Leading scientist John Holdren says "global warming" is not the correct term to use; he prefers "global disruption." "'Global warming' [is] misleading. It implies something that’s mainly about temperature, that’s gradual, and that’s uniform across the planet," says Holdren. "In fact, temperature is only one of the things that’s changing. It’s a sort of an index of the state of the climate. The whole climate is changing: the winds, the ocean currents, the storm patterns, snow packs, snowmelt, flooding, droughts. Temperature is just a bit of it." [includes rush transcript]
AMY GOODMAN: We continue with our guest Stephen Susman, a leading lawyer on a novel case that’s right now been brought on behalf of the Kivalina islanders, Native Alaskan people who have to be moved, because of global warming, to the mainland.
We also are talking about the overall issue of global warming, and I’m joined here in Aspen by one of the country’s top scientists, John Holdren. He’s professor of environmental policy at Harvard’s Kennedy School of Government and director of the Science, Technology and Public Policy Program at the Belfer Center for Science and International Affairs. He is also director of the Woods Hole Research Center, and just completed a term as board chair of the American Association for the Advancement of Science. During the ’90s, he advised President Clinton as a member of the President’s Committee of Advisors on Science and Technology. In addition to global warming, John Holdren’s research has focused on energy technology, nuclear nonproliferation and arms control.
Professor Holdren, welcome to Democracy Now!
JOHN HOLDREN: Thank you. Good to be here.
AMY GOODMAN: This term “global warming,” you don’t like it.
JOHN HOLDREN: I don’t like the term “global warming,” because it’s misleading. It implies something that’s mainly about temperature, that’s gradual, and that’s uniform across the planet. And in fact, temperature is only one of the things that’s changing. It’s a sort of an index of the state of climate. The whole climate is changing: the winds, the ocean currents, the storm patterns, snow packs, snowmelt, flooding, droughts. Temperature is just a bit of it.
It’s also highly non-uniform. The largest changes are occurring in the far north in the Arctic, in the Antarctic Peninsula in the far south. It is certainly not gradual, in the sense that it is rapid compared to the capacity of ecosystems to adjust. It’s rapid compared to the capacity of human systems to adjust.
AMY GOODMAN: How extreme is the situation right now?
JOHN HOLDREN: I think that most people, even most scientists, continue to underestimate how far down the path to climate catastrophe we’ve already traveled. We are committed, the United States and 190 other countries are committed, under the Framework Convention on Climate Change to avoid dangerous human interference in the climate system. And the fact is, it’s already too late to do that. We’re already experiencing dangerous interference. Floods, major floods, are up all over the world. Wildfires are up in almost every region of the world where wildfires have been a problem. Wildfires erupt fourfold in the last thirty years in the western United States.
AMY GOODMAN: What causes wildfires?
JOHN HOLDREN: Wildfires are a result of temperature conditions, of soil moisture conditions, and of course something has to start it. It may be lightning. It may be a stray match or a cigarette. But the point is, when it is drier and hotter, you get more wildfires, and that’s what we’re seeing. We’re seeing more heat waves. We’re seeing more droughts. We’re seeing impacts on food production in China and India as a result of changes in the monsoons.
The World Health Organization estimated that climate change was already causing more than 150,000 deaths per year in 2000. The World Health Organization is engaged in an update of that work. We’ll soon have a new estimate, a more recent estimate, and it will be larger, in terms of how many people are already being killed by climate change, by floods, by heat waves, by droughts, by expanded range of malaria, and much more.
AMY GOODMAN: Stephen Susman is referring to this global warming denying movement. In fact, it’s one of the core theories in the lawsuit, conspiracy to defraud the American people, to mislead the American people and people around the world. How does it affect the scientific community? What do you see? I mean, you call it “global climate disruption.” What is this denial movement?
JOHN HOLDREN: Well, the denial movement has flourished, in part, because of the preoccupation of the media with balance and with controversy. And so, if you have 3,000 scientists working for years and producing a report that says our considered opinion is the climate is changing by this much, it’s changing this fast, it’s having these effects, and you have two or three so-called denialists or a few small think tanks, some of which were certainly funded by Exxon, saying the opposite, they get equal time. The deniers get equal time in the newspapers, on the television.
