Who's Who on Obama's Green Team: Stephen Chu, Secretary of Energy

secretary of energy stephen chu photo
Now that all of President Obama's nominations for the top spots in his administration have been confirmed, at least the one's most capable of influencing green issues, it seems appropriate to create a sort of cheat sheet for TreeHugger readers of brief biographies and some telling quotes from Obama's green team. The first up, Secretary of Energy Stephen Chu.

Born in St Louis, Missouri in 1948 into a family of scholars, Chu went on to earn a BA in mathematics and a BS in physics from the University of Rochester, and a PhD in physics from the University of California, Berkeley. In 1987, he became professor of physics at Stanford University, and chaired the department from 1990-1993, and again from 1999-2001. In 1997 he received the Nobel Prize in Physics for "development of methods to cool and trap atoms with laser light". Just prior to his becoming the Secretary of Energy, Chu was professor of physics and molecular and cellular biology at UC Berkeley, and the the director of the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory.

Chu is the second Chinese American to be a member of a president's Cabinet, and the first to be appointed after having being awarded the Nobel Prize:

Chu in His Own Words

For the average TreeHugger reader, Stephen Chu's opinions come as a bit of a relief. Not so much for supporters of fossil fuels or global warming deniers:

Coal is 'My Worst Nightmare'
From the Wall Street Journal:

Big Coal won't be very happy if Dr. Chu gets confirmed as head of the DOE—he's really, really not a big fan. "Coal is my worst nightmare," he said repeatedly in a speech earlier this year outlining his lab's alternative-energy approaches.

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 fly ash emissions of radioactive particles.
That doesn't mean nuclear power is much better. "The waste and proliferation issues [surrounding nuclear power] still haven't been completely solved," he said.

Consumers Would Rather Have a New Countertop Than Better Efficiency
New houses could be made more energy efficient with an investment of an extra $1000, "but the American consumer would rather have a granite countertop." (from a June 25, 2008 lecture, excerpted in the New York Times)

Global Warming Will Cause Resource Wars, Displace Hundreds of Millions
Considering President Obama's stated views on global warming, perhaps it's not surprising that Stephen Chu, too, sees the importance of addressing global warming and the potential devastation in could cause.
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. (Think Progress)

We Need New Renewable Energy Technologies + Political Will
Another [energy] myth is [that] we have all the technologies we need to solve the energy challenge; it's only a matter of political will. I think political will is absolutely necessary...but we need new technologies to transform the [energy] landscape. (WattHead )

More: New York Times, Think Progress, Wall Street Journal, WattHead, Wikipedia
photo: US Department of Energy
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