John Holdren, science adviser to the president, has made a statement that geoengineeing must be considered an option in handling climate change. He claims, “We don’t have the luxury of taking any approach off the table.” Holdren made it clear that geoengineering is a drastic measures and should only be used as a last resort. An article released by the Associated Press seen here: was based on the first interview Holdren has given since becoming Obama’s science adviser. Holdren’s message was strong and clear. He mentioned that several tipping points (which we are now approaching) would bring us to “really untolerable consequences.” The AP article states, “At first, Holdren characterized the potential need to tinker with the climate just his personal view. However, he went on to say he has raised it in administration discussions.” The fact that such strong “personal” statements are being promoted by the president’s science adviser raises a few questions pertinent to figuring out the role of the science adviser.
Is the role of the science adviser that of a scientist, or rather an extension of the president with respect to issues in science? To clarify; by scientist I mean an extremely scientifically literate person, presenting scientific issues to policymakers without bias–synthesizing a body of knowledge from the scientific community and communicating it to the president. And by science adviser as an extension of the president, I mean a person who shares the political goals of the president, but who specialized in science, and is to carry out goals the president may not have the time or scientific background otherwise required. Is Obama looking for extra hands in carrying out his job? Roger Pielke’s concept of the “Honest Broker” (also the title of his book about it) would not support this role, I believe. The role of the scientist in an advising position would be without bias and reliant solely on fact, similar to Roger Pielke’s “Honest Broker.” Pielke himself commented in the New York Times recently that Holdren’s track record is not that of the honest broker. Holdren is outspoken on the aspects of global warming that societal as well as scientific. So for such a vast and unknown issue as global warming, with such huge impacts for society, what exactly is the role of the science adviser? Should Holdren use his scientific knowledge and position of influence to steer the administration to do what he sees fit? He was picked as science adviser for a reason after all. This is a breech of the Honest Broker role, but is the Honest Broker role applicable to the job that links the executive branch to the scientific world?