Another problem is that a denier can tell a lie in a single sentence that takes a scientist three paragraphs to rebut, but the scientist never gets the three paragraphs in the sound bite culture that our media represent. And so, the denialists, even though they are small in number, they have no credible arguments, very few of them have any scientific credentials, get attention out of all proportion to their credentials, the merit of their arguments, and that delays the generation of public understanding and political will to do the things we need to do to address this challenge. There are a lot of things we can do, but we have been delaying doing them, in part because the so-called skeptics, or more accurately deniers or denialists, have basically obscured reality for much of the public and indeed for many of our policymakers.
AMY GOODMAN: How do you, as scientists, deal with these industry-funded scientists?
JOHN HOLDREN: Well, first of all, I wouldn’t make a blanket condemnation of industry-funded scientists. Industry is funding some perfectly good work. Oil companies are funding work at Stanford and Princeton and MIT and Harvard on solutions, for example.
But the issue of the skeptics and their effect on public understanding and public policy is one that scientists have had to counter in the only way they can, which is doing rigorous analysis, publishing their results, taking the opportunities to talk on the radio and on television and be interviewed by the newspapers, and giving public talks. I give, on the average, a couple public talks a week on this issue. I meet with policymakers all the time.
I chair — I co-chair the National Commission on Energy Policy, which is an independent bipartisan group, and my fellow co-chairs, one of them is the CEO of the biggest electric power company in the United States, one of them is the former head of the Environmental Protection Agency under the senior President Bush — half Republicans, half Democrats. We have published unanimous reports saying that the country has to come together and address the climate change challenge, and we have to do it by putting real restrictions on emissions of greenhouse gases, which are the main cause of this.
It is not impossible to overcome this skeptic smokescreen that has been out there, but it’s a lot of work. It’s happening. We’re getting there. But we should have been getting there two decades ago. Dr. Jim Hansen in 1988, twenty years ago, presented in a Senate hearing the first really convincing evidence that climate change caused by human activities was now evident in the temperature measurements made around the world. That was twenty years ago. That should have been the call to action, but we’ve had twenty years of inaction, in part because of the deniers that Stephen Susman is now engaged in suing.
AMY GOODMAN: I want to talk about Jim Hansen for a second — yes, James Hansen, the NASA top climate scientist. During an interview on NPR last week, Hansen called for the chief executives of oil companies to be tried for their role in spreading disinformation on climate change.
JAMES HANSEN: These large energy companies are guilty of crimes against humanity, if they continue to dispute what is understood scientifically and to fund contrarians, and if they push us past tipping points that end up destroying many species on the planet and having a huge impact on humanity itself.
AMY GOODMAN: Dr. John Holdren, do you agree with James Hansen’s statement that the CEOs of large energy companies are guilty of, should be tried for crimes against humanity?
JOHN HOLDREN: I couldn’t really say. I’m not qualified to assess what the heads of oil companies, past or present, have done in this domain. My understanding is that Exxon, in particular, did fund a variety of small think tanks to generate what amounts to propaganda against understanding of what climate change was doing, the human role in causing it. Whether that sort of activity really constitutes crimes against humanity is something for people more embedded in the legal system than I to judge. I wish they hadn’t done it.
I think the current generation of leaders of the major oil companies are considerably more enlightened about this than the last generation of leaders. And in fact, John Browne, the previous head of BP, was the first head of a major oil company, now about a decade ago, to say climate change is real, it’s serious, it’s dangerous, and BP is going to have to participate in the solutions. Shell soon followed. I think today the heads of most, if not all, of the major oil companies do accept, certainly in their public statements, that climate change is real and dangerous and that the oil companies and everybody else is going to have to participate in the solution.
So I guess I would find the statement that all oil company CEOs, past and present, are guilty of crimes against humanity is maybe a little bit over the top. I would, however, say that Jim Hansen is certainly one of the most distinguished climate scientists in the world. Whether he’s one of the most informed analysts of the legal implications of who has done what and to whom is a different question.
AMY GOODMAN: Steve Susman, as the national counsel for Philip Morris, seeing those CEOs of the Big Tobacco companies standing in Congress with their right hands up, swearing that tobacco didn’t cause cancer, what are your thoughts today?
