Energy Secretary Steven Chu issues
dire warning on global warming
Feb 3, 2009 - Jim Tankersley - Chicago
WASHINGTON — The Upper Midwest and
West could face water shortages and California's major
cities could be in jeopardy if Americans do not act
to slow the advance of global warming, Energy Secretary
and Nobel Prize-winning physicist Steven Chu said
He warned of particularly dire consequences
for his home state of California, the nation's leading
agricultural producer, saying the state's farms and
vineyards could vanish by the end of the century.
In a worst case, Chu said, up to 90 percent of the
snow pack could disappear in the Sierras, sucking
the bulk of California's water supply nearly dry.
In his first interview since taking
office last month, Chu offered some of the starkest
comments yet on how seriously President Barack Obama's
Cabinet views the threat of climate change, along
with a detailed assessment of the administration's
plans to combat it.
"I don't think the American public has
gripped in its gut what could happen," he said. "We're
looking at a scenario where there's no more agriculture
in California." And, he added, "I don't actually see
how they can keep their cities going" either.
A pair of recent studies complement
his argument. One, published in January in the journal
Science, raised the specter of worldwide crop shortages
as temperatures rise. Another, penned by University
of California Berkeley researchers last year, estimated
California has some $2.5 trillion in real estate assets
— including agriculture — endangered by warming.
Chu won the Nobel for his work trapping
atoms with laser light. He taught at Stanford University
and directed the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory,
where he reoriented researchers to pursue "clean energy"
technologies before Obama tapped him to head the Energy
He stressed the threat of climate change
in his Senate confirmation hearings, but not as bluntly
as he did Tuesday.
In the course of a half-hour interview,
Chu made clear that he sees public education as a
key part of the administration's strategy to fight
global warming—along with billions for alternative
energy research and infrastructure in the economic
stimulus package being debated in the Senate, plans
to push for a national standard for electricity from
renewable sources and a so-called "cap-and-trade"
bill to limit greenhouse-gas emissions.
Chu said the threat of warming is keeping
policymakers focused on fossil-fuel alternatives,
even though gasoline prices fell over the past six
months from historic highs. But he said public awareness
needs to catch up. He compared the situation to a
family buying an old house and being told by an inspector
that it must pay a hefty sum to rewire it, or risk
an electrical fire that could burn everything.
"I'm hoping that the American people
will wake up," Chu said, and pay the cost of rewiring.