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Science posts go to activists on warming

The climate change experts chosen by Obama have urged strong government action on the issue.

December 21, 2008|Associated Press

WASHINGTON — President-elect Barack Obama's selections Saturday of a Harvard physicist and a marine biologist for science posts signal that he plans a more aggressive response to global warming than the Bush administration's was.

John Holdren and Jane Lubchenco are leading experts on climate change who have advocated forceful government action. Holdren will become Obama's science advisor as director of the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy. Lubchenco will lead the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, which does much of the government's research on global warming.

Holdren also will direct the President's Council of Advisors on Science and Technology. Joining him as co-chairmen will be Nobel Prize-winning scientist Harold E. Varmus, a former director of the National Institutes of Health and a former medical professor at UC San Francisco; and MIT professor Eric Lander, a specialist in human genome research.

"It's time we once again put science at the top of our agenda and worked to restore America's place as the world leader in science and technology," Obama said in announcing the selections in his weekly radio address.

The president-elect said that promoting science means more than just providing money -- it's also, he said, about ensuring that facts and evidence are never twisted or obscured by politics or ideology.

"From landing on the moon, to sequencing the human genome, to inventing the Internet, America has been the first to cross that new frontier because we had leaders who paved the way -- leaders who not only invested in our scientists, but who respected the integrity of the scientific process," Obama said.

The Bush administration opposed mandatory cuts of greenhouse gas pollution. Last year, former Surgeon General Richard H. Carmona testified to Congress that top administration officials often dismissed global warming as a "liberal cause" and sought to play down public health reports.

Since 1993, summer Arctic sea ice has lost the equivalent of Alaska, California and Texas, and global warming is accelerating. The amount of carbon dioxide in Earth's atmosphere has already pushed past the level some scientists say is safe.

Holdren, 64, is a former president of the American Assn. for the Advancement of Science who has pushed for more urgent action on global warming.

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

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