Steven Chu says being a US Government Scientist made him ‘the Jackie Robinson of Nerds’


On March 4 at Asia Society Northern California, panelists including former U.S. Secretary of Energy and Nobel laureate Steven Chu discussed how the state of California and China are learning from one another to lower carbon emissions. The event was held in conjunction with the launch of the report A Vital Partnership: California and China Collaborating on Clean Energy and Combating Climate Change.

While the California side has been on the cutting edge of technological development and carbon trading schemes, there are some things China has managed to do more effectively. One reason, Chu says, is that the American political structure has been less conducive to carrying out grand visions for clean energy. The fragmented and slow political process of the U.S. makes interstate cooperation and significant investment difficult. “China doesn’t have open elections, which makes a big difference,” Chu said. “Next time I’m asked to do something like [becoming Energy Secretary] I’ll say only if I’m Emperor of Energy. President of the United States wouldn’t even be good enough.”

Chu added that China’s top leadership is also stacked with scientists and engineers, which perhaps gives them a greater appreciation for the infrastructure work needed to most effectively utilize clean energy. This greatly contrasts with American leaders. “I was the first scientist cabinet member in the history of the United States,” he said. “I feel like I’m the Jackie Robinson of nerds.”

In the above video, Chu discusses the political disparities in addressing climate change and gives examples of certain technologies that China has jumped ahead of the U.S. in utilizing.




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