Energy Secretary Steven Chu: ‘It Saddens Me’ That Political Leaders Don’t Understand Climate Science

In order to be a viable Republican presidential candidate in 2012, denying the science of climate change is a must. With all the leading candidates attacking basic science in varying degrees, it’s not a surprise that our Nobel-Prize-winning Energy Secretary, Steven Chu, believes science education should be one of the nation’s top priorities.

In a speech this morning at the National Clean Energy Summit, Chu outlined three major policy needs to “move aggressively” to develop clean energy — with science and energy education being on the top of his wish list.

Although climate change did not actually come up in his speech, Chu spoke to Climate Progress afterward and lamented the manufactured political “debate” over climate change, saying that “it saddens me. And I think as a scientist you have to re-double your efforts.”

Steering clear of anything political when asked whether the GOP’s anti-science platform scared him, Chu simply used the opportunity to explain the basic physics of climate change, adding “it’s not rocket science.”

Watch it:

America, Chu says, is the only place in the world where there’s an actual “debate” over climate science. He blamed the confused political situation largely on the fossil fuel industry, which, he says, has been effective in sowing doubt and “who have an interest in seeing that action isn’t taken. This reminds me exactly of what we saw in the tobacco industry.”

His remarks came from separate audio and video interviews at the National Clean Energy Summit.

It doesn’t take an accomplished physicist and Nobel Prize winner to notice that something is wrong. But at a time when uttering the word “climate” in Washington is anathema, it’s a good thing we have someone leading the Energy Department who isn’t afraid to talk about the issue.

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28 Responses to Energy Secretary Steven Chu: ‘It Saddens Me’ That Political Leaders Don’t Understand Climate Science

  1. Dill Weed says:

    I wasn’t aware of Chu’s anti-cheese cake agenda.

  2. LP says:

    Let’s call a spade a spade here:

    This isn’t about ignorance or some innocent lack of understanding – this is about full-fledged CORRUPTION.

    These people are clearly only interested in representing the interests of Big Oil and the various Republican plutocrats and oligarchs who make their money off the status quo.

    They know what they’re doing, and they’re simply feigning ignorance to appeal to the unfortunate ignorant masses they exploit in order to further their agenda.

    We don’t need to do a better job teaching them – we need to take them to court and educate THE JURY on how blatantly these crooks are committing premeditated crimes against humanity.

  3. Jeff Huggins says:

    I Don’t Get It, and A Question For Stephen

    Stephen, you end your piece with this statement: “But at a time when uttering the word ‘climate’ in Washington is anathema, it’s a good thing we have someone leading the Energy Department who isn’t afraid to talk about the issue.”

    I’m reminded of the great Bob Dylan lyric, “When you asked how I was doing, was that some kind of joke?” (Desolation Row)

    May I ask, was your closing comment a joke? You yourself pointed out that Steven Chu — his appointment made me hopeful, but not any more — … that “climate change did not actually come up in his speech.”

    My goodness. The Obama Administration (and Steven Chu is a part of it) has been silent and hesitant about climate change to the point of negligence, and certainly relative to what they should be doing. I enjoy your writing, and most of your posts, but I must ask, are we on different planets? Should we be thankful that Steven Chu occupies that role, or should (at this point) we be demanding — yelling on the streets! — that Steven and Obama and the Administration and the entire Democratic party speak up strongly and vigorously about the climate problem, the need for clean energy, the relationship between a shift to clean energy and jobs, climate change as an ethical issue, and so forth. They have been like lambs, not leaders. Am I wrong?

    This type of thing has me wondering — I must be honest: Is there some access-oriented reason (as with other media) that you are so complimentary towards Dr. Chu? Dr. Chu and President Obama are failing, dismally, relative to what they should have done and should be doing regarding climate change. What am I missing?

    Thanks, Jeff

  4. Stephen Lacey says:

    Hi Jeff —
    I can assure you, that last comment had nothing to do with “access.” As someone who has been very vocal about climate change while in at the DOE, I think that Steven Chu has been better about raising awareness of these issues than a lot of people in government. And he’s stuck to his guns around the need to develop clean energy for that reason, and many others.

    When I try to get interviews with political leaders and can’t get them to talk on the record about questions related to climate change, that’s a big concern. That statement was a reflection of the fact that Secretary Chu is actually still talking about the issue.

  5. Rabid Doomsayer says:

    Yes We Ca…could have but it was a bit hard.

    The political opposition to Obama may have been the worst ever in American Politics. for every step he took towards cooperation, the Republicans took two steps away.

    However, he has done nothing to take the fight to them. By being utterly obstinate, they have achieved a more republican adenda than if they had beeen in power.

    We have utter denial of science on one side and near silence on the other. The vision in politics is gone, replaced by political marketing

  6. Peter Mizla says:

    Chu’s delivery style here seems hesitant and cowering- is he any more confident then his boss to convey a sense of urgency we face as a civilization?

