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    Dear Energy Secretary: If You've Lost Jimmy Fallon, You've Lost The Country
    By Hank Campbell | March 22nd 2012 04:06 PM | 14 comments | Print | E-mail | Track Comments
    About Hank

    I'm the founder of Science 2.0® and co-author of "Science Left Behind".

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    When Energy Secretary Steven Chu was appointed, it was a bit of a policy worry.  Yes, he has a Nobel prize in physics but being a scientist has never shown to be any great benefit for policy. Despite the myth that scientists are stoic and serious and unemotionally obeying the Scientific Method it isn't the case at all.  Like all other people, they have irrational fixations, and Chu's was a belief that CO2 was the only driver in climate change, which meant we might have a bunch of expensive solutions that actually solve nothing in climate change.

    $44 billion of wasted money for failed solar panel companies later, gas prices are through the roof and the president is scrambling to rationalize why he blocked a way to have cheaper fuel and add a lot of jobs - 400 miles of pipeline in Nebraska in addition to the 20,000 already there, which government scientists deemed safe, is a poor rationalization and not based on any science.


    The pristine Ogallala Aquifer and its existing pipelines.

    In 1968, when the Viet Nam War was starting to look like a quagmire, CBS News anchor Walter Cronkite openly declared his opposition.  President Lyndon Johnson reportedly told an aide that when he lost Cronkite, he lost America.   News is much different today; there are no trusted broadcasters. People instead trust comedians.   So when Steven Chu lost Jimmy Fallon, he may be on the outs (though I predicted he would be on the outs after Solyndra and that has not happened).



    Jimmy Fallon is in the 1%, and so quite rich, but he still doesn't think gas prices are anything to brag about - and a PhD in physics probably shouldn't look as out of touch as he does.  Fallon commented, "Yesterday, Energy Secretary Steven Chu said that he would give himself an A for controlling the cost of gas. On behalf of Americans, I'd like to give him an F -- and a U. Five dollars a gallon for gas? You turkey!"

    Chu responded to criticism during his Congressional hearing that electric cars were soooo much better now and that he deserves the credit but, really, the poorest people in America are impacted by this kind of government mismanagement and telling them to go out and buy an electric car seems like the kind of elitist patronization that has gotten his boss so much criticism.  
    President Obama may also be hanging him out to dry a little. He canceled Keystone XL after Chu said it should be approved, then said he would push forward to get approval for a section of Keystone that Transcanada has not even applied to build.  Though maybe he still likes Chu.  He said China is to blame for Solyndra failing, not the company itself or even the Energy Department for giving them more money after they were kaput.  Why blame others? Because the Chinese subsidize low cost loans to manufacturers - just like American taxpayers did for Solyndra. 

    Comments

    vongehr
    "Five dollars a gallon for gas? ... really, the poorest people in America are impacted by this ... and telling them to go out and buy an electric car seems like the kind of elitist patronization ..."
    Well played - don't like a price increase, scream that it hurts the poor (otherwise argue free markets, on which gas would have shot through eight dollars a long time ago). People are not supposed to buy electric cars, they are supposed to buy bicycles - helps their fat bellies, too! How is that for some patronization? ;-)
    Hank
    Well, it does hurt the poor more than the rich. That is not some voodoo economics that was just invented. I think choosing to be fat is not great but I don't want to make food so expensive that poor people can't either.

    Chu did not argue for bikes presumably because riding bikes does not take a $28 billion per year Department of Energy to manage those.
    EV is a global car maker trend. Chu has a small contribution to that business. I can say, the auto producers have decided to "kill" the oil industry, slowly. Even, if Chevy Volt production was stopped in US, there is Opel Ampera in Europe, and Tata Nano in India. All of them are GM production. The American car market is no longer the most important one for GM.

