Holdren: “Climate Adaptation Brings Benefits”

John Holdren, Assistant to the President for Science and Technology, told a group organized by Atlantic magazine that climate adaptation measures bring benefits “even if there wasn’t climate change.” On investing in adaptation measures, Holdren pointed to the need to be prudent, citing the Department of Interior’s landscape conservation cooperatives as a system of natural carbon sinks and a positive response to climate change (see earlier post). He also called the Partnership for Sustainable Communities an important initiative (see earlier post). On the failure to pass energy and climate change legislation, Holdren added: “We’ll be back.” 

Holdren argued that human wellbeing rests on foundations: economic processes (markets); social and political processes (law, justice, education); and environmental conditions (air, water, soils — the biota). To date, development has focused on the first two, but the “environment is usually just an addendum.” Instead, the U.S. needs to make improvements across all dimensions on a sustainable basis.

Sustainable development is hampered by a set of major, interconnected challenges:

1) Eradicating poverty
2) Defeating diseases
3) Managing competitive resources
4) Protecting oceans
5) The energy economy / environment dilemma
6) Adaptating to climate change

The problems are all interconnected. For example, economic progress tends to intensify competition for resources and depletion of natural resources. However, there are also positive interconnections: Restoration and resilience programs, innovative technologies, and energy efficient buildings can create mutually reinforcing systems. To create these positive systems, interdisciplinary scientific teams made up of social scientists, engineers, designers, psychologists and all other disciplines are needed. Holdren added: “Science is central to these challenges, but it’s also beyond applying science, it’s about building capacity and strengthening the role of science and technology in society.”

While this year the U.S. put $100 billion into federal research (the largest amount in history), the U.S. still needs a more supportive policy and regulatory environment for science and technology. “The R&D tax credit needs to be made permanent.” Holdren also said the U.S. needs to maintain R&D expenditure at 3 percent of GDP, where it is now, a level the U.S. hasn’t achieved since the 1960’s space race. “The new American research and investment strategy needs to be high risk, high return with a new emphasis on international partnerships. We also need to streamline the visa application process.”

Image credit: Artic Landscape Conservation Cooperative, Alaska / U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service

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