video, 6 minutes: (Windows Media) (RealVideo) (23 MB file)
The Washington Post ran an article on September 17 on the controversy over whether Pat Michaels, long-time voice of the global warming denial machine, was entitled to continue to identify himself as the Virginia State Climatologist. Virginia Gov. Tim Kaine doesn’t want Michaels appearing to speak for the state on global warming issues. This guest contribution provides a critical perspective that goes beyond what was developed in the Post’s coverage—about the legitimacy of Michaels’ designation as state climatologist, about Michaels’ funding sources and think tank affiliation, and about the meaning of “climatologist” in the contemporary scientific context.
Harvard’s John Holdren, currently President of the American Association for the Advancement of Science, told the Senate Republican Policy Committee, “Michaels …. has published little if anything of distinction in the professional literature, being noted rather for his shrill op-ed pieces and indiscriminate denunciations of virtually every finding of mainstream climate science.”
Getting to Know John Holdren, Part 1: Remarks in 1997 on global climatic disruption (December 23, 2008)