Obama’s science adviser targeted by smear campaign

Fox News reported that Holdren was bent on adopting a “planetary regime” of population control, while blogger Michelle Malkin called him a “wackjob” who entertains policies that would mandate “forced abortions, mass sterilizations, and poisoning the water supply to control the population.” On February 27, FrontPage Magazine published an article decrying Holdren’s “globalist, redistributionist, Malthusian views.”

The attacks are widely off the mark. The evidence generally cited by critics is a 1977 textbook entitled “Ecoscience: Population, Resources, and Environment.” The authors — Holdren is one of three — in a chapter detailing various coercive and non-coercive policies for “population control” ultimately come out strongly against such policies. They argue that the harm caused by their adoption “would, in our opinion, militate against the use of any such agent” of involuntary population control.

This Huffington Post piece won’t come as a shock to anyone who follows the climate debate and sees how the deniers routinely smear the scientific reputation of serious climate scientists like Holdren and NASA’s James Hansen. Indeed, the deniers and delayers and their media flacks were pimping lies and disinformation about Holdren when he was just a nominee (see “More proof Holdren is a great choice: Pielke, Tierney, Lomborg, and CEI diss him”).

I have known Holdren for over a decade and have discussed energy/climate issues with him many times. He probably has more combined expertise on both climate science and clean energy technology than any other person who could plausibly have been named science adviser. You can see a video of an excellent talk he gave here (along with talks by Chu and me). For a more recent BBC interview, see “The Climate Quote of the Week”.


He is about as far from a partisan flamethrower or radical environmentalist as one could possibly find among the scientific community. It is, however, certainly the case that anybody who spends as much time as Holdren has researching climate and talking to leading experts is going to become hellbent on avoiding Hell and High Water, the myriad catastrophic impacts our unrestricted emissions of greenhouse gases will impose on our children and grandchildren and the next 50 generations. Hence the NYT quote from a Revkin piece:

“I am one of those who believes that any reasonably comprehensive and up-to-date look at the evidence makes clear that civilization has already generated dangerous anthropogenic interference in the climate system,” Dr. Holdren said. “What keeps me going is my belief that there is still a chance of avoiding catastrophe.”


More debunking of the attacks on Holdren can be found in the Huffington Post piece:

Holdren’s work was also a product of its time. As the American Prospect noted in its July 21 issue, “population control” was a not particularly controversial concept at the time, and one that many scientists did support in various forms.

Shocked at the mischaracterization of their work, Holdren’s coauthors, Anne and Paul Ehrlich, released this statement earlier in the summer: “We were not then, never have been, and are not now ‘advocates’ of the Draconian measures for population limitation described — but not recommended — in the book’s 60-plus small-type pages cataloging the full spectrum of population policies[.]” They had merely described measures “that, at the time, had either been tried in some country or analyzed by some commentator.”

Holdren is on leave from Harvard University, where he is a professor of environmental policy. Prior to that he taught at UC Berkeley for over 20 years. His work focused on causes and repercussions of global environmental change, analysis of energy technologies and policies and initiatives to reduce the dangers from nuclear weapons and materials.

At his confirmation hearings, Holdren answered extensive questions from members of Congress covering a broad range of topics, including one question about the appropriate role of government in population control.

“I think the proper role of government is to develop and deploy the policies with respect to economy, environment, security, that will ensure the well being of the citizens we have,” he said.

He was unanimously confirmed.

All of this, however, has been lost on Holdren’s conservative critics, many of whom continue to selectively quote his work. In recent weeks “Intelligent Design” groups have joined the cause, publishing their own screeds against Holdren. These sites have gained such traffic in recent weeks that at the time of writing this article, a Google search for “John Holdren” yielded one such attack as the second hit.

The White House has generally scoffed at alarmist and far-fetched criticisms. But from “death panels” to “mass sterilizations,” the administration is facing an increasing barrage of charges that the president wants to stop your family from being born or facilitate them dying. In Holden’s case, the White House felt the misrepresentations had gained enough steam to warrant a defense.

“The quotations used to suggest that Dr. Holdren supports coercive approaches to limiting population growth were taken from a 1977 college textbook on environmental science and policy, of which he was the third author,” said Rick Weiss, Director of Strategic Communications at the Office of Science and Technology Policy.

“The quoted material was from a section of the book that described different possible approaches to limiting population growth and then concluded that the authors’ own preference was to employ the non-coercive approaches before the environmental and social impacts of overpopulation led desperate societies to employ coercive ones. Dr. Holdren has never been an advocate of compulsory abortions or other repressive means of population limitation.”