John Holdren

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John Holdren

John Paul Holdren (born March 1, 1944 in Sewickley, Pennsylvania) serves as director of the Office of Science and Technology Policy in the Executive Office of the President. His work has focused on global environmental change, fusion science and technology, comparative analysis of energy options, ways to reduce the dangers from nuclear weapons and materials, population control and the interaction of content and process in science and technology policy.[1] Holdren's outspoken support and propoposal for various controversial population-control programs can be traced back to his conviction found in the 1977 book Ecoscience which he co-authored, that resolving the population crisis "may be the last opportunity to choose our own and our descendants' destiny".[2] He resides with his wife, biologist Dr. Cheryl Holdren, in Falmouth, Massachusetts.[3]


High School

During his high school years Holdren states that his "pre-occupation with the great problems at the intersection of science and technology with the human condition — and with the interconnectedness of these problems with each other," began when he read The Challenge of Man's Future authored by eugenicist Harrison Brown in high school.[4]

Tertiary Study

Holdren was educated at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and Stanford University in fluid dynamics and theoretical plasma physics, receiving his PhD in 1970. After brief stints at the Livermore Lab and Caltech (where he worked with Harrison Brown), he co-founded in 1973 and co-led until 1996 the campus-wide graduate-degree program in energy and resources at UC Berkeley named the Energy and Resources Group.[1]

Advocating Population Control

Ecoscience (1977) by Holdren & Ehrlich

Holdren expressed his support for a population control both in the United States and Globally. Recommendations in Ecoscience, a book he co-authored in 1977 include an enforced one-child-per-family policy, and that single women with child should be forced to give up their babies for adoption or forced to be married. Compulsory abortions were also advocated in the publication.

Based on their statement that "Neither the Declaration of Independence nor The Constitution mentions a right to reproduce," the authors of Ecoscience state that individual rights must be balanced against the power of the government to control human reproduction. They state,

"Where the society has a "compelling, subordinating interest" in regulating population size, the right of the individual may be curtailed. If society's survival depended on having more children, women could he required to bear children, just as men can constitutionally be required to serve in the armed forces. Similarly, given a crisis caused by overpopulation, reasonably necessary laws to control excessive reproduction could be enacted."[5]

In the above quote it can be clearly seen the level of power which the authors wished the Government should exact upon its people. For the good of society they argue, a woman may be either compelled to refrain from giving birth, or be compelled to become pregnant and give birth.


In 1977 John Holdren co-authored a book entitled Ecoscience with Paul Ehrlich and Anne Ehrlich. In this publication they referred to themselves as "neo-Malthusian" in respect to what they considered to be the population-crisis. Malthusianism derives its name from Thomas Malthus who was a minister in the Church of England and widely decried for his most famous publication, An Essay on the Principle of Population. In this work Malthus states,

"All the children born, beyond what would be required to keep up the population to this level, must necessarily perish, unless room be made for them by the deaths of grown persons."[6]

Compulsory Birth Control & Abortions

excerpt from Ecoscience, page 837

The following are excerpts from Ecoscience relating to reproductive-policies discussed or endorsed by the authors.

Indeed, it has been concluded that compulsory population-control laws, even including laws requiring compulsory abortion, could be sustained under the existing Constitution if the population crisis became sufficiently severe to endanger the society.[7]

It is not stated who came to this conclusion, therefore it is fair to assume that the authors of the statement came to this conclusion, stating that under the Constitution, forced abortions would be acceptable if the "population crisis" demanded them. It was suggested that in the case of single mothers becoming pregnant, that forced adoption, marriage or abortion were the preferable solutions:

"One way to carry out this disapproval [of single mothers becoming pregnant] might be to insist that all illegitimate babies be put up for adoption—especially those born to minors, who generally are not capable of caring properly for a child alone... It would even be possible to require pregnant single women to marry or have abortions, perhaps as an alternative to placement for adoption, depending on the society."[8]

Discussing preventative measures, the following suggestion was presented:

The development of a long-term sterilizing capsule that could be implanted under the skin and removed when pregnancy is desired opens additional possibilities for coercive fertility control. The capsule could be implanted at puberty and might be removable, with official permission, for a limited number of births.[9]

However a more extreme measure was presented as "acceptable" by the authors of Ecoscience. They discussed the prospect of adinga sterilant to drinking water or staple foods, acknowledging that this would pose some "very difficult political, legal, and social questions". They stated,

"To be acceptable, such a substance would have to meet some rather stiff requirements: it must be uniformly effective, despite widely varying doses received by individuals, and despite varying degrees of fertility and sensitivity among individuals; it must be free of dangerous or unpleasant side effects; and it must have no effect on members of the opposite sex, children, old people, pets, or livestock.""[10]

Thus it is clear that if such a substance were available at the time Ecoscience was written, that Holdren would have been an advocate for its implementation.

