Steven Chu
Steven Chu.

No, 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, but also 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.

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-Nev.), 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.

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. 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.

This post was created for ClimateProgress.org, a project of the Center for American Progress Action Fund.