STEPHEN SUSMAN: Well, it was a terrible piece of evidence that we had to deal with, defending tobacco and defending the lawsuits, because what happens to science changes. Dr. Hansen is wrong about the current executives, because the current executives have now gotten religion. I mean, they all are falling over each other to say global warming is occurring and we’re spending hundreds of millions of dollars to do something about it. So it’s almost like a confession of “we were wrong.”
Now, the question is — so the past ones, the past ones may have — I don’t think, though, they were ever called before Congress to testify under oath that global warming was not occurring. If they had, it would be a great piece of evidence for us. But that was a harmful piece of evidence to tobacco, because we were able to show — the plaintiffs were showing this congressional testimony, which was on television or a movie or whatever it was, and they were saying, look, these guys now admit — well, because in our cases, when we were defending the tobacco companies against the state lawsuits, we were already of the position of admitting that smoking can be very dangerous for your health. And we — our big defense was, well, when people do it, they assume the risk. You know, you don’t have to smoke, and people have known about the danger for a long time.
One thing about our lawsuit, by the way, is that there’s no assumption of the risk. No one assumes the risk. I mean, we live — I mean, no one is assuming the risk of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere. And particularly this Native village, the plaintiffs in my lawsuit, they don’t create much carbon dioxide in the air. So the victims are frequently the people who are doing less to contribute to the problem. But we don’t have that kind of testimony here, but I think the fact that the companies are now admitting that global warming is real and that we have to do something about it and that they have in the past contributed is a great fact for us in our lawsuit.
AMY GOODMAN: I want to go to an excerpt of the documentary — go to the lawsuit that has been filed on behalf of the Inupiat villagers in Kivalina, the brief excerpt of the documentary Losing Ground. It was written, directed and produced by Jenny Monet. This is Colleen Swan, tribal administrator of the Native village of Kivalina.
COLLEEN SWAN: Our people have been talking about relocating the village since 1952. The little island that we live on is becoming narrower, and it’s eroding faster. It’s not only caused by the natural environment — you know, the winds, the waves and — but it’s also being caused by activities of man.
We have to move. Our people’s lives are in danger. We are to a point where we have to be prepared to evacuate. It isn’t a question of, you know, if it happens; it’s a question of when, when it happens.
AMY GOODMAN: Can you talk about, further, what is happening to the people there, Steve Susman, in Kivalina and how you found this group of Inupiat villagers, Native Alaskans?
STEPHEN SUSMAN: Well, what is happening to them is that — as they describe: I mean, the earth on which their village is located is being washed away, for two reasons. One, the permafrost is not forming, and the other is that the sea ice doesn’t form, so the water just comes and washes away. And you can see these huge holes. The houses, the foundations are being lost.
Now, there’s much more severe injury that they are suffering, which we do not allege in our lawsuit intentionally. I mean, their way of life has changed, their culture of hunting, their — all of their traditions, their native way of living. We don’t allege that, because there’s a problem in these cases of whether someone has standing. If you suffer an injury common to everyone in the world or common to a whole lot of people, the courts may say you don’t have standing to complain. So the point is, you have to have standing. You have to show I have a particular different kind of injury than other people. And the loss of their ground under their homes is a different kind of injury, so that’s the kind of injury we are alleging. That’s what’s going on there, and that’s what we’re trying to stop.
AMY GOODMAN: So what is going to make this suit different from the other suits, in terms of how the courts deal with them? One of the rationale of the courts is this is about legislation, this shouldn’t be in the courts.
STEPHEN SUSMAN: Yeah, I mean, their big defense is that this is a political issue, that Congress should have to decide how much CO2 is too much, and the courts should not have to decide it. Now, clearly, if you ask any lawyer, does that make any sense? No. The courts have, for hundreds of years, decided whether — I mean, well, let’s take the case of tobacco. Congress had the power to decide how much nicotine was too much nicotine. That didn’t prevent individuals pursuing the tobacco companies and recovering for producing a dangerous product. Congress could decide about products; there’s a Product Safety Commission that could regulate. That doesn’t prevent the courts from adjudicating product liability lawsuits, which they do all the time. So the courts have a role deciding was your conduct unreasonable, and if so, how much should you have to pay for it. It’s not a unique question.