Eugenicist Sentiments

excerpt from Ecoscience, page 838

Building on their support and discussion of acceptable means of birth control and abortion for the purpose of population control, the authors explain one use for these tactics,

"If some individuals contribute to general social deterioration by overproducing children, and if the need is compelling, they can be required by law to exercise reproductive responsibility—just as they can be required to exercise responsibility in their resource-consumption patterns—providing they are not denied equal protection."[11]

Far different from simply applying a per-couple child limit, this suggestion would necessitate a government-appointed board making case-by-case abortion or birth-control decisions, based on an arbitrarily defined determination of what are considered to be detrimental contributions to society. One solution to combatting general social deterioration is simply, to prevent those deemed responsible from reproducing - "if the need is compelling", and "providing they are not denied equal protection".

Holdren's Current Views

Holdren has never personally renounced or disavowed the full range of highly controversial propositions found in Ecoscience.

On July 15, 2009 in an article entitled "Population Czar" by Amanda Carpenter in The Washington Times included a statement from Holdren's staff which read in part as follows,

"This material is from a three-decade-old, three-author college textbook. Dr. Holdren addressed this issue during his confirmation when he said he does not believe that determining optimal population is a proper role of government. Dr. Holdren is not and never has been an advocate for policies of forced sterilization... description can be misrepresented as endorsement."[12]

That the sentiments expressed in Ecoscience are found in a "three-decade-old, three-author college textbook" is irrelevant, however it is used in an attempt to distance Holdren from the comments he made and signed his name to in 1977. His staff claim that Holdren has never been an advocate for policies of forced sterilization, however this cannot be reconciled with the terms in which the prospect of forced sterilization was discussed in Ecoscience.

On July 15, 2009 the Catholic News Agency reported on the confirmation hearing in which Holdren was evaluated for the job of Science Czar to President Barack Obama. During the hearing Senator David Vitter asked Holdren whether he thought that determining optimal population is a proper role of government, to which Holdren replied, "No, Senator, I do not". Holdren went on to mention that he thought it was no longer productive to focus on the optimum population for the United States, "I don't think any of us know what the right answer is".[13]

Advocating Govt. Dictated Family Size

Expressing support for a version of China's one-child-policy, John Holdren and Paul and Anne Ehrlich state that in today's world, the number of children in a family is a matter of profound public concern. They argue,

"No one may lawfully have more than one spouse at a time. Why should the law not be able to prevent a person from having more than two children?"

Proposing a "Planetary Regime"

Holdren and his co-authors proposed the introduction of a "Planetary Regime" in Ecoscience, an international superagency for population, resources, and environment". They stated that the regime could control the development, administration, conservation, and distribution of all natural resources. An excerpt follows,

"The Regime might also be a logical central agency for regulating all international trade, perhaps including assistance from DCs to LDCs, and including all food on the international market.
The Planetary Regime might be given responsibility for determining the optimum population for the world and for each region and for arbitrating various countries' shares within their regional limits. Control of population size might remain the responsibility of each government, but the Regime would have some power to enforce the agreed limits."

As a necessary first step in amalgamating into this "Planetary Regime", Holdren stated that partial surrender of sovereignty to an international organization (the Regime) would be essential. It was stated that security might be provided by "an armed international organization, a global analogue of a police force". The authors also expressed their disappointment in factionalism (as opposed to globalization) throughout the World which they perceived to be increasing.

Admiration for Harrison Brown

Harrison Brown was an outspoken eugenicist and member of the International Eugenics Society[14] who made recommendations for "sterilizing the feeble-minded" and other "unfit" substandard humans whom he thought should be "pruned from society."[15]

In a tribute he wrote for Brown following his death in the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists, Holdren stated:

"My own career as a student of the intersection of science and public policy was profoundly and repeatedly influenced by Harrison Brown's insights, by the example he set, and by the assistance, encouragement, and friendship he offered."[16]

Holdren had great admiration for Harrison Brown, referring to his book The Challenge of Man's Future as being prescient, saying of it:

"The elementary but discomfiting truth of it may account for the vast amount of ink, paper, and angry energy that has been expended trying in vain to refute it."[17]

During his high school years Holdren states that his reading of Brown's book, The Challenge of Man's Future initiated a preoccupation with "the great problems at the intersection of science and technology with the human condition—and with the interconnectedness of these problems with each other".[4] Much of this book surveys in great detail the "challenges" in our future, all of which serves as a set-up for the solution, which is to stop growth and limit the population.[18]

In the footnotes of a speech he delivered to the American Association for the Advancement of Science on Feb. 16, 2007, Holdren wrote:

"I owe thanks for insight and inspiration to several late mentors (among them Harrison Brown, Roger Revelle, Gilbert White, Jerome Wiesner, Harvey Brooks, and Joseph Rotblat)..."[17]

Holdren has co-edited a book entitled Earth and the Human Future: Essays in Honor of Harrison Brown with Kirk Smith and Fereidun Fesharaki.

