President Obama's former Science Advisor visits UConn

John Holdren lectures about science and the environment policies in the White House. He was the assistant to President Obama for science and technology. (Charlotte Lao/The Daily Campus)

Former President Obama’s Science Advisor Dr. John Holdren discussed science and technology’s role in government at the University of Connecticut Monday afternoon.

Holdren began by expressing how important science and technology is to the United States, and therefore how essential he thinks the role of a science advisor is to the president.

“Science and technology are really central to meeting the very practical and very often intersecting challenges of the economy, national and homeland security, biomedicine and public health, and more,” Holdren said.

Holdren said that science and technological concepts play a critical role in solving many of the countries’ issues.

He said the federal government plays a big role in the development of science and technology.

“Both the federal government and state and local governments have the power to shape policies that either encourage or discourage the private sector from doing research and development. And it’s also government’s role to develop programs and initiatives to develop science and technology for the public good,” Holdren said.

Holdren said that without a science advisor, a president might not recognize the roles science and technology play in the choices they have to make.

“It’s often helpful for the president to have a source of science and technology information that he trusts and that is independent from the agendas of particular agencies, which may sometimes influence what they’re saying to the president about science and technology,” Holdren said.

Holdren focused much of his talk on President Obama’s science and technology accomplishments.

“He put an early priority on scientific integrity, which he thought was lacking in the previous administration,” Holdren said.

Holdren said that, as science advisor, he had three main sets of responsibilities.

Holdren said the first set was to advise the president on science and technology for policy. He advised Obama on how science and technology could potentially affect his policy decisions – whether they be economic policy, health care policy or climate change policy.

Holdren said the second set was to advise Obama on policies for science and technology, including education and workforce issues and budgeting issues.

Finally, Holdren said he served as the president’s science and technology emissary to other groups, both within the White House and with other national and international organizations.

Holdren said that Obama put an emphasis on STEM education – particularly for women and minorities – and fostered clean energy initiatives to combat the effects of climate change.

“Early on in his administration, [Obama] said to his cabinet that although the economic recession he had inherited would be an immediate priority, he felt that the biggest challenge for the US government and for other governments in the 21st century was going to be climate change,” Holdren said.

Holdren said the climate action plan Obama introduced in his second term took steps to reduce the pace of climate change, while also preparing the United States for its effects, cutting America’s carbon pollution and leading international efforts to combat climate change.

Holdren ended the talk by expressing his concern for the current administration’s lack of focus on science issues and offering suggestions for what individuals should do to mitigate it.

“[President Trump] rolled back or called for re-examination of all of Obama’s environmental orders and has [conducted a] widespread dismantlement of all other environmental regulations. The New York Times just a few days ago counted 48 environmental rollbacks,” Holdren said.

Holdren said that states, communities, businesses and philanthropists need to figure out how to continue to support science and environmental conservation despite the current federal government’s lack of action.

“And everybody should be letting Congress and President Trump know that sacrificing the environment for narrow private interests and abandoning the United States’ commitment to combatting climate change is folly,” Holdren said.

UConn students spoke on why they chose to attend the lecture and what they gained from it.

“I thought his talk was very interesting, thorough and intelligent. It was great hearing about everything that President Obama did for science. Though it made me kind of depressed, I want to help with some of the things he suggests that we should do,” Ecology and Evolutionary Biology graduate student Eileen Schaub said.

Fifth-semester environmental science major Julia Kendzierski said she attended the event because she was interested in learning about the role environmental science plays in politics.

“I learned that Obama really did care a lot about science- more so than I had realized- and that Donald Trump really does not. It is disheartening to know that him being in the White House is going to set us back,” Kendzierski said.


Gabriella Debenedictis is a staff writer for The Daily Campus. She can be reached via email at gabriella.debenedictis@uconn.edu.