Thursday, December 11, 2008

Nobel prize winner Steven Chu says the planet needs rewiring

Concern for Climate Change Defines Energy Nominee
By Steven Mufson
Washington Post Staff Writer
December 12, 2008

The next secretary of energy, Nobel Prize-winning physicist Steven Chu, recently compared the danger of climate change to a problem with electrical wiring in a house.

Suppose, he said, you had a small electrical fire at home and a structural engineer told you there was a 50 percent chance your house would burn down in the next few years unless you spent $20,000 to fix faulty wiring.

"You can either continue to shop for additional evaluations until you find the one engineer in 1,000 who is willing to give you the answer you want -- 'your family is not in danger' -- or you can change the wiring," Chu said in a presentation in September.

Because of the danger of climate change, he said, the United States and other countries also need to make some urgent repairs. He said governments need to "act quickly" to implement fiscal and regulatory policies to stimulate the deployment of technologies that boost energy efficiency and "minimize" carbon emissions...

He said that 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." (At that time, many argued that there was insufficient evidence linking smoking to cancer.)

He put aside the atomic and molecular biophysics research he had been doing as a Stanford University professor to become head of the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory in 2004 and steer it toward projects aimed at slashing the country's emissions of greenhouse gases that hasten climate change. He created the Helios Project, a center that seeks to use solar energy to generate chemical fuel at a low cost.

The laboratory's scientists, including 11 Nobel laureates, have altered yeast and bacteria into organisms that produce gasoline and diesel, improved techniques for converting switchgrass into the sugars needed to produce transportation fuel, and used nanotechnology to improve the efficiency of photovoltaic cells used in solar panels, among other projects...

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