President-elect Barack Obama’s reported selection of Dr. Steven Chu as Secretary of Energy is a bold stroke to set the nation on the path to a clean energy economy. Chu, a Nobel Prize-winning physicist, is the sixth director of the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory, a Department of Energy-funded basic science research institution managed by the University of California. After moving to Berkeley Lab from Stanford University in 2004, Chu “has emerged internationally to champion science as society’s best defense against climate catastrophe.” As director, Chu has steered the direction of Berkeley Lab to addressing the climate crisis, pushing for breakthrough research in energy efficiency, solar energy, and biofuels technology.
At Berkeley Lab, Chu has won broad praise as an effective and inspirational leader. “When he was first here, he started giving talks about energy and production of energy,” Bob Jacobsen, a senior scientist at the Lawrence Berkeley Lab, told the San Francisco Chronicle in 2007. “He didn’t just present a problem. He told us what we could do. It was an energizing thing to see. He’s not a manager, he’s a leader.” In an interview with the Wonk Room, David Roland-Holst, an economist at the Center for Energy, Resources and Economic Sustainability at UC Berkeley, described Chu as a “very distinguished researcher” and “an extremely effective manager of cutting edge technology initiatives.” Roland-Holst praised Chu’s work at Lawrence Berkeley, saying “he has succeeded in reconfiguring it for a new generation of sustainable technology R&D, combining world class mainstream science with the latest initiatives in renewable energy and climate adaptation.”
The reality of past threats was apparent to everyone whereas the threat of global climate change is not so immediately apparent. Nonetheless, this threat has just got to be solved. We can’t fail. The fact that we have so many brilliant people working on the problem gives me great hope.
Chu’s leadership extends beyond this nation’s boundaries. As one of the 30 members of the Copenhagen Climate Council, Chu is part of an effort to spur the international community to have the “urgency to establish a global treaty by 2012 which is fit for the purpose of limiting global warming to 2ºC,” whose elements “must be agreed” at the Copenhagen summit in December, 2009.
Last year, Dr. Chu co-chaired a report on “the scientific consensus framework for directing global energy development” for the United Nations’ InterAcademy Council. Lighting the Way describes how developing nations can “‘leapfrog’ past the wasteful energy trajectory followed by today’s industrialized nations” by emphasizing energy efficiency and renewable energy.
It’s hard to decide if the selection of Dr. Chu is more remarkable for who he is — a Nobel laureate physicist and experienced public-sector administrator — or for who is not. Unlike previous secretaries of energy, he is neither a politician, oil man, military officer, lawyer, nor utility executive. His corporate ties are not to major industrial polluters but to advanced technology corporations like AT&T (where he began his Nobel-winning research) and Silicon Valley innovator Nvidia (where he sits on the board of directors). Chu is a man for the moment, and will be a singular addition to Obama’s Cabinet.
Daniel Weiss, a Senior Fellow and the Director of Climate Strategy at the Center for American Progress Action Fund, remarks:
The Secretary of Energy is one of the most challenging jobs in the U.S. Government. He will oversee the national energy labs, nuclear triggers on our missiles, clean up of contaminated nuclear sites, and research on fossil fuels and clean renewable energy. DOE oversees nuclear nonproliferation efforts as well as the disposal of nuclear waste. The next Energy Secretary will play a critical role in the design, adoption and implementation of any program to reduce global warming pollution.
Dr. Steven Chu has a unique set of qualifications to oversee the unruly Department of Energy –- physicist, energy lab manager, energy efficiency expert. What a contrast compared to President Bush’s first Secretary of Energy, Spencer Abraham, who was appointed even though he advocated eliminating DOE just a few years earlier. He will bring a scientific rigor to President-elect Obama’s clean energy and global warming agenda. Following on the heels of the anti-science Bush administration, its like going to Mensa after spending eight years in the flat earth society.
,In a presentation at this summer’s 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 is dedicated to fighting global warming:
,Climate Progress’s Joe Romm weighs in: “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.”
The Washington Post’s Al Kamen has the scoop that Carol Browner, the Clinton administration’s Environmental Protection Agency Administrator, has been tapped for a new position “as head of environmental, energy, climate and related matters” in President-elect Barack Obama’s White House. She may be heading a new National Energy Council, recommended in the the Center for American Progress Action Fund’s Change For America blueprint for the new administration, to drive “both policy and strategic options with respect to energy and climate change.”
On December 1, CAPAF hosted Browner, New York Times columnist Tom Friedman, and Gov. Ed Rendell (D-PA) for a lively discussion on the future of energy and environmental policy. In the question-and-answer period, Browner explained her view that government can spur economic growth by raising standards:
As a former regulator — and I can cite you any number of stories — when the government steps up and says there’s a requirement, that we’re going to have to take sulfur out of diesel fuel, you’re going to have to get rid of CFCs (chlorofluorocarbons) by a date certain, what the government is doing is creating a market opportunity.
American innovation and American ingenuity time and time again has risen to that challenge, and inevitably more quickly and at less cost than was anticipated.
