Holdren Gets Warm Embrace From Letterman on Climate Policies

Jeff tries to explain how government works to readers of Science.

The words "bantering" and "climate change" rarely go together. But last night, presidential science adviser John Holdren and late night talk show host David Letterman pulled it off. Making his second appearance on the Late Show with David Letterman, Holdren deftly handled all manner of questions, both serious and silly, on the topic while simultaneously plugging the Obama Administration's policies.

After Letterman asked whether global warming means his son may never see snow, Holdren shot back, "It depends on his latitude." But when Letterman called coal the "culprit" and said he doubted there was such a thing as "clean coal," Holdren chose his words carefully. "There is no such thing as clean coal," he began, "but there is cleaner coal." Asked whether he could leaven the continuing stream of bad news about the worsening impact of global warming on the planet, Holdren mentioned the U.S. economy's increasingly efficient use of energy and talked about opportunities for people "to make a lot of money" on new energy technologies.

But just as Holdren was beginning to tick off how the stimulus money is helping move the country to a low-carbon economy, Letterman interrupted with a non sequitur. "So does the president like your beard?" Amid laughter from the CBS studio audience in New York City, Holdren was rendered speechless. And the show went to commercial before he could reply.

Even though Letterman gave top billing to actor Jason Bateman—bantering about his new movie, snakes, and slippers—Letterman seemed genuinely interested not just in climate change but also in the job of the science adviser. Asked how often he talked with the president, Holdren answered candidly, "sometimes a couple of times a week, sometimes not for a few weeks," adding that "it's catch as catch can."

It was an impressive performance, especially at a time—Holdren took his seat at 12:23 a.m.—when most policymakers are fast asleep. The 15-minute segment closed with the 65-year-old physicist getting a verbal pat on the back. Expressing his displeasure with the policies of former President George W. Bush and his support for the new Administration, Letterman opined that "we have many reasons to breathe a little easier these days, and you're one of them."

There's no clip of Holdren's appearance on the Late Show Web site (you can check out Jason Bateman), but the full show should be posted in a day or two.

Posted in Climate