  7. Bill T. says:

    A debate with people who truly believe the world is flat is not a debate. It’s like trying to explain alternate side parking to a German shepherd.

  8. SleepCat says:


  9. V says:

    I concur with Mr. Huggins. Persons in leadership positions within our government who are conscious of this problem but fail to act with conviction and determination to address it are as complicit in the resulting damages as those who are either too ignorant or too foolish to act at all. That fact is true for us all, but doubly true for those in power.

  10. Jeff Huggins says:

    Hi Stephen, and thanks for your comment. I didn’t actually think, of course, that access had anything to do with it. I posed that question, that possibility, out of frustration. The larger issue is this — and your response doesn’t really address it: The entire Obama Administration, Dr. Chu included (and in a presumably key role), has been dropping the ball … failing … not only with what they’ve accomplished with respect to climate change, but also in terms of how hard they (haven’t) tried. It’s shocking. As far as I can tell, Joe knows it, Hansen knows it, McKibben knows it, and so forth. So I don’t, for the life of me, understand what we are patting people on the back about? Dr. Chu makes some comments in small one-on-one interviews? Great. But why can’t, and hasn’t, he compelled Obama to use the bully pulpit, talk clearly to the public, and say ‘no’, proactively, to the darn Keystone XL thing? Our leaders are not being leaders. They’re more like lambs than leaders. And we’re thanking them?



  11. Pangolin says:

    I think politicians DO understand climate science. They understand that to get back to a stable cimate we have to stop burning virtually ALL fossil fuels.

    They also understand that U.S. voters have been raised on promises of cheap gas, free beer and endless pie from politicians and aren’t interested in hearing them say they have to join reality.

    When congressmen get dumped on climate politics there will be a 180 degree reversal.

  12. Joe Romm says:

    Well, I think he’s trying not to make news, and trying not to insert himself between the feuding Republicans, if I had to guess.

  13. Carl Willis says:

    The right wing could desperately use a basic high-school education in science (history, arithmetic, social skills, etc.), but I don’t attribute the climate “debate,” or the various other counter-factual planks in the tea-party platform, to their poor education. After all, formal qualifications for holding elected office are non-existent and thus there’s never been reason to entrust ANYONE in that job with determining matters of fact in expert fields. A politician’s role in government is to accept the relevant facts as qualified bodies have assessed them, and use sound judgment to improve the public good through legislation. And that is what ails contemporary Republican Party politicians more than anything else–the supremely POOR JUDGMENT to think that their role is to decide for themselves what the facts are. The problem is bad judgment, not education.

  14. Shaheer says:

    It saddens Chu.

    It kills me.

  15. Armando A. Gomez says:

    This is about full-fledged CORRUPTION.

    LP, you hit the nail right on the head. To those who publicly deny the existence of Climate Chance or Global Warming, they know what they are doing, as well as, what they are saying. There is big money in denying that our climate is changing due to man’s ministrations. These pigs don’t care how many people get hurt or killed by climate change—as long as they are rewarded by the Big Gas, Big Coal and Big Fat Oil. It too bad that Obama got along on that route. He reversed the offshore oil drilling ban right after that titanic oil blowout at the gulf coast. In short, sir, we got our jobs cut out for us in getting the general public to understand about the short and long term effects of global warming. And along with the CORRUPTION in Congress, the mainstream media aren’t being helpful in this matter, refusing to refute those who oppose the existence of climate change. They, too, are in the pockets of the energy corporations.

  16. “It saddens me” is an appropriate sentiment. The audacity of some in this country to believe their opinion is more valid than years and decades of dedicated work by climate scientists. It is sad. It is also maddening. Science is the only means we have as the human race of finding answers to questions and understanding more about the world we live in. This anti-science crowd relies on science every day of their lives but are oblivious and take it for granted. They don’t dismiss the science of a medical procedure they need to have done but they find it easy to dismiss the science of climate change

  17. Fritz says:

    In the coming years I think we’re going to see a shift in the narrative from climate change denial to (tragically) “it doesn’t matter, who cares about polar bears I want cheap gas.”

    Both parties are beholden to the energy industry. But now it’s probably already too late. The time for action was ten years ago.

  18. Hot Rod says:

    The idea that America is the only place in the world where climate science is debated, and that is because of Big Oil hijacking, is absurd.

    The possible impacts of AGW, and what global and local policies should be pursued, are debated everywhere.

    [JR: But it is only in the land of Big Oil and Murdoch where hard-core denial has captured a major political party.]

  19. RiyazGuerra says:

    We need all the sane and normally respected members of our society to vocally affirm the strength of the argument for climate change.

    We also need the same people to call out the deceptions of the climate denier faction’s arguments.

