“Geoscientists rock,” announced President Obama’s senior science advisor during a special lecture at the Geological Society of America’s conference in Baltimore, setting the tone for a speech promoting both the importance of geoscience research and the role geoscience plays in public policy.

John Holdren, the director of the White House’s Office of Science and Technology Policy (OSTP), spoke about “Why the Obama Administration loves geosciences and the Geological Society of America,” and the Obama Administration’s priorities and policies involving geoscience on November 3.

Holdren talked about using geoscience research to inform climate change policies and adaptations, energy, water and other natural resource management, ocean and polar science, and natural hazards including earthquakes, landslides, tsunamis and volcanic eruptions. Unlike most people, geologists “take the long view,” Holdren said.

GSA’s position statements and critical issues provide leadership on integrating geology and public policy, Holdren said, and give GSA members opportunities to contribute to national level decisions. He also praised the GSA-USGS Congressional Science Fellowship, which places a geologist in a congressional office for a year, and said that a previous fellow is now on the OSTP staff.

The OSTP office has two major responsibilities, Holdren said. The first is to manage policy for science and technology – the office works with other White House offices, like the Office of Management and Budget, to provide recommendations on research and development budgets, science and technology education and workforce issues, among other concerns.

The second major responsibility is to provide science and technology for policy. The office offers independent advice to the President on a wide variety of policy issues, especially those involving job creation, economic competitiveness, public health and national and homeland security.

The OSTP works closely with governmental science agencies, like the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration and the United States Geological Survey, and seeks out the National Academies and professional societies for advice, Holdren said. “Individual scientists and engineers across the country take our calls!” he continued.

Holdren also talked about the science underlying President Obama’s Climate Action Plan. The plan acknowledges that Earth’s climate is changing at a pace and pattern outside the control of natural forces, and says that human-caused carbon dioxide emissions, among other heat-trapping gases, are the dominate driver of climate change.

The Obama Administration is making progress on building public understanding and support for climate change action with a “Climate Education and Literacy Initiative,” Holdren said. The initiative aims to connect American students and citizens with science-based information about climate change.

Holdren recognized that “Appropriation bills to date reflect the apparent view of some in Congress that support for Earth observations and geosciences equates to support for the President’s climate change policies.” Funding levels for geoscience and social science research at NSF were lower than previous years in the House’s COMPETES reauthorization bill and also in House spending bills.

“This stance is misguided,” Holdren said. “This Administration will continue to oppose meat-axe cuts to Earth observations and geosciences,” and fight Congressional oversight on federal science agencies’ peer review process, Holdren elaborated.

He continued, “The geosciences community can help by telling policy makers and the public about how and why investments in these domains matter to the well-being of the nation, with concrete examples.”

By Elizabeth Goldbaum, GSA Science Policy Fellow

John Holdren at the podium during his talk on November 3 at GSA’s 2015 Annual Meeting in Baltimore.