Cold War Politics

On Jan. 18, 2009 in an article entitled "Questions for Obama's science guy" by Jeff Jacoby in the Boston Globe, it was stated that,

"Holdren opposed the Reagan administration's military buildup in the 1980s for fear it might "increase the belligerency of the Soviet government." He pooh-poohed any notion that "the strain of an accelerated arms race will do more damage to the Soviet economy than to our own." But that is exactly what happened, and President Reagan's defense buildup helped win the Cold War."[19]

Soviet visit

In the 1980s, David W. Hafemeister was involved in numerous exchanges with Soviet scientists, making his 'professional life more exciting as a result".

Hafemeister first met Evgeny P. Velikhov, the Soviet Academy's then vice president for applied physics and mathematics, at a meeting of the International Physicians for Social Responsibility in the summer of of 1983. Earlier in that year, a group of Soviet academics had sent an open letter to US scientists, asking whether, in the light of president Reagan's "Star Wars" speech of March 1983, there had been a change in the professional consensus in the US, regarding the feasibility of effective missile defenses.

Only the Federation of American Scientists responded directly and were invited by Velikhov to visit the Soviet Union. Despite a partial boycott on bilateral scientific contacts, which the federation had joined mainly because of the soviet government's treatment of Andrei Sakharov, the group decided to accept Velikhov's invitation.

In November, the federation sent a party to the USSR, which included FAS president Jeremy Stone, John Pike of the FAS staff, John Holdren, University of California - Berkeley and FAS vice chairman and FAS chairman David W. Hafemeister.

Velikhov told Hafemeister, that the reason he decided to organize the Committee of Soviet Scientists was to educate a new generation of Soviet Scientists, including himself, about nuclear arms control and to re-open the US-Soviet dialog on strategic defense with the roles reversed.

Now it would be the Soviet scientists who would try to convince the the US government, with US scientists as intermediaries that the pursuit of ballistic missile defenses would be counterproductive.[20]

Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists

As at April 1984, John Holdren served on the Board of Editors for The Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists journal.[21]

Federation of American Scientists

In 1986, Holdren was immediate past chairman of the Federation of American Scientists.[22]

In 2009 John Holdren served on the Board of Sponsors of the Federation of American Scientists.[23]

Pugwash Conference

Participants at the 13th Pugwash Workshop

As at October 1986, Holdren was listed as a member of the executive committee of the Pugwash Conference. Other members of the committee were: Bernard Feld, Professor F. Calogero, Dr. E. E. Galal, Professor Dorothy Hodgkin, Dr. M. M. Kaplan, Academician M. A. Markov, Professor M. Nalecz, Professor J. Rotblat and Dr. M. S. Wionczek.

Holdren also attended the 13th Pugwash Workshop on Nuclear Forces.[24]

In 1988 John Holdren was listed as serving on the Council of the Pugwash Conferences on Science and World Affairs.[25]

Professor of Environmental Policy

The Teresa and H. John Heinz III Foundation endows a chair in environmental policy at the Harvard University John F. Kennedy School of Government. Holdren is the current Teresa and John Heinz Professor of Environmental Policy. He is also affiliated with the School's Center for Science and International Affairs (CSIA), the director of the Program on Science, Technology, and Public Policy in the John F. Kennedy School of Government, and Professor of Environmental Science and Public Policy in the Department of Earth and Planetary Sciences.[26]

Trustee for the MacArthur Foundation

For fourteen years, from 1991 to 2005, Holdren served as a member of the Board of Trustees of the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation, where he helped,

"shape that foundation’s programs on international peace and cooperation, environment, and population."[27]

The MacArthur Foundation is one of the ten largest private philanthropic foundations in the United States and supports hundreds of leftist organizations, particularly environmentalist groups. In 2005 it awarded $161,386,101 in grants to the organizations it was funding.[28] Between 2007 and 2010, it granted $51,696,000 to the area of "Population & Reproductive Health" and $64,390,000 to the area of "Conservation & Sustainable Development", coming to almost 18% of their total grants within this time period ($651,840,190).[29]

