A Nobelist for Energy Secretary who gets both climate and energy efficiency?, I’m not talking Al Gore. The big buzz is about Dr. Steven Chu, the Nobel laureate director of the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory.

He would be a terrific choice for many reasons, as the Wonk Room has already noted, see Energy Secretary Contender Dr. Steven Chu: Transform The Energy Landscape To Save ‘A Beautiful Planet’.

I would add that the Department of Energy is probably the most science and technology intensive of all federal agencies, since it does far more than oversee the nation’s applied energy R&D programs.

The DOE oversees all of the national laboratories and many of the major physics labs. Chu not only has experience running a major federal science lab, the lab he runs is actually responsible for developing the technologies that have paid for all the clean energy research the tax payers have ever supported (see Energy efficiency, Part 5: The highest documented rate of return of any federal program).

And Chu definitely gets the urgent need to act on global warming. We were both speakers at an all day symposium to honor California Energy Commissioner Art Rosenfeld on the occasion of Art’s 80th birthday.

Click here if you want to see the video of his talk (he’s in Session Three). You’ll also see what is arguably the funniest talk I’ve ever given, if explaining how unlikely it is that we are going to avert catastrophic global warming can be funny.

As WonkRoom notes, in a “National Clean Energy Summit convened by the University of Nevada Las Vegas, Sen. Harry Reid (D-NV), and the Center for American Progress Action Fund, Dr. Chu described why he has moved from his background in experimental quantum physics to tackling global warming”:

Consider this. There’s about a 50 percent chance, the climate experts tell us, that in this century we will go up in temperature by three degrees Centigrade. Now, three degrees Centigrade doesn’t seem a lot to you, that’s 11° F. Chicago changes by 30° F in half a day. But 5° C means that … it’s the difference between where we are today and where we were in the last ice age. What did that mean? Canada, the United States down to Ohio and Pennsylvania, was covered in ice year round.

Five degrees Centigrade.

So think about what 5° C will mean going the other way. A very different world. So if you’d want that for your kids and grandkids, we can continue what we’re doing. Climate change of that scale will cause enormous resource wars, over water, arable land, and massive population displacements. We’re not talking about ten thousand people. We’re not talking about ten million people, we’re talking about hundreds of millions to billions of people being flooded out, permanently.

OK — Chu makes the same incredibly common mistake that even climate scientists like Lonnie Thompson do (see Another climate impact comes faster than predicted: Himalayan glaciers “decapitated”).

The climate experts (i.e. the IPCC reports) do not project a 50 percent chance of 3°C of warming by 2100. They project a range of warming that depends primarily on whether and how fast humanity reduces projected emissions. The 3°C figure is just the mid-range warming if humanity somehow achieves the amazing goal of stabilizing at 550 ppm this century.

On the current path of unrestricted emissions — a rate of increase in CO2 faster than even the most pessimistic IPCC scenariothe IPCC projects total warming at the surface would likely exceed 5°. And that, of course, assumes the IPCC models don’t in general underestimate future impacts or the climate’s true sensitivity, which all evidence suggests that they do (see “Scientists are Underestimating Climate Change, Part I” and “Stabilize at 350 ppm or risk ice-free planet, warn NASA, Yale, Sheffield, Versailles, Boston et al“). But I digress.

Chu would be a great choice.

And since he is a hardcore science and cleantech guy, he would be a perfect complement for the new point person at the White House on energy and climate — Carol Browner.

22 Responses to A Nobelist for Energy Secretary who gets both climate and energy efficiency?

  1. max says:

    From what I know of his work, he would be a fabulous choice for Energy Secretary!

  2. This would be an awesome frakking appointment! Imagine… an administration that hires brilliant, talented people.

  3. max says:

    Another good choice-not for Energy Secretary, but for promoting cellulosic biofuels in the administration-would be Chris Somerville.

  4. Dano says:

    Wow. More smart people in the administration. No one could have predicted….



  5. Brendan says:

    I heard him talk at the University of Rochester. I sadly didn’t get to stay for all of it, but he gave a good talk from what I saw.

  6. jcwinnie says:

    That would be the LBNL (Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory) director, who recently accepted a $500 million grant from British Petroleum to develop biofuels from “alternative” sources, right?

    It may Chu 2 U, but it’s socket ( 2 me, Jo-Jo.

  7. Rick C says:

    Sign him up!

  8. Joe says:

    JCW — The money goes toward advanced low carbon cellulosic biofuels, so I can’t really lose a lot of sleep over it.

  9. David B. Benson says:

    Joe — That’s low fossil carbon.

    All biofuels contain carbon; its just not fossil carbon.

  10. Joe says:

    David — the general rule in such matters is corrections are only useful if they clarify something that lacks clarity.

    The general usage here is that low carbon means “low net carbon.” Indeed, I was being redundant as it was by sticking in cellulosic. So, no, I don’t think one has to say fossil here.

  11. David B. Benson says:

    Joe — Biochar, in the traditional form of charcoal, is about as close to 100% carbon as it is easy to create. It will, of course, produce a nice fire, just as it has for humans for at least hundreds of thousands of years.

    But it is not fossil carbon.

