U.S. Secretary of Energy Steven Chu called for a cap on carbon emissions in this country and said that the United States should be the leader of a new industrial revolution on Monday evening in Gaston Hall.
Noting that the United States historically has been the world’s leader in technological innovation, Chu said to an audience of about 400 that the country should lead the charge in developing new energy technologies.
“The United States has the best innovation machine in the world, bar none,” he said.
In recent years, however, the United States has fallen behind China and Europe in its development of green economies, Chu said. He noted that this country produces only about 5 percent of the world’s photovoltaic cells, down from 45 percent in the mid-1990s, and is no longer on the forefront of green innovations and manufacturing.
Chu said that becoming the world’s leader in green technology would create jobs and make the United States more prosperous.
Chu identified several steps the country should take in order to reduce emissions, including capping carbon emissions.
“We need to put a price on carbon and say that emissions need to decline,” he said.
He also emphasized increasing the use of alternative fuels and boosting appliance and automobile efficiency standards.
“In the next few decades, energy efficiency and conservation are going to be the most important tools,” he said.
To this end, the stimulus bill passed last year provides $80 billion for clean energy, energy efficiency and electricity infrastructure projects. In addition, Chu said, the federal government is investing $4 billion in carbon sequestration research, matched by $7 billion in private investments. Furthermore, President Obama has directed the Department of Energy to double the pace of developing appliance efficiency standards.
“For the first time in the history of the Department of Energy, we’re actually enforcing the standards,” Chu said, drawing chuckles from audience members.
Chu said his department is exploring other possibilities, including retrofitting entire neighborhoods with better insulation and mass-producing small nuclear reactors, which could aid in reducing emissions.
In addition to policy changes, Chu said the government can help spur research and innovation.
“What the government does best is it invests in the most basic research,” he said.
Chu took time in the beginning of his lecture, which was sponsored by the Georgetown Public Policy Institute, to touch on the science of climate change, underscoring the importance of acting sooner rather than later.
“The question is not whether the Earth will heat up, it’s how much it will heat up,” he said.
Climate change could have severe effects on the United States, including a 10 to 30 percent drop in rainfall in California and the Southwest, a sharp increase in the number of days in which the temperature exceeds 100 degrees Fahrenheit, and, in a “very optimistic” scenario, a 20 to 30 percent decrease in snow cover in the Sierra Nevada mountains.
Chu warned of tipping points that could drastically accelerate climate change, including the thawing of Arctic permafrost, which could double the amount of carbon in the atmosphere, and the melting of Antarctica, which could occur if the Earth warmed eight degrees Celsius, or about 46 degrees Fahrenheit, something Chu said was not very likely.
“There are a number of other tipping points that are dangerous,” he said.
Chu said the observed climate change could only be accounted for by attributing it to man-made greenhouse gas emissions.
“We have altered the destiny of the Earth,” he said. “[Global warming] was caused by humans.”