President-elect Obama named Jane Lubchenco to run the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Agency. The Agency conducts research into marine mammals, climate change, the air and oceans, it runs the National Weather Service, and enforces regulations on treatment of marine mammals, various pollutants, and is responsible for enforcing limits on overfishing.
Lubchenco is a former president of the AAAS, a peerless marine ecologist, and a leading advocate of science-based responses to climate change. Her lab has also done key work to track the fluctuations of the massive dead zone off the Oregon coast and similar zones elsewhere. These areas are results of excessive fertilizer use along major rivers (the Columbia, the Mississippi, etc.). Excessive fertilization causes plants and algae along the stream to overproduce, thus drawing oxygen and nutrients out of the water, leaving a large area offshore unable to sustain life.
Lubchenco will bring incredible scientific credibility and a supreme appreciation of science policy to NOAA. This is a truly brilliant move by the Obama team.
The naming of James Holdren as the President’s science advisor is also excellent news. While I stand by my wish that the advisor would have been a biologist, Holdren is an excellent choice, well-versed in science, science policy, and government. A physicist by training, he has worked on everything from fluid dynamics to energy, climate change, and nuclear proliferation.
Naming a science advisor early is key, and we can hope that Holdren will be given access and the opportunity to truly advise the President. Obama has signaled that he recognizes the importance of scientific advice by putting Holdren, Lubchenco, and Steve Chu in key positions.
He has also signaled something about the administration’s priorities. His key scientific leadership are all people who recognize climate change as a critical problem in need of urgent solutions. His National Security Advisor sees it as a key security threat. Concern for, and a desire for serious and urgent solutions to, climate change seems to be the factor unifying much of Obama’s cabinet. Tom Vilsack, the incoming Secretary of Agriculture, is regarded cautiously by many on the left because of his ties to Monsanto and the agro-industrial complex, but his plan for climate change was “the ballsiest and most detailed any candidate from either party has offered” in 2008. He may be weak on some matters, but he’ll stand foursquare with other administration officials in trying to cut greenhouse gas emissions.
This is incredibly good news, because averting a genuine climate disaster will take the full, coordinated, force of the US government, as well as cooperation with the world community. Hillary Clinton took a strong stance on climate change in the primaries, and her husband has been beating the drums for a green jobs revolution for years. She’ll be responsible for hammering out treaties, but having so many scientists in the administration won’t hurt.
Why? Science is borderless, and good scientists know that you succeed by taking other people’s good ideas and building on them. Obama’s Secretary of Energy, his NOAA director, and his science advisor won’t be afraid to call their friends overseas to find out what works elsewhere, and to apply some informal lobbying pressure should allies prove unwilling to cooperate.
Obama has set ambitious goals for reducing our consumption of fossil fuels. He’s set ambitious goals for green jobs. And with these selections, he’s building a solid foundation to actually achieve those goals.