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Quick Hits: Biotech's-man-of-the-year Edition

Trying to get the print magazine out the door and all, so, alas, we'll have to make this extra brief:

* I'm still not sure what to think of Obama's pick for secretary of agriculture, Tom Vilsack, but here's some reaction: negative, positive, and in-between. Meanwhile, Michael Pollan, who would've preferred a subsidy-scrapping, industrial-farm-quashing 'secretary of food,' offers up his lukewarm reaction over at Salon.

* NASA's Gavin Schmidt has a very informative post at RealClimate interpreting the temperature data for 2008. Was this the coldest year of the century? Or was it warmer than any year in the 20th century save 1998? (Okay, it's both.) Bottom line: "Barring any large volcanic eruption, I don't see any reason for the decadal trends to depart much from the anticipated ~0.2C/decade."

* Uh, not good: The Arctic region is warming faster than many scientists had feared.

* James Kanter reports that the recent EU climate agreement was… a decidedly mixed success. The member countries stuck with the cap-and-trade system, and they may well meet their goal of 20 percent reductions by 2020, but industry lobbyist managed to preserve or widen a number of loopholes in the regime. Countries can still meet their targets by buying a hefty number of (potentially dubious) offsets abroad, and a large number of permits will be given away for free rather than auctioned off.

--Bradford Plumer