Scientists welcome Obama’s picks

Jane Lubchenco, one of the nation’s top marine ecologists, has been picked to lead the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, an indication that President-elect Barack Obama wants to restore integrity to the science-based agency buffeted by politics in recent years.

Her appointment, and the appointment of John Holdren of Harvard and the Woods Hole Research Center, signals a U-turn in the federal government’s approach to greenhouse gases and global warming. Holdren, who was named Saturday as Obama’s science advisor, has likened our current method of dealing with climate change as “being in a car with bad brakes driving toward a cliff in the fog.”

The two appointments have been met with relief -- and even glee -- in scientific and environmental organizations. Their members have spent a half-dozen years wringing their hands over the politicization of science and worrying about lost opportunities to preserve remnants of nature and the resiliency of the planet.

The NOAA, which is the largest branch of the Department of Commerce, does much of the federal government’s research on global warming and regulates fisheries.


Lubchenco, among her various efforts to protect the abundance and diversity of marine life, has led a team of researchers at Oregon State University studying any link between climate change and the devastation of sea life in coastal waters off the Pacific Northwest.

“Our oceans are experiencing the effects of global climate change: melting sea ice, acidification and coral loss,” said Vikki Spruill, president of the Ocean Conservancy.

“It is especially reassuring to have a world-renowned ecologist as OAA administrator who knows where the biggest environmental challenge of our lifetime is taking place: beneath the sea and along our coastlines,” Spruill said.

Both Lubchenco and Holdren have fat resumes, with a long list of degrees and awards, and both previously held the post of president of the American Assn. for the Advancement of Science.


-- Kenneth R. Weiss