With President-Elect Obama's selection of Dr. Jane Lubchenco as chief administrator of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), a very positive step has been taken in putting in place the type of qualified scientific leadership that an organization like NOAA requires. Her appointment has been met with cheers from major conservation and environmental organizations nationwide.
Dr. Lubchenco's credentials are most impressive: A professor of marine biology and zoology at Oregon State University who received her Ph.D. at Harvard, she is a member of the U.S. National Academy of Sciences and former president of the American Association for the Advancement of Science. She is also a MacArthur "genius" fellow and Pew fellow in Marine Conservation. Lubchenco was a presidential appointee for two terms on the National Science Board and has been a member of the Communication Partnership for Science and the Sea, the Millennium Ecosystem Assessment and the Pew Oceans Council.
While NOAA is indeed a government agency and its leaders must be well-versed in the art of politics and diplomacy to accomplish their mission, it must be said that to have a scientist at the helm who happens to be a qualified administrator - rather than the other way around - is what is most needed at NOAA. This is critical so that NOAA can stay focused as a science-based source of environmental policy, rather than becoming a political mouthpiece for pro-industry (ie: anti-environment) constituencies. If President-Elect Obama is to make good on some of his campaign rhetoric regarding the environment, he will need the support of scientists like Dr. Lubchenco to provide the hard facts, opinions, and solutions.
President-Elect Obama has said, "All of us know the problems rooted in our addiction to foreign oil it constrains our economy, shifts wealth to hostile regimes, and leaves us dependent on unstable regions. These urgent dangers are eclipsed only by the long-term threat of climate change, which unless we act will lead to drought and famine abroad, devastating weather patterns and terrible storms on our shores, and the disappearance of our coastline at home."
As part of his scientific "A-Team", the PETT (President-Elect's Transition Team) will need to engage people of Dr. Lubchenco's caliber. And they will need many more of them. Let's wish her well.