    Biuomathane is easy to obtain from animal (including human) wastes. It is 12 parts carbon to 4 parts hydrogen, being, in effect, very high grade natural gas. Already it some U.S. and German localities it is being introduced into the natural gas pipelines as a biofuel addition.

    But the carbon is not fossil carbon.

    Obviously niether of my examples are ‘low net carbon’. But both are extremely low net fossil carbon. Sorry, but accuracy in this matter is going to become increasingly important. Already I see many commenters, not here, who are confused between the difference between biologivcal carbon and fossil carbon, because the difference in source is not sufficiently emphasized.

    Stated otherwise, climate science is actually quite hard and in any case insufficiently taught and learned by ‘intelligent laymen’. Failing to distinguish between the active carbon cycle and fossil sources does not help matters.

    [JR: You are making this WAY too hard. Neither of your relatively obscure examples are very germane. My usage is quite standard. Sorry.]

  12. jcwinnie says:

    “The industry claim that there is something called “clean coal” is, put simply, a lie. But it’s a lie told with tens of millions of dollars.”

    What do you mean, 10s, Bill McKibben? Try 100s.

    And, Benson, could you take over for Governor Rod, please.
    Thank Q.

  13. Bob Wright says:

    The Senate Republicans have put togther quite a list (400) of deniers or bone pickers with impressive sounding credentials. It will be hard to move ahead with these guys’ opinions “validating” non-action. I hear the list is expanding from 400 to 600 for a Poznan protest document. Watts-up-with-that? LOL

  14. jcwinnie says:

    While not a Nobel Laureate, Bush’s sycophant Johnson was a scientist.

    Okefenokee, JR, Bama won. Thank the FSM! And, there is a member of the cabinet of Asian ancestry, excellent!

    OTOH, follow pretzel logic, plz.

    Millions of gallons leaking from oil sands tailings ponds daily.
    BP is in the oil sands.
    BP uses Fischer-Tropsch.
    The EPA (Business Protection Agency) is part of DoE.
    DoE does Next Gen.
    Vat Chu Vant sez there’s more to l-earn about alternative energy.

    Q.E.D.*, we are farked.

    * Which I think is Latin for “Git outta dee road, Tar Sand Biatch.”

    [JCW: You are jumping the shark here, analogizing Chu with Johnson. Mellow out!]

  15. Jim W says:

    I’m all for this appointment, but I had to laugh at this quote from Dr. Chu’s presentation to the Clean Energy Summit at Las Vegas

    “Now, three degrees Centigrade doesn’t seem a lot to you, that’s 11° F.”

    Anyone care to check the math on that?

  16. David B. Benson says:

    jcwinnie — No, I’d have to move to Illinois.

    Joe — It is unfortunate that you find biomethane ‘obscure’ as we’ll be seeing quite a bit more in the future. Aa another example, a municipality in The Netherlands produces enough for a CNG vehicle filling station down by the docks.
    Charcoal is certainly not obscure; many people in the world cook and heat with it. In the U.S. that’s only done on Saturday afternoons. :-)

    But let’s see: ethanol is 24 parts carbon to 22 parts oxygen and hydrogen. Seems to be more carbon than anything else.

    It is unfortunate that your usage is ‘standard’ since, as I stated, it is confusing, failing to distinguish between fossil source for the carbon versus biological source.

  17. Bob Wright says:

    How DO you classify ethanol?

    Its grown as a crop, BUT it actually takes slightly more fossil fuel energy to plow the field, make and apply the synthetic fertilzer, pick the corn, dispose of the stalks, ship the corn to the distillery, ferment it, distill it to 100% alcohol, dispose of the dirty fermentation waste, dry the mash and truck it to farmers, truck the ethanol to refineries… than it yields as a fuel.

    So its a fossil fuel! Or a transfer fuel from fossil to whatever. Stupid is whatever.

  18. David B. Benson says:

    Bob Wright — Unless it is made from sugar cane. Then it is much less dependent upon fossil fuel inputs: ‘low fossil carbon’ might be a suitable phrase.

  19. David B. Benson says:

    Anyway, butanol is a superior fuel due to higher energy denisty. It is 48 parts carbon to 26 parts oxygen and hydrogen, an even higher carbon ratio by weight.

  20. Cyril R. says:

    Advanced biofuels could grow very quickly if the corn ethanol subsidy is phased out over the next few years.

    Almost the exact opposite of what some pro corn ethanol people like to tell us, the corn ethanol subsidy actually hampers the adoption of more biofuels by making the market for biofuels lazy and distorted.

  21. John Mashey says:

    Note: the three degrees is *clearly* a slip-of-the-tongue, because the *slide* that he shows says 5 degrees consistently:,
    around 1:11.

    I don’t understand where the 11F came from.

  22. I love what Chu is doing for the our economy. I mean sure he’s raising taxes for some things, but it’s for the better of the present and the future. I want my grandchildren, children and great grand children to live. AMERICA I WANT YOU TO LISTEN UP!! WE NEED TO SAVE OUR COUNTRY, CONTINENT AND OUR WORLD!!!! PLEASE SUPPORT RECYCLING AND SPREAD THE WORD!!