U.S. Science Adviser Holdren says Administration Remains Committed to Comprehensive Energy and Climate Legislation

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President Barack Obama's science adviser, John Holdren, said yesterday (27 May 2010) that the “most important single thing that we need to get done in this country" to address energy and climate change issues is to pass legislation "that puts a significant price on greenhouse gas emissions." Without that, he added, the U.S. will not be doing enough to reduce emissions "and we will not have the credibility we need ultimately to forge the sort of international agreement that is required.”

Holdren made the statement during remarks at the National Climate Adaptation Summit organized by the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy (OSTP).  Holdren is the Director of OSTP, Assistant to the President for Science and Technology, and Co-Chair of the President's Council of Advisors on Science and Technology (PCAST).

Hours later, President Obama said in a press conference that the Gulf oil disaster "should serve as a wake-up call that it’s time to move forward on this legislation. It’s time to accelerate the competition with countries like China, who have already realized the future lies in renewable energy. And it’s time to seize that future ourselves. So I call on Democrats and Republicans in Congress, working with my administration, to answer this challenge once and for all."  See our posting, President Obama says Gulf Disaster "Should Serve as a Wake-up Call that it’s Time to Move Forward" on Energy and Climate Bill.

President Obama and his science adviser, John Holdren.  Source: White House photo.

President Obama and his science adviser, John Holdren.  Source: White House photo.

Holdren began his remarks yesterday by reminding the audience of the "core conclusions of climate change science":

1. "Global climate is changing.  On average it is warming at a rate that is highly unusual against the background of natural variation that has always characterized the earth's climate.  It's warming, on the average, but with that warming come changes in all of the elements of climate and the phenomena related to it.  That means rain and snow, atmospheric circulation, ocean currents, storms, all changing in their spacial patterns, in their magnitudes and very importantly changing in their timing."

2. "The main cause of these changes in climate is human activity, above all the combustion of fossil fuels and secondarily tropical deforestation and other land use change. The evidence for the dominance of the human role in what we are experiencing is powerful and I think it should be persuasive to anybody not blinded by wishful thinking who looks at that evidence carefully." 

3. "[T]hese changes in climate are already harming human wellbeing.  This is not just a problem for our children and grandchildren.  It’s a problem for us now.  We’re seeing more and bigger floods in regions prone to flooding, we’re seeing more and bigger droughts in regions prone to those, we’re seeing worse wildfires, more powerful storms, worse outbreaks of forest pests like the pine bark beetle and the spruce budworm, more coral bleaching events, increased coastal erosion, damage to structures and roads from thawing permafrost in the far north and a lot more.”

4. "[T]he harm is likely to grow to far larger levels if we fail to take aggressive action in this country and in concert with other nations on both mitigation and adaptation."

Holdren continued:

"Those conclusions from climate change science are robust. Nothing in the emails hacked from East Anglia University servers, nothing in the lapses in the IPCC’s review process – which by the way have been few in number and minor in importance – nothing in any of that comes close to calling into question the core findings which I have just tersely summarized. 

I can assure you that that is President Obama’s view.  It is my view.  It is Secretary Chu’s view,  Secretary Salazar’s view,  NOAA Administrator Lubchenco’s view,  EPA Administrator Jackson’s view, CEQ Chair Sutley’s view, Energy and Climate Coordinator Browner’s view. It is the Administration’s view.  And accordingly, the Administration remains committed to getting comprehensive energy and climate legislation through the Congress this year.”

Holdren emphasized that we must both curb emissions (a.k.a. mitigation) and prepare for the impacts (a.k.a. adaptation), with equal emphasis on each

“Mitigation alone won’t work because the climate is already changing. We’re already experiencing impacts from that. Nothing we can do in the mitigation domain can stop it overnight. And so a mitigation-only strategy would be insanity. 

Adaptation alone won’t work. Adaptation alone won’t work because adaptation gets more difficult, more expensive, and less effective the larger are the changes in climate to which we are trying to adapt. If you live on an island that is one meter above sea level and the sea level goes up two meters, adaptation is no longer the question. You are dealing with evacuation. 

Clearly what we need is enough mitigation to limit changes in climate to a level with which adaptation can largely cope.”

When asked by Rick Piltz of Climate Science Watch when the President will address the American people in a speech focused specifically on climate change, Holdren answered: 

 “I certainly expect that there will be at some point going forward – I can’t tell you exactly when it will be – but there certainly will be a major speech by the President that puts this all together in a forceful way.  Because the fact is, it’s true: it’s not enough that I’m out there saying it, that Steve Chu’s out there saying it, that Jane Lubchenco’s out there saying it. It is far, far more powerful when the president says it.  And he will do that…The President understands with crystal clarity what a big deal this is….He believes in it.  He understands it.  And we’re going to get it done."

Online Resources:

Text of remarks by Obama science adviser John Holdren to the National Climate Adaptation Summit.  From Climate Science Watch.

National Climate Adaptation Summit.  Includes:

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