Climate Change News

Science Is Bipartisan Issue, White House Science Adviser Says

Holdren said that investing in climate change science and policy measures is good for the economy, national security, and the environment.


“Science has always to some extent been a bipartisan issue. It should continue to be a bipartisan issue,” White House science adviser John Holdren told Eos on 15 November in some of his first public remarks about the role of science since the election last week of Donald Trump as the next U.S. president.

Holdren, who directs the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy, spoke to Eos following remarks he gave at a workshop that day on “Sustaining Ocean Observations to Understand Future Changes in Earth’s Climate,” held at the National Academy of Sciences (NAS) in Washington, D. C. In those remarks, Holdren defended climate science and warned about the impacts of climate change.

Several former federal officials at the workshop, including a former administrator of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), told Eos that they worry about the future of U.S. leadership in climate change issues under the Trump administration. Trump, who has said that he considers himself to be “somewhat of an environmentalist,” has referred to climate change as a hoax.

“Science is good for the economy, it’s good for the national security, it’s good for the environment,” Holdren told Eos, adding that the way forward for scientists is to “keep being scientists and keep making the case for science and why it matters for society.” Holdren said that he could not comment on what he thinks will happen in the next administration because the federal Hatch Act prohibits federal employees from engaging in partisan political activity.

“We should not be deterred by any changes that might occur in the political climate. We still have to keep telling it like it is,” Holdren told climate scientists and others at the NAS workshop.

“A lot of what we need to do in this domain and others related to adaptation to climate change can fall under the heading of win-win strategies, things that would make sense even if the climate weren’t changing,” Holdren said at the workshop, and he maintained that investments in climate research are good for the country.

Stating that there have always been storms, floods, and droughts, he added, “You don’t need to accept that climate change is influencing the frequency and or the severity of those events to accept that investing in being able to deal with them, in being better prepared, in being more resilient, is a good investment. I have been making that argument for years with people disinclined to put a lot of weight on climate change itself, and I’ll keep making that argument.”

Scientists “Have to Engage with Any Administration”

Workshop participant and speaker James Baker, who served as NOAA administrator from 1993 to 2001 during the Clinton administration, told Eos that he worries about Trump’s statements about climate change. Baker said that Trump’s potential policies could pose a threat to U.S. leadership in climate science and climate diplomacy and to the country’s rapid growth and economic strength in renewable energy. “We don’t know who [Trump’s] science advisers are or who is going to be providing that kind of information,” said Baker.

“But all of the rhetoric up to now has been anti-climate,” Baker said, referring to the president-elect’s statements and positions that do not appear to take seriously the threat of climate change and that could encourage increased greenhouse gas emissions. “So, I think we can see an additional and continuing attack on climate science and climate [change] mitigation activities.”

Baker said that he is less concerned about Trump’s vow to “end the war on coal” and prop up that energy sector. “It’s going to be very hard to reinvigorate the coal industry, which has been declining the last few years” in the United States, Baker said, noting that natural gas has helped to reduce U.S. emissions.

However, Baker said that scientists “have to engage with any administration” and make the case for climate science and for the Trump administration in particular to take the threat of climate change seriously. “The United States is such an important player, and the president and his team are the people who decide what happens” to a large extent, he said. “If we don’t continue to make the case in a clear way to all sectors, I mean right and left, we are never going to actually progress things.”

“Our Science Is Needed More Now Than Ever”

Mary Glackin, cochair of the NAS committee that held the workshop, told Eos in personal comments separate from her official role that if Trump appoints a climate change denier to lead the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, as the media has reported, “it’s going to be challenging.”

Regarding climate change, she said, “I think our science is needed now more than ever to help inform adaptation decisions as well as how we continue to mitigate the impacts of climate change.” Glackin is senior vice president for public-private partnerships and director of meteorological science and services at The Weather Company. She previously served as deputy under secretary of commerce for NOAA Operations.