    An idea for an ad would be to take respected world leaders, or Nobel Prize winning scientists from around the world, and have them all comment on…

    A. The legitimacy of climate change science

    B. The extent of consensus in the scientific community in their country.

    C. The extent of the acceptance of climate change among the citizens of their country.

    D. The strange political, manufactured debate only found in the US and as to the reasons why they think such a strange debate unfolded in the US.

    This would be a good way to give this deniers in this country some needed perspective on how fringe their beliefs truly are relative to the rest of the world.

  20. Sasparilla says:

    Chu is a good man. He’s obviously not talking about climate change because he’s been ordered by the administration not to bring it up – that’s how you get a speech at the National Clean Energy Summit that doesn’t talk about climate change.

    Unfortunately the traction that people like Chu and Holdren have within the administration regarding policy and climate change appears to be rather small.

    We don’t need the Republicans for the Administration to make the wrong policy choices for climate change (approved 1st tar sands pipeline in 2009, expanded coal production on public lands, arctic oil production and on and on) – President Obama has chosen those things all by himself (not the Republicans).

  21. John McCormick says:

    Rabid: “”We have utter denial of science on one side and near silence on the other.”

    And, we are about14 months from utter destruction when, in November 2012, the rethugs win the White House and the Senate. Well be down to clinging to Senate dems fillibustering repeal of the Voting Rights Act, the Civil Rights Act, elimination of EPA and NOAA and overturning Roe v Wade.

    And those captialist pig rethugs will be in power til 2020 and maybe longer. But, we boomers will still get our monthly SS and pension checks and wonder how we are going to grow our 401K. Yes, we are passengers on a ship of fools.

    Very dark days ahead.

  22. SecularAnimist says:

    It saddens ME that Secretary Chu apparently doesn’t understand climate science either, based on his support for the Keystone XL pipeline and extracting oil from Canadian tar sands to address “energy security concerns”, as expressed in another recent interview:

    It’s hard to know which is worse: Republican politicians who pretend they “don’t believe” in global warming to justify opposing any efforts to reduce fossil fuel use, or a Democratic administration that claims to “believe” the science but continues aggressively expanding the use of fossil fuels anyway.

  23. Betsy Blake Bennett says:

    It’s absurd that the Secretary of Energy makes this sort of speech without mentioning climate change, just as it’s absurd that the President talked about the State of Union without mentioning it, it’s absurd that the discussions about the future of our economy mention fossil fuel prices but rarely mention climate change per se, etc.
    For an administration made up of people who know the basic facts about climate change perfectly well, it’s a classic elephant-in-the-room situation; everyone is too afraid of conflict and alienating the big money to speak the truth. Our children’s and grandchildren’s future — and our present to a lesser degree — has been sacrificed for this!
    “This is the way the world ends, not with a bang but a whimper.”

  24. Chris Winter says:

    There’s a very interesting article on this summer’s weather in Texas. Posted in the Houston Chronicle’s Climate Abyss blog by John Nielsen-Gammon. Check the location of that 2011 data point.

    (h/t: “Only In It for the Gold”)

  25. Jeffrey Davis says:

    It saddens me that public intellectuals won’t call out criminals and thugs. A little late in the game for euphemisms, don’t you think?

  26. Timeslayer says:

    @Hot Rod, #13 –

    Regarding your suggestion that Americans understand the threat of climate change just as well as people in other countries:

    According to this Nielsen global survey, only 48% of Americans are “concerned” about climate change, compared to 69% of people living in all countries in the survey.

    68% of Europeans are concerned. That 20 percentage point difference between us and the rest of the world represents our profound and shameful ignorance on what most of us here understand to be the most serious challenge humanity has ever faced.


  27. Robert In New Orleans says:

    What or whom is Chu afraid of?

  28. NJP1 says:

    Nothing can stop climate change/global warming because we have locked ourselves into the fuel-burning commercial system that created it in the first place. Virtually all our jobs depend on burning fossil fuel, and so we’re going to carry on heating the planet. That is where we are right now, we look on excess as a right, nobody really wants to know. If your job, or my job hangs on altering the economy to alleviate climate change—are you really going to surrender your means of sustenance? Thought not..
    We’ve got used to cheap oil, cheap food, and flat earth economics where ‘growth’ can go on forever. we will not stop until something bigger than that ‘commercial system’ stops us in our tracks. That something is exploding population and starvation. But isn’t there enough to feed everybody? No, because our food supply is 99% dependent on oil input, and as oil declines so will food supplies. For the moment we still enjoy a high standard of living and we’re not going to willingly reduce ourselves to a median level so that millions in Africa won’t starve to death. It’s cruel and unfair, but I’m just pointing out the facts of human nature, and the future we’re headed for. I don’t pretend to be able to change it.