News - Belfer Center for Science and International Affairs, Harvard Kennedy School

Climate change requires an energy technology revolution, Chu says

| August 7, 2009

Secretary of Energy Steven Chu discussed the need for an aggressive national energy policy at a packed John F. Kennedy Jr. Forum event, “Laying the Foundation for the Next Generation of Clean Energy Jobs,” on August 6, 2009. He outlined challenges of global warming and potential strategies that could provide solutions.

“We are changing the destiny of the earth,” Chu said, “but we have the opportunity to minimize that change.”

The looming threat of irreversible climate change requires a bold “new industrial revolution” sparked by innovation, regulation, and investment, according to Chu and U.S Rep. Edward Markey (D-Malden), who also spoke at the Forum, which was sponsored by the Belfer Center along with the Institute of Politics. Chu and Markey said they believe that revolution is on the horizon with the new administration and proposed legislation.

Markey, co-sponsor of the American Clean Energy and Security Act, commonly referred to as the Waxman-Markey bill, sees the bill, which passed the House earlier this summer, as the third piece to a trio of bills – alongside the 2007 energy act and 2009 stimulus bill. He compared its effect in spurring the creation of new energy technologies to earlier legislative efforts that energized the telecommunications revolution.

“Here, because energy is a four times larger sector than telecomm, we believe it will unleash $1 trillion to $2 trillion, minimum, of private sector investment and we’re already beginning to see the early stages of that in our country,” said Markey, who gave a special introduction to Chu.

While both recognize that this bill has some flaws, they said it is important to begin taking action on energy as soon as possible. “The issue is, quite frankly, you want as strong a bill as possible, but you want a bill,” Chu said. “The real issue is getting going.”

Chu and Markey said the United States needs to advance renewables, such as wind and solar, but also find ways to clean up current forms of energy, such as coal.

“The United States, China, India, and even Russia will not turn their backs on coal because that’s where two-thirds of the coal supplies lie,” Chu said. “We have to figure out how to use it in a clean way and an economically viable way.

“The United States has an opportunity to invent those technologies that can enable us to use this resource,” he said.

Markey noted that the Waxman-Markey bill also places the U.S. in a better position to negotiate a new international climate agreement at Copenhagen next year. He said that when he met with China’s President Hu Jintao and Premier Wen Jiabao earlier this year to discuss the bill, they understood this was game-changing legislation.

“We are no longer preaching temperance from a bar stool,” Markey said.

Belfer Center Director Graham Allison (left) and Secretary of Energy Steven Chu.Chu highlighted a new McKinsey report that showed enormous savings from energy efficiency. “This is not something that has sunk in to the American public,” Chu said. “When you think of energy efficiency, the vast majority of people think, ‘Oh that costs more money. Can I afford it?’ How can you afford not to do this?”

Better technology will lead to lower costs and smaller bills, he said, citing the refrigerator as an example. Between 1970 and today, the refrigerator decreased in cost and the amount of energy used as a result of new technology.

Chu envisions American innovation that will not only create the technology and jobs for where we are today, but where we will be. The Waxman-Markey bill will create the technologies and “jobs that prepare America for the future,” he said.

For more information on this publication: Please contact the Belfer Communications Office
For Academic Citation: Maclin, Beth. “Climate change requires an energy technology revolution, Chu says.” News, Belfer Center for Science and International Affairs, Harvard Kennedy School, August 7, 2009.

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