Monday, December 15, 2008

Steven Chu

I have seen Steven Chu give a couple talks, and had mostly good memories of his knowledge on energy policy. Reading up on the man a little more and I don't think Obama could have found a person who agrees with me more. He seems to acknowledge some simple truths that Obama never seemed to really grasp. For example he has publically stated that we should replace our coal fired plants with nuclear ones. He does this mostly because he realizes that coal power plants are not only releasing more Mercury, Carbon Dioxide, Sulfur, and Nitrogen oxides into the atmosphere, but they release a hundred times as much radiactivity into the environment! There really is no environmental justification to stop building nuclear plants until we replace every coal plant we have.

On the biofuels front I typically find him to be the weakest. He however seems to at least know what he is up against though which is better than I get from most people. He directly points out just how much more land you need to get an equal amount of energy from biofuels than from solar cells, and at least isn't an advocate for corn ethanol. Still, he still seems to advocate advanced biofuels that depend upon the 0.1% photosynthetic effeciency of green plants which to me seems a pretty silly black hole to drop money down.

Overall though, he has the ability to just stand up and tell things like they are even if they are unpopular. No one has questioned the existence of greenhouses in hundreds of years; pretending like switching the silicon dioxide in a greenhouse panel with the most chemically similar molecule in existence, carbon dioxide, somehow completely changes this basic physics is silly. The greenhouse effect is real and the only debate we need to be having is how much we are willing to live with and what we are going to do. One of the nice things about having a Noble prize in physics is you have instant credibility. This throws a real wrench into the hire-a-scientist tactics that seem to be standard policy for lobbyists. In order to be taken seriously they have to find a scientist of the caliber of Steven Chu, which in politically charged issues will not be easy.

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