Now, it is true that there are three other courts that have dismissed these lawsuits on the ground of political question, not a justiceable question. We think those courts are wrong. They were trial courts. The cases are now pending in the Second Circuit, the Ninth Circuit and the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals. We might have a decision pretty soon. It may go to the Supreme Court someday. And so, our hope is that those decisions will be reversed as wrong. But even if they stand, we are the only case that has a conspiracy allegation, and we think that makes our case different, because courts all the time — there are criminal trials going on throughout this country every week about whether someone participated in a criminal conspiracy. So that’s the stuff of which courts are made, to decide whether there was a conspiracy, and did it harm someone.
AMY GOODMAN: I want to ask you, Steve Susman, when we come back from break, about your earlier suit against the coal plants of Texas, TXU. And, Dr. Holdren, I want to ask you about your work in China, at a university there, and about the overall issue of global climate disruption and how it can be stopped.
AMY GOODMAN: Guests are Stephen Susman — he is the lead attorney in a precedent-setting lawsuit that was filed earlier this year. The defendants have just responded to the lawsuit that has been filed on behalf of 400 Native villagers of Kivalina in Alaska, who have to move onto the mainland because of the effects of global warming on their community, on their island. John Holdren is also with us, professor of environmental policy at the Kennedy School of Government at Harvard University. He also teaches in China, as well as in India.
But, Steve Susman, before we move to the effects of global climate disruption in other parts of the world, you took on the coal industry in Texas. Talk about TXU and what happened.
STEPHEN SUSMAN: Well, by the way, I got into this — it’s funny — in Aspen, Colorado three years ago. The Yale School of Environment had a program here on climate change. My wife was kind of organizing it, so I was a spouse of an organizer when I came. And when I came here, I couldn’t spell “environment.” But reading the materials on the way, I said, hmm, there’s a role here, maybe for lawyers, like the tobacco cases. In any event, I taught then, and then I began — one thing led to another, and then I taught a course on global warming litigation at the law school at the University of Houston.
And so, I got a call from the mayor of Houston and Dallas, that they said, “Would you be willing to represent, on a pro bono basis, a coalition of thirty-seven cities in Texas that are opposing the permitting of eleven coal-burning plants by TXU?” And never before in history had the Texas cities or municipalities organized themselves together, but because the federal government does nothing, because the state government does nothing, that was the last resort. I said I’d do it. It was a real case.
So, we went into this case. We spent a lot of — I had a lot of lawyers from my firm, my partners, working on it. And it was a huge fight. We had about — we spent $700,000 in expert expenses. These things are expensive. We had eleven experts.
One of the big adverse effects of all these plants would have been they would have put hundreds of millions of tons of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere. And in fact, they would have undone all of the good that would have been done by the state of California. The governor announced that by 2012 they were going to reduce the carbon dioxide emissions by 20 percent or something like that. Texas would have offset all of that. Texas would have put itself in like as much as in the top three or four countries in the world — it’s only a state, but it would have been up there in the top three or four countries — in the terms of carbon dioxide. So, we were opposing it.
Now, we were met with the claim that, well, carbon dioxide is not a pollutant, it doesn’t harm anyone, and so you can’t account — take account of that. Well, that was the big argument. We succeeded in getting discovery on that. What we were basically proving is — they claim, well, we need additional electric generation. We said, fine, you may need it, but you don’t need eleven plants all built at once. This was an effort to have old technology grandfathered.
And we found in TXU files the most incredible documents, where they were advised: pollute now, because if you put — the more you put up there in the atmosphere — caps are coming, and when the caps are imposed, you will be grandfathered, so the more you put up now, the better you will be when regulation finally comes. I mean, just incredible sinister kind of documents.
Well, I think, as the case was heated up, we were beginning the trial before the regulatory body, when TXU was acquired by KKR, Texas Pacific Group, and they announced that they were dropping their permits for all eleven plants. So we were successful. The plants are not being built.
And, you know, they won’t ever be built, because there will be — there is better technology. The proof is undeniable. In fact, Shell Oil is one of the great innovators in coal gasification, and they claim that this equipment is ready for prime time, it doesn’t create the kind of carbon dioxide that can’t be captured. And it’s a little more expensive than traditional burning pulverized coal, but it’s effective. And so, you build one plant at a time, using the most up-to-date technology you need, and then it’s amazing, in another twelve months, before your demand increases for electricity, you build another plant with better technology.
