I know all the focus of discussion today is about Rick Warren. It's obviously an important discussion to have. It's also plain that Obama will take other actions and make other appointments that many of us will have problems with. But here's one that I would hope can be universally applauded: Jane Lubchenco has been named to head NOAA, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. This is a fantastic choice.
For those unfamiliar with NOAA, it is (somewhat oddly) situated within the Department of Commerce. That's a complicated story. The agency's bureaucratic DNA is tangled, and reaches all the way back to the "Survey of the Coast" undertaken during Thomas Jefferson's administration! Its offices include the National Marine Fisheries Service, the National Ocean Service, the National Weather Service, and the Office of Oceanic and Atmospheric Research. With those responsibilities, NOAA plays a vital role involving many of our most difficult environmental policy challenges, especially climate change, collapsing fisheries, conservation of marine biodiversity, and the Bush administration's assault on scientific integrity.
Jane Lubchenco is a world class marine biologist (at Oregon State University), a deeply dedicated conservationist, a champion of science within the policy arena, and an influential mentor to young environmental scientists. Her background, areas of expertise, achievements, and many awards are detailed on her webpage biography. Here's a little:
Jane actively promotes science and communicates scientific knowledge in international and national arenas. She is Past-President of the International Council for Science and a former President of the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS) and the Ecological Society of America. She was a Presidential appointee to two terms on the National Science Board which advises the President and Congress and oversees the National Science Foundation. She often testifies before Congress, addresses the United Nations, or provides scientific advice to the White House, federal and international agencies, non-governmental organizations, religious leaders and leaders of business and industry. She co-chaired Oregon Governor Kulongoski's Advisory Group on Global Warming that recommended actions the state should take to reduce its greenhouse gas emissions.
She served on the Pew Oceans Commission and now the Joint Oceans Commission Initiative (a merger of the Pew Oceans Commission and the U.S. Commission on Ocean Policy). She is a Director or Trustee of the Monterey Bay Aquarium, SeaWeb and Environmental Defense; Trustee Emerita of the David and Lucile Packard Foundation and a former Trustee of the Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences' Beijer International Institute for Ecological Economics and the World Resources Institute.
Jane has received numerous awards including a MacArthur ("genius") Fellowship, a Pew Fellowship, eight honorary degrees (including one from Princeton University), the 2002 Heinz Award in the Environment, the 2003 Nierenberg Prize for Science in the Public Interest, the 2004 Environmental Law Institute Award (the first scientist to receive this honor) and the 2005 American Association for the Advancement of Science's Award for Public Understanding of Science and Technology.
This is a powerhouse appointment. I have had several opportunities to hear Dr. Lubchenco speak, and I regard her not just as one of this generation's great conservation leaders, but one of the strongest advocates we have for science and its necessary place in shaping policy. Her appointment will help bring the very best minds we have to the issues of marine conservation and climate change. She is one who understands the need for integrated solutions, and for clear communication links between the scientific world, policy-makers, the media, and the public. She will also make the job of reclaiming scientific integrity in the Obama administration a high priority.
We've all been so focused on the cabinet level appointments, and that's appropriate. But it's these next-level-down appointments, beyond the bright glare of public notice, that make such a huge difference. So watch for those deputy secretary and undersecretary and agency appointments (especially in Interior and Agriculture) in the days and weeks ahead.
UPDATE 1.1: Alright, my very first trip to Recommended Diaryland!! And I have to go meet a friend for dinner in five minutes. Thanks, and have at it all you friends of the briny deep!
UPDATE 2: Andy Revkin, the ace science and environment reporter at the New York Times, now has posted an excellent interview that he did with Dr. Lubchenco earlier this year. He introduces it with this point:
If confirmed, Dr. Lubchenco would be the first female administrator of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (and under secretary of commerce for oceans and atmosphere). She has also spoken up frequently about the need to restrict emissions of carbon dioxide, both to limit climate disruption and protect sea life. ... She is a past president of the American Association for the Advancement of Science, as is John P. Holdren, who Mr. Obama is expected to name on Saturday as his choice for presidential science adviser. (They both also received MacArthur Foundation "genius" grants.)
UPDATE 3: Philip Munger comment below includes this 2004 audio interview on the website of the National Academy of Sciences. Her familiarity with the NAS is yet another feather in this cap. The National Academy is a really key piece of the federal science machinery. When used effectively, it can move policy mountains. She'll know how to do that.
LAST (?) UPDATE: The Washington Post now has a full story posted on its front page:
President-elect Barack Obama has selected two of the nation's most prominent scientific advocates for a vigorous response to climate change to serve in his administration's top ranks, according to sources, sending the strongest signal yet that he will reverse Bush administration policies on energy and global warming.
Alden Meyer, director of strategy and policy for the Union of Concerned Scientists, predicted that Obama's latest nominees would work with a Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton and a Commerce Secretary Bill Richardson to change how government addresses global warming.
"You can see the elements coming together," Meyer said. "It means you've got people in key places across the administration that get the urgency of the climate issue and get the need for aggressive policy to move climate solutions forward, both in the U.S. and internationally."