    The future

    small fuel economy cars,
    more public transportation,
    and bicycles.

    mhlongmeyer
    You could have described your vision of the future more succinctly by simply stating, "The future: a third-world standard of living for all!"
    car2nwallaby
    Like all other people, they have irrational fixations, and Chu's was a belief that CO2 was the only driver in climate change, which meant we might have a bunch of expensive solutions that actually solve nothing in climate change.
    Hang on now, are you questioning that CO2 is the main long-term driver of climate change?
    Also, Jimmy Fallon in that clip jumped on the "let's find a scapegoat for high gas prices" bandwagon, but we know that gas prices cannot be controlled by one pipeline from Canada.  Oil is a global market, and over the long term prices are driven by global forces.
    Hank
    That's like saying the Alaska pipeline did not lower prices in the 1980s, though they went down to $10 a barrel because it put out 2 million a day.  The Keystone project will produce 10-15% of our domestic needs.  Contending that is meaningless in overall cost, or the Chinese will magically buy it up, is silly. But it's definitely how the Energy Department rationalizes wasting billions on old solar tech. In addition, I wrote (since you quoted it, you must know this)
    Chu's was a belief that CO2 was the only driver in climate change
    Because it was true.  Prior to taking his new job, he was an irrational zealot about CO2, which is somewhat surprising for a physicist.  No one - literally no one - disagrees that CO2 is the main driver so I am not sure why you replaced my words with your own and then demand I not 'question' what I never claimed.  
    car2nwallaby
    The Keystone project will produce 10-15% of our domestic needs
    The US currently uses 19 million barrels of oil a day, and the XL pipeline could transport about 500,000 barrels when full, which only makes about 2-3% of our domestic usage.  And the Chinese won't buy it all, but it's a good bet that a decent percentage will end up getting exported.  There's a reason oil companies aren't satisfied just supplying the upper Midwestern market like they are now – they can get higher prices elsewhere.
    I am not sure why you replaced my words with your own and then demand I not 'question' what I never claimed.
    Ok, fair, a logical slip.  But when you say that Chu's "belief that CO2 was the only driver in climate change" might lead to "a bunch of expensive solutions that actually solve nothing in climate change", that implies that reducing CO2 emissions isn't a solution.  Sure, methane and other gases drive climate too, but how can addressing the biggest driver of the problem "solve nothing"?
    Hank
    Okay, perhaps poor verbage on my part.  $44 billion on CIGS (rather than cost-effective silicon) for solar and other non-effective clean energy alternatives that have been failures would have been better spent on either basic research (my preference) to improve the technology or funding efficiency improvements in apartment buildings for poor people, so my irritation with Dr. Chu - who should know better - is pretty high.  Our current solar subsidy policies are funding failing companies on one side and on the other making it possible for really rich people in Malibu to get taxpayer-funded solar but doing nothing regarding emissions where it actually is the worst; creating energy for the poorest people who can't afford solar in order to get a rebate.  

    You're a biologist so you know a president cannot say "let's spend $44 billion in two years and we will cure X" - solving emissions is no different, it just wastes a lot of money and we are in the same place.

    car2nwallaby
    Certainly energy efficiency should be a huge part of the solution.  But rich people are the biggest users of energy, and thus cause the most carbon emissions.  So there's no way we can solve climate change by focusing on "the poorest people."
    You're a biologist so you know a president cannot say "let's spend $44 billion in two years and we will cure X" - solving emissions is no different, it just wastes a lot of money and we are in the same place.
    I agree that we can't expect to cure anything in two years.  But if it's going to take longer than that, hadn't we better start now?  Targeted investment has led to huge breakthroughs in the past.  There's no way you can say we're "in the same place" in medicine as we were 50 years ago.  We haven't cured cancer, but we've made a lot of progress that wouldn't have happened if there was no government support.

    And sure, basic research is hugely important, but there's often a gap between basic research and demonstrating enough profit potential that big investors will get in the game – that's where government can play a role.  To go back to biology again, we're facing a growing problem of antibiotic resistance with few new antibiotics in the pipeline.  That's because antibiotics aren't big money makers.  When the situation gets desperate enough the market signals will probably grow large enough to push drug companies back into the antibiotics game, but by then it's too late for people who are getting killed by multi-drug resistant infections.

    The problem now is that there are a lot of developing potential energy solutions out there, but we need them soon.  That means government has to do its job and provide the public good of pushing forward energy solutions.  Market incentives would probably be more efficient than direct support, but market incentives require Congress, and Congress doesn't seem interested.  Whichever way we do it, some ideas will surely fail, but we only need a few really meaningful breakthroughs to completely change the game and solve the problem.
    Gerhard Adam
    When the situation gets desperate enough the market signals will probably grow large enough to push drug companies back into the antibiotics game, but by then it's too late for people who are getting killed by multi-drug resistant infections.
    I'm not picking on your post, but rather using it as a jumping off point for this discussion.  What's the economic model used by bacteria? 