AMY GOODMAN: Dr. John Holdren, some scientists believe China has already overtaken the United States when it comes to being the biggest emitter of carbon dioxide. Can you talk about what’s happening in China, as you teach there?
JOHN HOLDREN: Well, first of all, it does seem that China passed the United States in 2007 as the world’s largest emitter of carbon dioxide. Carbon dioxide is the greenhouse gas that is most responsible for the disruption of global climate. Of that carbon dioxide, the human activities emit to the atmosphere — about three-quarters is coming from burning coal and oil and natural gas, about one-quarter is coming from tropical deforestation. China is a huge consumer of coal, huge burner of coal. It’s the largest source of energy in China. They have very large amounts of coal, and so they’re expanding it rapidly. And that’s why they’ve passed the United States.
They’re still, by the way, far smaller than the United States in emissions per person. They have a lot more persons than we do; they have four times the population of the United States. So they’ve passed us in total emissions, but are not yet close to us in emissions per person.
China is starting to worry about this problem. The conventional wisdom in the United States and Europe has been, well, countries like China and India don’t really care about climate change, they just care about economic development, they’re going to keep burning coal, and they’re not going to do anything about it. And this, in fact, has been used as an argument for us doing nothing about it. If China is not going to do anything, why should the United States do anything?
This is a crazy argument. It’s crazy in many dimensions. One, the United States, in terms of its historical role and its technological and economic capacity, ought to take the lead. And China and India and Brazil and Mexico and Indonesia all expect us to take the lead. But the question then becomes, will they follow? If the United States embraces a sensible policy to reduce these emissions, will China and India and Indonesia and Brazil come along? And I think they will, in part.
On the basis of conversations with Chinese leaders and Chinese scientists over decades, I can tell you that in the last few years the attitude of the Chinese leadership has changed dramatically about climate change. And the reason their attitude has changed is that they now understand that climate change is already harming China. They understand that a change in the pattern of the monsoons, which govern where it rains and where it doesn’t in China, has caused increased flooding in the south of China, increased drought in the north. This is a big problem for China with direct, immediate human impacts.
They have figured out that the glaciers on the Tibetan Plateau, which feed the great Chinese rivers and the great Indian rivers, are disappearing at an astounding rate as a result of increased temperatures. The disappearance of those glaciers means that the cycles of flood and drought on those great rivers, which have always been a plague for those countries, are going to get much worse. So China, and India, as well, are now looking for ways to start reducing their emissions of carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases, and they will, I believe, join the United States and Europe and Japan in embracing serious measures within a few years.
AMY GOODMAN: And the corporations’ behavior in these countries? I mean the corporations we know well, like General Electric, like ExxonMobil, in China, in India?
JOHN HOLDREN: Well, I can tell you, for example, that General Electric is funding a large research effort based in Shanghai on developing coal technologies that capture the carbon dioxide and sequester it under the ground, rather than putting it into the atmosphere. That effort is one of many across China looking at advanced coal technologies that can do this crucial trick of capturing the carbon dioxide rather than letting it into the atmosphere.
Same thing is happening in India. Research on these technologies is also going on in the United States, of course, and it’s expanding rapidly. And what’s most interesting and what I’m quite extensively involved in is cooperation among these countries. The United States, China and India, in many respects, are starting to work together on how to develop and deploy these technologies, which will keep the carbon dioxide out of the atmosphere.
AMY GOODMAN: What do you think is the answer here?
JOHN HOLDREN: Well, I think the answer, first of all, is for the world to agree, under the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change, which goes forward and has negotiations every year and will embrace in 2009 in Copenhagen a new set of rules for the whole world. It’s important that we have a global agreement on how we are going to limit the emissions of carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases, going forward, and an agreement that will include the tropical forest, that will include ways to transfer some of the revenues from carbon taxes or carbon emission permits in the north to pay for reduced deforestation in the south. We need a variety of measures in this global agreement, going forward, which will get everybody on the same page and which will lead to the global emissions of carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases starting to decline in absolute terms no later than 2020. That’s the sort of trajectory we have to be on, instead of increasing.
