John Holdren ’65, SM ’66, science and technology advisor to President Barack Obama, took the podium at his class dinner June 5 at MIT’s Endicott House to share a bit of his on-the-job experience. His official title is director of the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy, and co-chair of the President’s Council of Advisors on Science and Technology. Previously he served as a professor at Harvard and Stanford and director of the Woods Hole Research Center. He’s a well rounded sort of guy who studied aeronautics, astronautics, and plasma physics and who has worked on the causes and consequences of global environmental change, energy technologies, and policies.
“Exhilerating and frustrating,” that’s how Holdren describes his job. “It’s exhilarating because Obama understands why technology and science matter. It’s frustrating because so much has to be done.” Obama sees science and technology as crucial to understanding and solving many of the world’s problems, he said.
What’s on the President’s mind? Regenerating high-quality jobs—with a high proportion coming from science and technology. Using information technology to improve medical care. Making progress in nuclear weapon restraints and cyber security. And the interlocking challenges of energy, environment, climate change.
“Climate change is the most threatening and the most difficult to solve,” Holdren said. “Science and technology have a big job to do. We need to educate people to understand the challenge. People need to understand what we can do and adapt. We are already suffering damages.”
Interestingly, Obama’s respect for America’s scientists and technologists parallels the public’s. Holdren said a recent poll gives scientists a 73 percent approval rating—as opposed to members of Congress who garner a 36 percent positive rating.