    When did we become so myopic and silly that we presume that economics is the only means by which anything can get done?  Why is it that we never seem to need cost-justification for wars and adventures, but for anything that might actually benefit society, we are suddenly bogged down in all kinds of anti-government rhetoric.

    The government certainly isn't the most efficient organization, but it also isn't totally inept [despite modern rhetoric].  The government was responsible for the Manhattan Project as well as the space missions that lead us to the moon.  Government can do the job when it is accountable and when there is a clear objective.

    Government cannot function when it simply gives money to private industry [as in the case of subsidies].

    The "market" [such as it is} can NEVER react to anything truly important.  It can only react to what's already there.  So unless an economic catastrophe strikes you'll never have enough economic incentives to modify current behavior.

    So using the example of antibiotics, the reality is that if severe bacterial infections occur, then antibiotics will only be manufactured when they become a big money-maker, which precludes their widespread use in containing infections.  It's simply adding a disaster on top of a disaster.

    Private industry will NEVER solve the energy problem because it is simply too profitable to maintain the status quo.  When such a time arises where oil becomes prohibitively expensive, it will be too late.  The economy will suffer, industries will collapse and the same companies that were arguing against alternative energy sources will be standing there with their hands out waiting for the government to subsidize new "emergency" efforts to solve the problem.

    Any industry [i.e. oil] that can make record profits quarter after quarter and feel not the slightest guilt about accepting billions in subsidies isn't an industry to be trusted. 

    I think the government could easily spend little money and maximize the benefit by creating incentives and credits [including small business loans] for those entrepreneurs that need help in exploring and creating alternative sources.  Existing corporations need not apply.

    Let's also keep in mind that the role of government is to fund those things that are NOT economically profitable, but are necessary for the stability and security of the society they are supposed to be in charge of.  Government isn't the enemy.  If there is an enemy it is the electorate that keeps voting the same individuals into office and then complaining that nothing changes.  In the U.S., the Constitution makes it quite clear "who' the government is.  "We The People" ... and if we the people, don't get our act together, there is no one to blame except ourselves when nothing gets done.
    Mundus vult decipi
    MikeCrow
    No one - literally no one - disagrees that CO2 is the main driver

    "No one - literally no one - disagrees that CO2 is a driver"

    Fixed it for you :)
    Never is a long time.
    Hank
    Well, I can't find climate scientists that disagree - I'm sure there are some, just like only 9 out of 10 dentists recommend sugarless gum but that one wants kids to have cavities. The only disagreement in science seems to be on the magnitude of various feedbacks, not CO2 as the main driver.  Something is going to be number one and CO2 is it.
    MikeCrow
    I guess it's a question of what you mean by main driver. Main Anthropogenic, probably, main source of the modern warming? No.
    If we can agree that CO2 changes he balance, by reducing the rate of cooling, and this is a chart of daily imbalance.
    Daily Difference x 100

    0.1 Degree C/decade warming trend = 0.18 degree F/decade = 0.018F/yr = 0.000049F/day
    Multiple by 100 to match this chart = 1.8F/yr = 0.0049F/day
    Or 108F for the 60 years of this chart, or to be fair and pick 1980 as the base (because it's also the lowest point they could find) it's ~54F for 30 years.
    There's clearly not a 50 degree trend, and 1.8F/year is swamped by variability.

    Well, I can't find climate scientists that disagree - I'm sure there are some, just like only 9 out of 10
    Sort of makes you wonder why they haven't all been fired by now. If you were that bad at your job, you'd have been fired long ago.
    Never is a long time.
    Hank
    This is a big part of the problem: When Solyndra was about to collapse, the White House said "OMB, DPC and NEC have been working with press and OLA to be prepared for this news to break.”

    The press should not be working with the White House to break bad news about stupid political decisions. The press should not be part of the White House communications staff.  There is so little mainstream coverage of these recurring fiascos that the science public can be misled into thinking it is just political theater by his opponents.