The American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS) announced Tuesday that retiring 8-term Representative Rush Holt (D-NJ), a physicist, will become the CEO of “the world’s largest general scientific organization” next year. Holt, whose father was a West Virginia Senator and whose mother was WV secretary of state, spent a decade at the Energy Department’s Princeton Plasma Physics Lab. And he’s a 5-time “Jeopardy!” champ who defeated the IBM supercomputer Watson in a Jeopardy! exhibition game.
It’s a good match. Holt is an articulate scientist and former teacher who is very alarmed about our inaction on human-caused climate change — and the AAAS made clear to the world in March they are equally alarmed. The AAAS news specifically mentions Holt’s climate communications efforts:
Holt has also broadly promoted the value of science communication, particularly for conveying information about climate change, and he has said that “thinking like a scientist” can benefit the policymaking process.
Earlier this year, Salon asked Holt if he has “regrets about the way” he’s approached the climate issue “over the past several years.” He replied:
I have been sounding the alarm on this for, well, a couple of decades. You know, I’ve been intrigued by the science, climate science, for 50 years now … Ever since it became clear that this was headed in a dangerous and costly direction, I’ve been sounding the alarm. So, maybe I could have done more. I don’t know what that would be.
So I think we can be confident that Holt will continue his blunt defense of both science and climate action given his new high-profile platform. What has Holt said about key climate issues to date?
Last year, he explained, “Keystone XL is all risk and no reward.” This year, he told Salon that the tar sands were “a sludge essentially” and “a climate poison. And we shouldn’t be doing anything to encourage its use.”
Holt said that there is a “very strong consensus in the scientific community that human actions — primarily the burning of carbon — have changed the climate of the earth, and changed it for the worse.” He also said that “To deny it is not to deny a few facts, or to question a few conclusions. It’s really to deny the entire scientific enterprise — you know, the validity of the entire scientific enterprise.”
Holt is very dismayed by congressional inaction and the role played by the immense fossil-fuel-funded disinformation campaign:
And it’s really quite, quite amazing how little congressional action there is, how effective the disinformation has been … There are moneyed interests that have spent an enormous amount of money sowing doubt.
It’s very much reminiscent of the behavior of the tobacco companies during the smoking and cancer debates. They took what was becoming overwhelming evidence … that smoking caused cancer, and they planted doubts in people‘s minds — and through that, got a couple more decades of lucrative tobacco sales … until it became once again overwhelming in the public mind that smoking killed people …
[On] climate change, there’s been an enormous amount of money spent sowing doubt in people’s minds.
The point of that doubt, Holt notes, is to get a lot of people to say “I’m just not sure. Maybe it’s going on, but there’s so much uncertainty — you know, scientists are so unsure. They’re on all sides of this issue.” But as Holt then points out bluntly “No, they’re not. Scientists aren’t unsure. I mean, sure you can find a few outliers … But scientists aren’t in doubt. The scientific consensus is strong. But the disinformation campaign has been surprisingly effective.”
It is vital that scientists continue to speak out against inaction. As the AAAS’s Climate Science Panel, “2014 report” explained, we are as certain that humans are responsible for most recent climate change as we are that cigarettes kill. And we know that inaction puts us “at risk of pushing our climate system toward abrupt, unpredictable, and potentially irreversible changes with highly damaging impacts”
Rush Holt is an excellent choice to help the AAAS increase the influence of science in general and climate science in particular on policymaking.