The workshop was the fifth meeting held by the NAS committee as part of an 18-month study to examine ocean variables for climate research and prioritize the variables for which a long-term continuous record would be critical to understand and model climate change.

—Randy Showstack, Staff Writer

Citation: Showstack, R. (2016), Science is bipartisan issue, White House science adviser says, Eos, 97, Published on 18 November 2016.
© 2016. The authors. CC BY-NC-ND 3.0
  • davidlaing

    The problem here is that “climate change” (formerly “global warming”) has become politicized. Consensus has overtaken the usual caution with which science is conducted, and people, even scientists, are increasingly inclined to regard the science of greenhouse warming as “settled.” Why is this?

    The answer is both simple and disturbing: a lack of hard data. In order to validate any hypothesis or theory, hard data are always required, and there is a surprising absence of hard data in support of the theory of greenhouse warming. A careful search of over 10,000 climate-related peer-reviewed journal articles has actually revealed only one hard-data-based experiment designed to test greenhouse warming theory, and that was done by Knut Angstrom 116 years ago in 1900. He concluded from this experiment (actually a series of them) that CO2 increases have very little effect on warming.

    In other words, the theory, though greatly elaborated, particularly by computer modeling, is unsupported by any hard evidence from the real world. Nonetheless, there has been an increasing tendency to regard elaborate theory as a valid substitute for reality. The failure of computer models to give accurate predictions of warming (e.g., the “hiatus” to which we seem to be returning) is a good indication of this. Hysterical attacks on “climate deniers” and “shills of Big Oil” are others that only intensify as reality increasingly diverges from theory.

    Good science, in short, is clearly taking a back seat to hysteria and uncompromising belief in the climate change paradigm. I think we need to retreat from these undesirable trends and to return to a more rational approach to climate science that has, at least, some basis in real data from the real world.

  • anile

    Climate scientists look at the data, understand the science, and make projection based on the best available science. This is not alarmism, this is looking it at the facts and telling it as it is.

    That the state of humanity has improved, in part due to our ability to harness fossil fuel energy, is not in question. But looking forward, there are consequences that result from the carbon emissions that result. We need to have our eyes open to these consequences and avoid the most serious outcomes if at all possible. Only in this way will we be able to CONTINUE the trends of an improving state of humanity.

  • Climate warmists continue perpetuating the myth that increased carbon emissions have and will result in more warfare and suffering. If only they examined the two defining criteria — war deaths and famine deaths — they would discover how embarrassing their alarmism really is. War, famine and suffering are at record lows; indeed dramatically down during the modern carbon era.
    Famine fatalities: According the UN’s own data, from the 1920s through the 1960s, famine killed an average of 5.3 people per 1,000 globally, but only 0.5 per 1,000 since then. That’s a stunning 91% reduction and yet it coincided with the globe’s highest carbon output. (In this new century it’s just 0.08 per 1K so far, or down 98.5%.) Don’t credit UN grain bags; relief shipments have dropped through the decades. Famine of course leads to wars, which brings us to…
    War fatalities: Catastrophic World War II would make this too easy, so let’s begin with the 1950s. According to data from the International Peace Research Institute, annual combined civilian/combatant war deaths averaged 6.0 per 100,000 globally during the 50s, dropping to 4.7 during the 70s, then 1.9 in the 90s, and most recently 0.7 per 100k. All told an 88% reduction since the 1950s. The number of conflicts began dropping when the Cold War ended 25 years ago and today nearly all conflicts are internal/civil wars with death tolls remarkably lower than previous wars.
    So why all the alarmist hyperbole and the ease with which a populace would believe it? Could it be that constant 24/7 news, global video transmission of warfare, handheld devices, the Internet and social media combined have saturated our minds with a false impression that violence and suffering have worsened? Is it also possible that each generation believes its own era is more pivotal and cataclysmic than prior ones despite contradicting data? Are those two considerations so overwhelming that alarmists don’t even bother to research the historical record? Today’s alarmists say we humans are doomed, but the facts indicate humankind has already saved itself.