- Believes that manmade global warming poses an existential threat to the natural environment and all forms of earthly life
- Supports policies — such as “cap-and-trade” — that would discourage carbon emissions by imposing a tax on them
- Said in 2008: “Somehow we have to figure out how to boost the price of gasoline to the levels in Europe.”
- Was appointed Secretary of Energy by President Obama in 2009
The son of Chinese academics, Steven Chu was born in St. Louis, Missouri in February 1948 and grew up in Garden City, New York. He earned a bachelor’s degree in mathematics and physics from the University of Rochester in 1970, and a Ph.D. in physics from UC Berkeley six years later. He then continued at Berkeley as a postdoctoral fellow from 1976 until 1978, at which time he joined the technical staff of AT&T Bell Labs.
In the fall of 1983, Chu became the head of Bell Labs’ Quantum Electronics Research Department. There, he and his colleagues made significant advances in learning how to cool atoms to a temperature of nearly absolute zero (-273 degrees Celsius) by trapping light with laser beams and manipulating it within a so-called “optical molasses.”
Chu remained at Bell Labs until 1987, when he left to become a professor of physics at Stanford University where he continued his research on trapping and cooling atoms. In 1997 Chu was awarded a Nobel Prize in Physics for his work in that field.
In 2004 Chu left Stanford to become the director of Lawrence Berkeley National Lab, where he focused on creating advanced biofuels, artificial photosynthesis, and solar technologies. He also took a job as a professor of physics and molecular and cellular biology at UC Berkeley.
Contending that manmade global warming poses an existential threat to the natural environment and all forms of earthly life, Chu exhorts industrialized nations worldwide to drastically cut their greenhouse-gas emissions (most notably carbon dioxide, or CO2), which are produced by the burning of fossil fuels. In April 2007, for instance, Chu said that “coal is my worst nightmare” and expressed doubt that adequate “clean coal” technologies could ever be developed. “We have lots of fossil fuel,’’ he elaborated. “That’s really both good and bad news. We won’t run out of energy but there’s enough carbon in the ground to really cook us.’’
In 2009 the newly elected U.S. President, Barack Obama, named Chu as his Secretary of Energy. At the Energy Department, Chu has warned of “the potential risks of climate change” and called for the U.S. to move toward carbon-neutral energy sources. Toward that end, he supports policies (such as “cap-and-trade”) that would discourage carbon emissions by imposing a tax on them. “It’s prudent risk management,” Chu explains. “It’s like saying, ‘Your house will burn down in the next 10 years — 50 percent probability. By the way, do you want fire insurance?’”
Chu was a member of the Copenhagen Climate Council, which heavily promoted the December 2009 “United Nations Climate Summit” in Copenhagen, Denmark – an event whose purpose was to persuade “global decision makers” to agree on “a new climate treaty” that would reduce greenhouse-gas emissions worldwide. Chu supported the Council’s call (outlined in its Manifesto) for “a global emissions trading system” featuring “strict caps on the emissions of greenhouse gases from the developed countries.” Under the terms of this globalized wealth-redistribution plan, any industrialized nation that exceeded its CO2-emission limit would be penalized in the form of a tax which could be used, in turn, to “leverage significant investment into energy infrastructure in developing countries.”
Shortly before the Copenhagen Conference, Chu asserted that the U.S. had a moral obligation to take major steps toward reducing its own CO2 emissions – regardless not only of the onerous economic repercussions that such measures would trigger, but also of the refusal by China and India to commit to CO2-emission reductions.
As one proposed means of reducing U.S. carbon emissions, Chu has called for a gradual increase in gasoline taxes over a 15-year period, so as to persuade consumers to purchase more-efficient vehicles and to reside in neighborhoods closer to their workplace. “Somehow we have to figure out how to boost the price of gasoline to the levels in Europe,” Chu said in September 2008.
Chu reiterated this position in late February 2012, in testimony he gave before Congress. At the time, the national average of gas prices was $3.65 per gallon — approximately double what the price had been when President Obama took office in January 2009. When Rep. Alan Nunnelee (R-Miss.) asked Chu whether it was his “overall goal to get our price” of gasoline lower, Chu said, “No, the overall goal is to decrease our dependency on oil, to build and strengthen our economy.”
Chu says he “absolutely” favors an increased U.S. reliance on nuclear energy, but cautions that current methods for storing and disposing of nuclear waste are inadequate from a safety standpoint.
On February 1, 2013, Chu announced that he was stepping down from his post as Energy Secretary. In his resignation letter, he wrote: “Ultimately we have a moral responsibility to the most innocent victims of adverse climate change. Those who will suffer the most are the people who are the most innocent: the world’s poorest citizens and those yet to be born.”