Is a recently posted video on the polar vortex by Obama science adviser John Holdren a sign that the White House is finally ready to unleash this powerfully articulate climate science and policy communicator, after clearly holding him back during most of the past four years? "Holdren has not been allowed to do what Holdren should have been allowed to do on climate change," we said to Mother Jones. It's past time for the White House to take its foot off the brake once and for all.
Here's the video we're talking about:
Chris Mooney has a good piece at Mother Jones today ("Breathtaking": The White House Releases Its Climate Heavy Hitter on the Polar Vortex), leading with:
Last week, amid the media furor over the "polar vortex," the White House did something pretty unusual. It released a highly produced scientific video entitled, "The Polar Vortex Explained in 2 Minutes."
In the video, White House science adviser and physicist John Holdren dismantles silly claims that cold weather refutes global warming. ... He then describes how, in fact, climate change could make extreme winter weather in the mid-latitudes more common.
Our friend Nick Sundt, communications director for climate change at the World Wildlife Fund, points out that this kind of climate science communication outreach coming out of the White House is unusual. Mooney says:
Whatever the reason, major public communication and education moments are not what we've come to expect from Holdren during the Obama administration. "Holdren has not been allowed to do what Holdren should have been allowed to do on climate change," adds Rick Piltz, a Bush administration climate science whistleblower who now runs Climate Science Watch. "And this thing on the polar vortex only scratches the surface of my disappointment about that, unless there's a lot more coming."
In order to to make significant progress on the climate change science-policy connection it will be essential to have active, sustained, high-profile communication between policy leadership and the public about the climate change problem and the associated policy issues. Here is a PowerPoint series from a Holdren lecture on Meeting the Climate Change Challenge, from 2008. Thanks to Chris Mooney for pulling up this link. It's a good example of the kind of talk we were used to getting from Holdren before he became subject to the White House message control machine.
Holdren's lecture from 2008 outlines the state of scientific understanding at that time of anthropogenic disruption of the climate system, discusses a range of impacts of climatic disruption, and concludes with a broad overview of policy issues. The new polar vortex video represents one specific piece of this much broader and ever-advancing science-policy intellectual framework. It lays out a perspective on climate change that Obama was given by Holdren when he took the position of presidential science adviser in 2009.
Where has this voice been for the past several years? Mooney notes: "The prominent climate science blogger Joe Romm even directly charged in 2011 that David Axelrod and the 'White House communications shop' had been 'muzzling' Holdren." I have little doubt that this is an accurate characterization of the kind of political opportunism Holdren has been confronted with on the inside. Perhaps some day he will describe in a memoir the challenge of overcoming the years of virtual 'climate silence' in a calculating and politically risk-averse White House.
In any case, hopefully this is one of many, and continuing, steps forward -- and not just an example of an occasional one-off. Dr. Holdren, keep up the multi-media communication.
"Obama and the Politics of Climate Science Communication" (September 2012)