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Mr. President: For Next Energy Czar, Choose More Carefully

Secretary Steven Chu’s replacement needs a practical approach to climate change and energy.

Tom Harris and Bryan Leyland


February 11, 2013 - 12:00 am
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President Barack Obama and the Senate must not repeat the mistake of choosing another climate activist for U.S. secretary of energy. Although well-qualified in his field of physics, outgoing Secretary Dr. Steven Chu brought a dangerously naïve vision of both climate change and America’s energy future to Washington.

Not a climate scientist himself, Chu had faith in the validity of Al Gore’s position on global warming, and even said just prior to becoming energy secretary: “Coal is my worst nightmare … there’s enough carbon in the ground to really cook us.” Such unscientific and biased comments should have immediately eliminated Chu from consideration for a Cabinet position.

As a professor of physics, he should have known that the idea that carbon dioxide (CO2) emitted from the combustion of coal and other hydrocarbon fuels is causing a climate crisis was, and still is, an unproven hypothesis, one that is appearing increasingly improbable as the world fails to warm as predicted. While we need to reduce real pollution where it is a problem, Chu must have known that CO2 is not a pollutant. It is essential to life on Earth, and its increasing concentration has led to greater agricultural productivity.

Chu should have also known that coal, properly mined, prepared, and used, is anything but a nightmare. Coal played a major role helping power America to prosperity and world leadership during the 20th century. It still provides about 50% of all electric power generated in the United States today. The U.S. has enough coal left in the ground to last for centuries. It is by far the least expensive source of power, and modern pollution control has made coal-fired electricity stations cleaner than ever before.

Even if Chu did not know these things before becoming Obama’s head on energy, he should have learned them on the job. Yet he maintained his climate activism and an often unrealistic approach to energy throughout his tenure as secretary. Even Chu’s February 1 resignation letter is riddled with sensationalism and basic errors. Here are some corrections to what he wrote to Department of Energy (DOE) staff in that letter:

– The world has not warmed for the last 16 years, and, according to the British Met office, temperatures will not rise until at least 2018, even though CO2 levels continue to rise quickly. If Chu really believes that “the final arbitrator of any point of view are experiments that seek the unbiased truth, not information cherry picked to support a particular point of view,” as he told DOE employees in his letter, then he must realize that the dangerous global warming hypothesis is disproved by such a long period of no warming.

– The incidence and severity of extreme weather events across the globe have not increased in recent decades, although damage costs have risen due to inflation and a massive increase in infrastructure over the past century. Chu seems unaware that the United Nations Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) now asserts that recent extreme weather events are not due to climate change.

– There is no convincing evidence that an “overwhelming scientific consensus” exists concerning the impact of human activities on climate. Also, any competent scientist should know that even if a consensus did exist, it has no significance. Science is about examining the evidence, not a majority vote. Unpopular minority views often prove to be correct. Consensus is all about politics, not science.

– Industrialized societies have no chance of successfully replacing significant amounts of conventional energy supplies with the wind and solar power promoted by Chu. We need a steady and reliable power supply to run steel mills, Internet servers, and our transportation system, not one that fails when the wind drops or a cloud passes in front of the sun. Trying to base a modern energy-intensive society on Chu’s favorite “sustainable energy sources” is not sustainable.

– “Energy independence” is not a good reason for these technologies either. Energy independence is more easily and cheaply attained by exploiting abundant national fossil fuel and uranium reserves and those of close allies such as Canada.

Secretary Chu’s resignation letter indicates that he still does not understand that plentiful, inexpensive, and reliable energy is the key to continued improvement in our economic and social well-being.

Currently, more than half the global population lacks access to adequate energy supplies for clean water, heat, and light. Each year, over 1.5 million people die from “energy poverty.” The International Energy Agency estimates that 2 billion people will be added to our numbers over the next 20 years, and largely thanks to the efforts of those who still believe that CO2 causes global warming, only 200 million of them will have access to electricity.

The UN human development index shows unambiguously that low-cost energy is the key to improving the quality of life across the world. Every ten-fold increase in electricity correlates with a ten-year increase in lifespans. Energy poverty will almost certainly be the greatest crisis humanity will face in the 21st century.

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