John P. Holdren Addresses Climate Change, Stressing Need for International Cooperation

John P. Holdren, science advisor to US President Barack Obama, presenting his keynote address at the 2010 Kavli Prize Science Forum. (Scanpix)

September 28, 2010

In a recent keynote address before the Kavli Science Forum: 2010 in Oslo, Dr. John P. Holdren -- science advisor to U.S. President Barack Obama -- provided insight into why climate change is a priority to the Obama administration, and pressed the need for an international effort to mitigate, and adapt to, what he termed the effects of "global climate disruption."

John P. Holdren, science advisor to US President Barack Obama, presenting his keynote address at the 2010 Kavli Prize Science Forum. (Scanpix)
John P. Holdren, Science Advisor to US President Barack Obama, presenting his keynote address at the 2010 Kavli Prize Science Forum. (Scanpix)

"We cannot solve the great problems of our time alone - any of us - as individual nations," he stated. "We need to solve them together, and science and technology pursued together are going to be immensely important elements of those solutions."

Holdren spoke before an audience that included scientists and leaders key to influencing science policy in the US, Europe and Asia. In addressing the international Forum, Holdren framed climate change not only as a critical environmental issue, but one that strikes at the security needs and economic vitality of nations. "Without energy there is no economy; without climate there is no environment; without economy and environment there is no material well being, there's no civil society, there's no personal or national security. And the problem is that the world is getting most of the energy its economies need in ways that are wrecking the climate its environment needs. That is the fundamental dilemma and the fundamental challenge we face."

Holdren noted that the focus now is on mitigating climate change, adapting to what cannot be mitigated, and reducing the suffering for what can't be mitigated or adapted to. "We're doing some mitigation, we're doing some adaptation, we're doing some suffering... What's up for grabs - what's at stake - is the future mix of mitigation and adaptation and suffering. And minimizing the amount of suffering in that mix, which is certainly what we want to do, can only be achieved by doing a lot of mitigation and a lot of adaptation."

He also countered the "myths of climate change": that global warming is simply natural; has been happening for years without consequence; isn't damaging now and if there is a danger, it's in the distant future; and that "the emails stolen from the climate research unit at the University of East Anglia and the mistakes that the IPCC made have shown that mainstream climate science is deeply flawed."

To this last claim, Holdren said, "[N]othing in the email or the IPCC controversies rises to a level that would call into question [our core understandings of climate change]. ...Because of their relevance to policy choices in part, key findings from climate science have been subjected to unprecedentedly extensive peer review." As for any suggestion that global climate disruption should not be attributed to human activity, Holdren stated, "I suggest that policy makers should not bet... that the mainstream science view is wrong. That would be a bad bet."

The Kavli Prize Science Forum is a biennial international forum to facilitate high-level, global discussion of major topics on science and science policy. Held in Oslo, Norway, in conjunction with the Kavli Prize Week and Kavli Prize Ceremony, it was established in partnership by the Norwegian Academy of Science and Letters, The Kavli Foundation and the Norwegian Ministry of Education and Research.

For the complete keynote address and PowerPoint/audio presentation, click here.

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