Speaking in his weekly radio and video address, Obama said: "Today, more than ever before, science holds the key to our survival as a planet and our security and prosperity as a nation. It’s time we once again put science at the top of our agenda and worked to restore America’s place as the world leader in science and technology."
Holdren, a former president of the American Association for the Advancement of Science, will head the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy.
Environmentalists praised the decision. Former UK chief government scientific advisor, Sir David King, told the Observer newspaper: "This is a superb appointment. Holdren is a top-rate scientist and his position on climate change is as clear as you could get. This is a signal from Barack Obama that he means business when it comes to dealing with global warming."
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