No. 1: ‘It’s not guaranteed we have a solution for coal’
Obama formally named Steven Chu his nominee for energy secretary at a press conference Monday afternoon. Here are the top five reasons he is one of the best cabinet picks in recent memory:
5. His “views on climate change would be among the most forceful ever held by a cabinet member.” He said last year, scientists had come to “realize that the climate is much more sensitive than we thought” (see Scientists are Underestimating Climate Change, Part I). He said people who said they were uncertain whether climate change is being caused by humans were “reminiscent of the dialogue in the 1950s and ’60s on tobacco.” In a speech earlier this year, he said that climate change of the scale we face “will cause enormous resource wars, over water, arable land, and massive population displacements … We’re talking about hundreds of millions to billions of people being flooded out, permanently.”
4. As a Chinese American and Nobel Prize winner, he will be uniquely poised to help enable the crucial energy and climate negotiations the Obama team must undertake immediately with the world’s other big emitter. The AP reports from China:
China’s media are cheering President-elect Barack Obama’s pick of Chinese-American Steven Chu for the post of U.S. energy secretary, saying it bodes well for future cooperation between the two countries.
Photographs of Chu, who was born in St. Louis to Chinese parents, were printed on the front pages of major newspapers Friday, illustrating the pride China takes in the achievements of the vast Chinese diaspora.
The state-owned China Daily cited Chinese academics as saying Chu’s ethnic background would ease cooperation between China and the U.S.
“Chu’s presence will make the cooperation smoother,” it cited Tsinghua University scholar Zhou Shijian as saying.
3. He has experience running a major DOE lab, Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory, so he knows the archaic and bureaucratic DOE system well. When I came to DOE in the summer of 1993, it took me over a year to figure out how to really get things done. He will have a huge head start over any energy secretary in recent memory.
2. The lab he runs is responsible for developing the technologies that have paid for all the clean energy research the tax payers have ever supported. So while even the most knowledgeable clean energy experts focus too much on supply side solutions, Chu will ensure efficiency gets the equal time it deserves.
If coal is to stay part of the world’s energy mix, he says, clean-coal technologies must be developed. But he’s not very optimistic: “It’s not guaranteed we have a solution for coal,” he concluded, given the sheer scope of the challenge of economically storing billions of tons of carbon dioxide emissions underground.
Worried about radioactivity? Coal’s still your bogeyman. Dr. Chu says a typical coal plant emits 100 times more radiation than a nuclear plant, given the flyash emissions of radioactive particles.
For the foreseeable future — and perhaps beyond that — we will have to tackle the climate challenge without carbon capture. Fortunately we can — and even more fortunately, we finally have an energy secretary who understands that.