Friday, January 02, 2009

Obama is elevating science to the top

President Bush's administration has been consistently at odds with the scientific community over global warming. Scientists explain global warming as a result of increased concentrations of greenhouse gases like carbon dioxide and methane in the atmosphere. These gases trap heat in the lower atmosphere, making the Earth warmer. They also say that's why glaciers in Alaska, Greenland and Iceland are melting at alarming rates, coral reefs are dying from warmer water, and sea levels are rising.

Although the United States is largest emitter of greenhouse gases, President Bush has refused to sign the Kyoto treaty which 141 countries signed promising to reduce greenhouse gases.

US President-elect Barack Obama has promised to make clean energy a top priority in his new administration. Over the next ten years, he wants the US government to spend US$150 billion on promoting green technologies. But a substantial portion of the funds will go into propping up America's failing car industry. Obama wants to invest US$15 billion a year in renewable sources of energy. He is hoping it can create 5 million new green jobs in the next decade."

Many scientists who objected to the Bush administration's policies, from restrictions on embryonic stem cell research to the global warming are hopeful that Obama is giving a more prominent role to the scientists.

"I think they'll be restoring the role of science in the federal establishment," said Alden Meyer, director of strategy and policy for the Union of Concerned Scientists, a Cambridge-based advocacy organization. "We've got a bunch of people across the [new] administration who get it."

In a sign that President-elect Barack Obama intends to elevate science to greater prominence, John P. Holdren, a Harvard physicist widely recognized for his leadership on energy policy and climate change, has been named to be appointed White House science adviser.

In 2004, Holdren joined other prominent scientists to sign a letter accusing the Bush administration of undermining and censoring scientists.

"When scientific knowledge has been found to be in conflict with its political goals, the administration has often manipulated the process through which science enters into its decisions," the letter said.

Holdren, who was an adviser to the Obama campaign and a member of a scientific advisory committee to President Bill Clinton, is a specialist on energy, climate change, and nuclear proliferation.

Holdren is the Teresa and John Heinz Professor of Environmental Policy at Harvard’s John F. Kennedy School of Government and director of the Science, Technology, and Public Policy program in the School’s Belfer Center for Science and International Affairs.

In addition to his Kennedy School appointments, John Holdren is also Professor of Environmental Science and Policy in Harvard’s Department of Earth and Planetary Sciences and President and Director of the independent, nonprofit Woods Hole Research Center. He has been at Harvard since 1996 and affiliated part-time with the Woods Hole Research Center since 1992.