Former Secretary of Energy Dr. Steven Chu gave an energy/climate talk at Stanford’s Conradin von Gugelberg lecture on May 22. Chu advocated for greater energy efficiency, more renewable energy and breakthroughs in battery and grid technology. I applaud his record in increasing America’s energy efficiency, but even steady progress is insufficient. We are on a short fuse to break the backbone of civilization and trigger a 100,000 year climate catastrophe.
Initially, Dr. Chu quoted George Shultz: “Business knows they cannot survive in a world that fails.” Reformulate this and we get the essence of our problem. Business is not aware that the world is failing. Fossil fuels have been the lifeblood of the world economy and our civilization so much so that we have been blind to the fact that our addiction to them could destroy us.
Chu said that sadly he saw the atmosphere reaching 500ppmv CO2 by around the middle of this century. STOP! This is unacceptable. This dangerous level of CO2 will virtually guarantee that the planet will soon drop off a 100,000-year climate cliff. This is insane!
Chu’s frustration with our political paralysis was palpable. He has given up. But we can’t give up; we have to find a way to make the politics work. The climate crisis requires national and global action. I wish I had suggested to Dr. Chu that he and Shultz, perhaps along with Jim Hansen and John Holdren, arrange a daylong meeting with the Koch brothers. If Chu couldn’t wake up congressional leaders while he was Secretary of Energy, he should work to convince the power brokers who can.
Chu said “bad stuff” would happen if the climate gets away from us. Andrew Guzman and Gywnne Dyer describe “bad stuff” in terms of 3 billion people suffering from water and food shortages, climate wars over dwindling resources, failed states, 200 million dead and another 200 million climate refugees – all by 2100. That’s only the beginning. We aren’t just staring at the collapse of our civilization; we are initiating a global mass extinction event.
Dr. Chu said “It’s [climate] Russian roulette, every decade you put in another bullet and you give it to your grandchild and say pull the trigger… That’s what we’re doing… We would never do that to our grandchildren.” But we are.
So, what to do? Winston Churchill said, “It is no use saying, ‘We are doing our best.’ You have got to succeed in doing what is necessary.” I admire Chu’s intellect, honesty, and heart, and he’s no quitter, but incremental changes – reducing carbon admissions 70 to 80 percent by 2050, is simply not enough. We can’t take this risk. We have to end our addiction to carbon energy in the next 20-30 years and pray that’s soon enough. We all have to make sacrifices now. If we do not, we will sacrifice our children and grandchildren for thousands of generations. Are we this blind and this selfish?
Chu is counting on technology to save us from ourselves, but we need to change our psychology as well. Ignorance. Greed. Denial. Tribalism. Short-term thinking.
Steven Schnieder’s climate Nazgûl are riding hard against us. We must face down our inherent human weaknesses. We must recognize the climate crisis is the worst war the world will ever have to fight, and we all have got to come together on the same side to win it. This could – no, must – be humanity’s finest hour. Time is short. The next twenty or thirty years will be the most critical moment in human history. We must stop this insanity.
San Mateo, California