Fellow at the MacArthur Foundation

In December, 1981 Holdren, then an Arms Control and Energy Analyst was made a fellow of the MacArthur Foundation.[30] Marine Biologist, Jane Lubchenco was also made a fellow at the Foundation, in July, 1993.[31]

Letter to Presidents Yeltsin and Clinton

On June 1, 1997, John Holdren and Evgeny Velikhov wrote a letter to Presidents Boris Yeltsin and Bill Clinton.[32]

By John P. Holdren, Former Director and Faculty Chair, Science, Technology and Public Policy Program and Evgeny Velikhov

We respectfully submit the Final Report of the U.S.-Russian Independent Scientific Commission on Disposition of Excess Weapons Plutonium. We strongly urge that the U.S. and Russian governments, with support and cooperation from the international community, take additional steps - beyond those already underway - to more rapidly reduce the security risks posed by excess weapons plutonium, ensuring that this material will never again be returned to nuclear weapons. Our report recommends specific steps to meet this objective, including the technologies that can be used, a step-by-step plan of action for bringing these technologies into operation as rapidly as practicable, an international cooperative approach to financing the program, and establishment of an international entity to coordinate the necessary financing and implement the effort.

American Association for the Advancement of Science

From 2006 - 2007, Holdren served as the president of the American Association for the Advancement of Science.[33]

Appointment as Obama's Science Czar

John Holdren and President Barack Obama

In his weekly address late in December 2008, President Barack Obama announced that he had chosen Dr. John Holdren to be his assistant for Science and Technology, and Dr. Holdren was instated to the position in March.[34]

At the Association for the Advancement of Science Annual Meeting, President of the MacArthur Foundation, Jonathan Fanton stated,

"We are proud that our former trustee, John Holdren, who did so much to elevate science at MacArthur, is now the President’s Science Advisor and that MacArthur Fellow Jane Lubchenco is Administrator of the NOAA."[35]

Holdren also serves as a co-chair on the President's Committee of Advisors on Science and Technology alongside Eric Lander and Harold Varmus.[36] Holdren also served on PCAST in the Clinton administration from 1994 - 2001.[27]

Woods Hole Research Center

As at Feb. 1, 2010, Holdren served on the Board of Directors of the Woods Hole Research Center based in Woods Hole, Massachusetts.[37] The Woods Hole Research Center is an independent, nonprofit institute focused on environmental science, education, and public policy.


  1. 1.0 1.1 John P. Holdren, Curriculum Vitae
  2. Ecoscience (1977), page 944.
  3. Belfer Center for Science and International Affairs: Holdren Named Obama's Science Advisor, Dec. 20, 2008
  4. 4.0 4.1 American Association for the Advancement of Science - Holdren's Presidential Address, Feb. 16, 2007
  5. Ecoscience (1977), page 838.
  7. Ecoscience (1977), page 837.
  8. Ecoscience (1977), page 786.
  9. Ecoscience (1977), page 787.
  10. Ecoscience (1977), page 787-8.
  11. Ecoscience (1977), page 838.
  12. The Washington Times: Population Czar, July 15, 2009
  13. Catholic News Agency: Obama’s science czar does not support coercive population control, spokesman says, July 15, 2009
  14. EWTN website:
  15. The Challenge of Man's Future by Harrison Brown, Page 104
  16. Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists Harrison Brown 1917 - 1986, March 1987 by John Holdren
  17. 17.0 17.1 American Association for the Advancement of Science - Holdren's Presidential Address, Feb. 16, 2007
  18. John Holdren and Harrison Brown
  19. Boston Globe: Questions for Obama's science guy, Jan. 18, 2009
  20. Physics and nuclear arms today By David W. Hafemeister, page 379
  21. Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists, Vol. 40, No. 4, April 1984, page 28
  22. Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists Mar 1987, page 3
  24. Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists, Vol. 42, No. 8., October 1986, page 2
  25. Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists Nov 1988, page 11
  26. Heinz website: Harvard chairs
  27. 27.0 27.1 WHRC website: Statement on Holdren's Appointment as Science Advisor, March 19, 2009
  28. Discover the Networks: The MacArthur Foundation
  29. MacArthur Foundation - Grant Map
  30. MacArthur Foundation - Fellows, Dec. 1981
  31. MacArthur Foundation - Fellows, July, 1993
  33. MacArthur Foundation: Report on Activities, 2005
  34. website
  35. MacArthur Foundation website: Association for the Advancement of Science Annual Meeting, Feb. 13, 2009
  36. Executive Office of the President website: PCAST members
  37. WHRC website: John Holdren biography