And the business-as-usual path forward, by the way, if we keep doing what we’re doing, we will double those emissions over the next fifty years. And what we need to do instead is have those emissions sharply declining over the next fifty years, and that can be done. The technologies either exist or are in the advanced stages of development to get that done. The moment we put real limits and real charges on carbon dioxide emissions, we will see a surge of innovation that will discover even better ways for reducing those emissions, we will see new jobs and new wealth created as we convert our energy economy to a clean one rather than a dirty one, we will see new jobs and new income created in sustainable uses of tropical forest rather than cutting them down. The notion that this is going to be unaffordable and an economic catastrophe to address this problem is just wrong.
AMY GOODMAN: How dangerous was it to this country and the world that the US unsigned Kyoto, that President Bush would not sign the Kyoto treaty?
JOHN HOLDREN: Well, the Kyoto treaty was actually signed by the United States in Kyoto, but it was never ratified. And what President Bush said is, “We’re never going to ratify it. I won’t even submit it to the Senate for ratification.” This was a big blow to United States leadership and credibility in the world on this issue. The Kyoto Protocol was only a first step; it was a baby first step. But it was the first substantial effort by the world community to come together on the beginnings of a solution. And for the United States to say we will not participate was a blow to the prospects for global cooperation going forward. It cost us a huge amount of credibility, cost a huge amount of momentum, that the United States refused to join this.
President Bush said, you know, “I’ll give you an alternative to Kyoto, and it’ll be better,” but what President Bush announced in 2002 was really no alternative at all. What he announced in 2002 was essentially the continuation of business as usual in US greenhouse gas emissions.
AMY GOODMAN: Do you see any hope in the presidential candidates today?
JOHN HOLDREN: Oh, I see huge hope. Both of the presidential candidates, Senator Obama and Senator McCain, have expressed their commitment to sharply reduce US greenhouse gas emissions over the decades ahead, and I believe they both mean it.
AMY GOODMAN: Mandatory?
JOHN HOLDREN: Mandatory. Mandatory, economy-wide, and I believe they both mean it.
AMY GOODMAN: Steve Susman?
STEPHEN SUSMAN: Let me just add that if China and India won’t follow our leadership in exercising self-restraint, our country is not powerless to deal with them. We’re talking — Congress is talking now about passing laws that make it unlawful for members of OPEC to conspire to fix the price of oil and gas, claiming this conspiracy is not occurring in the United States, it’s occurring offshore, but Congress is going to pass a law that probably gives American courts jurisdiction over activity abroad that hurts Americans here.
Why is global warming any different? They could pass a law that gives courts in the United States jurisdiction over Chinese or Indian companies that are building these dirty coal plants. Now, India and China, they have to pay any judgments that are entered by our courts, because they sell millions of dollars of products to the United States. They all have big bank accounts that can be attached. So they are going to have to pay any judgments that are rendered. All we have to have is Congress give jurisdiction.
And is that fair? If the Chinese put up a satellite — a private company in China put up a satellite and it fell on your house and injured somebody, would you have a claim against them in American courts? You should. I mean, why is that so different than, you know, pointing a rifle from one state into the other state and killing someone? I mean, they caused harm in the United States, they should be subject to jurisdiction in the United States, and Congress can do that with a bill. And then they will pay attention. So we don’t have to just ask and beg; we can make them.
JOHN HOLDREN: But, by the way, my guess is that we won’t have to, because, again, these countries have come to recognize that climate change is harming them. It’s in their self-interest. It’s not simply that the United States might impose sanctions against them if they fail to participate in a global approach to reducing greenhouse gas emissions. They understand that if they fail to participate, a global approach will not be truly global, and it will fail, and the consequences for their own countries will be disastrous. If you look at the projections going forward of what we expect in terms of increases in heat waves, increases in floods, increases in droughts, increases in wildfires, it is a picture that nobody should want to live in. And the Chinese and the Indians are coming to understand that. And as everybody comes to understand it, we are going to come together on a solution, a set of solutions, to this problem.
AMY GOODMAN: On that note, I want to thank you both for being with us. Stephen Susman, founding partner of the law firm Susman Godfrey, recently filed a pioneering global warming lawsuit against ExxonMobil, BP, Chevron, ConocoPhillips and twenty other oil, coal and electric companies, on behalf of residents of the Alaskan Native coastal village of Kivalina. And John Holdren, professor of environmental policy at the Harvard Kennedy School of Government, director of the Woods Hole Research Center, just completed a term as board chair of the American Association for the Advancement of Science.