And so, while the governor has been talking very importantly about how we need to make investments, those investments, when they are partnered with a government requirement — a regulation that we’re going to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, that we’re going to reduce this climate pollutant — the upside is phenomenal, more than we can possibly imagine in this room.
Browner’s view that higher standards build economic growth has proven to be true. A study of California’s green economy found that its “energy-efficiency policies created nearly 1.5 million jobs from 1977 to 2007″ and grew the economy by $45 billion without any growth in per-capita electricity use. Writing in favor of strong global warming standards, Hank Ryan, chair of the California Small Business Association, explains that energy regulations have given “California small businesses a competitive edge over their counterparts in other states because while they’re wasting money on inefficiency, we’re spending it on employees, building a better product, advertising, and capital improvements.”
If you thought you’ve heard it all before, you are so, so naive. In an unintentionally brilliant parody of The Onion, a major coal industry front group has put online what I can only describe as pagan greenwashing, “America’s Power Clean Coal Carolers“ — something guaranteed to offend everybody.
Yes, lumps of coal are singing the most grotesque and bastardized version of beloved Christmas carols:
Frosty the coal man is a jolly happy soul…
There must be magic in clean coal technology
For when they looked for pollutants
There was nearly none to see.
And this is the least offsensive one. Note to industry: Clean coal is magical in the way Harry Potter is magical — neither of them exist in the real world. That’s why you can’t see the pollutants, the power plants are invisible themselves.
In the twisted minds of the industry Mad Men who put this together, it makes perfect sense to turn songs about the birth of Jesus into songs about “clean coal.”
And yes, each of the carolers has a name and an attitude, just like the Spice Girls, if the Spice Girls were a leading cause of cardiopulmonary illness, that is. My favorite is Tiffany. I think I love her, cough, cough.
I’d say clean coal had jumped the shark, but I think you have to actually exist first before you can become self-parody. Perhaps I need to add a new Climate Progress category for “unintentional humor.” And isn’t putting a lump of coal in a stocking how we used to punish children? Read more
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”:
[I am reprinting this post from the Center for American Progress. I welcome your tips for greener gift-giving. I especially like #7 and #8 below (donating to charity):I recommend sponsoring a child at Orphans International.And if you do order a gift online, use ground transport, not overnight air.]
The holidays are approaching quickly, and if you’re like many Americans, you’re dreading long lines at department stores and spending wads of cash on stuff you’re not even sure will be as much as glanced at after Christmas morning. With a recession in full swing and another year of inaction on climate change behind us, employing practical, environmentally conscious shopping techniques can keep more money in your wallet while also taking action on a serious problem–and it’ll be good for your blood pressure, too.
Americans generate tons of trash during the holidays. Waste stream volume increases by 25 percent during the season, much of which is recyclable packaging and wrapping paper. It’s the time of the year when overconsumption is acceptable and encouraged, but in these economic times it seems that everyone is looking for ways to cut back on spending without cutting down on joy.
With that in mind, we’ve compiled 10 easy ways to simplify, reduce, reuse, and delight gift recipients without breaking the bank.
1. Bake, cook, or give a consumable gift. Cookies, sweets, preserves, or jams that you make come packaged with an extra dose of love. If you’re not the domestic type, find a special fair trade coffee, make your own tea kit, get a gift subscription–slightly pricier–to a food of the month club (bacon, wine, or popcorn), or even find some organic booze. Beer, wine, and even liquor come in recyclable containers and can make for priceless memories.
Is it time to get arrested to send an urgent message about preserving the health and well-being of the next 50 generations to warm the planet?
Two of America’s leading men of letters, Wendell Berry and Bill McKibben, have written an urgent open letter to all Americans saying “yes” [my thoughts at the end]:
There are moments in a nation’s–and a planet’s–history when it may be necessary for some to break the law in order to bear witness to an evil, bring it to wider attention, and push for its correction. We think such a time has arrived, and we are writing to say that we hope some of you will join us in Washington D.C. on Monday March 2 in order to take part in a civil act of civil disobedience outside a coal-fired power plant near Capitol Hill.
President-elect Barack Obama is expected to announce — perhaps as early as Wednesday — that Clinton administration Environmental Protection Agency chief Carol Browner will take a new White House position as head of environmental, energy, climate and related matters, according to Democratic sources.
Now a principal at The Albright Group, a “global strategy firm” founded by former secretary of state Madeleine Albright, Browner was the longest-serving administrator in EPA history.
Browner is first rate, and she definitely gets the climate issue. She is a board member of the Center for American Progress, and I recently introduced her at a CAP event (click here) that provides some insight into her thinking.
I can’t tell from this story whether the White House has embraced some sort of National Energy and Climate Council, but that would be a terrific idea. This may well make the secretary of energy job less attractive to a big-name player, which actually would be fine with me, since some of the “big” names floated, like Duke CEO Jim Rogers or T. Boone Pickens would be terrible. More on this as details emerge.
Edited by Joe Romm, we cover climate science, solutions and politics. Columnist Tom Friedman calls us "the indispensable blog" and Time magazine named us one of the 25 "Best Blogs of 2010." Newcomers, start here.