Steven Chu: On Obama, Carbon Tax and Cooking Tips

Steven Chu: On Obama, Carbon Tax and Cooking Tips

In this exclusive Fresh Dialogues interview, former Energy Secretary Steven Chu shares his reaction to Obama’s major speech on climate change; explains how a carbon tax will drive U.S. competitiveness; has a message for climate deniers; and even shares tips for being more energy efficient in the kitchen. When did you last get cooking tips from a Nobel Prize winning physicist who’s been described as the One Hundred Billion Dollar Man? It’s time to listen up folks! It’s time to listen up folks!

Here are some highlights of our conversation:

On Obama’s Climate Speech (which focused more on climate change, and less on green jobs)

“This is a real issue. We have to do something about it!”

When asked if he wrote or was involved in writing the speech, Chu joked that he has ‘been involved’ for 4 1/4 years and recently regaled several heads of state (including President Obama) with his powerpoint pitch for raising appliance efficiency standards, reminding them that “there’s money to be made…and saved.”


On Carbon Tax

“A carbon tax must be non-regressive and revenue neutral. It will drive efficiency…competitiveness. Educating the public (on climate change, energy policy) is very important, but it’s about economic opportunities and (creating) a growth market. Change will be partly market driven.”

On Climate Change Deniers

“I’d put them in the same category as people who said, in the 60’s and 70’s, that you haven’t proved to me that smoking causes cancer.”

On Chu’s vision for distributed energy

“Distribution companies partnering with the private sector have the opportunity to access fairly inexpensive capital and be part owners in distributed power and energy storage in benign environments, like inside a home or building. When you do that, the price of electricity will go down (3 to 4 times). All of a sudden utility companies will be in a growth business…Utilities should wake up and see there’s money to be made!”

Chu cited the advantages of black-out reduction thanks to demand control; and underlined the multitude of opportunities that  low-priced software and sensing equipment offer.

Steven Chu shares cooking tips with Alison van Diggelen of Fresh DialoguesOn Cooking with Chu

Tip #1: “If you’re boiling a pot of water: if you put a lid on it, it comes to boil much more quickly.”

Tip #2: “Pick the right sized pot, don’t pick a pot five times bigger, twice as big.”

– Steven Chu, Nobel Prize winner in physics 1997, Former Energy Secretary, 2009-13.

No word yet on whether Steven Chu is planning to give up his new job at Stanford University for a prime time cooking show…Though we hear there is an opening.



The interview was recorded at the Silicon Valley Energy Summit, presented by the Precourt Energy Efficiency Center, Stanford University on June 28, 2013. Photos by Lina Broydo.

See Keynotes by Steven Chu and Jeff Bingaman at Vimeo and more interviews about energy policy at Fresh Dialogues YouTube Channel.

Dianne Feinstein Plans Carbon Tax, Argues Against Keystone, Oil & Gas Subsidies

Dianne Feinstein Plans Carbon Tax, Argues Against Keystone, Oil & Gas Subsidies

Senator Dianne Feinstein shared her plans to introduce a new “carbon fee” bill, during a press conference Wednesday in downtown San Francisco.

“I think a carbon fee is growing in popularity,” said Feinstein, after an appearance at the Commonwealth Club. Her plans follow President Obama’s SOTU call for “market based solutions to climate change,” and a growing consensus among experts in favor of using the taxation system to control carbon dioxide emissions.

She referred to her colleague, Senator Barbara Boxer’s recent bill (co-sponsored by Sen. Bernie Sanders), which proposed a “carbon fee and dividend scheme” that would tax carbon emitters, such as coalmines, at the source. Here’s the rationale:

  1. By increasing the price of fossil fuel in the market…
  2. It levels the playing field between carbon-based fuels and renewable fuels, such as wind and solar, making renewables more competitive and attractive to consumers and investors.
  3. A portion of the “dividend” (the carbon “fee” proceeds) would be refunded to US residents.

Similar schemes have been implemented in British Columbia, Sweden and Ireland  with some success. The aim is to encourage consumers to see the true cost of their energy choices. The fee represents some of the externalities of choosing fossil fuel, such as particulate pollution and greenhouse gases, which contribute to climate change.

Feinstein responds to a climate change question from Alison van DiggelenFeinstein’s proposal was short on details, but she confirmed, “It’s my intention to introduce a fee of $10 a ton and we’ll see what happens to it.”

The Boxer-Sanders proposal is for a tax (or “fee”) of  $20 per ton of carbon. Presumably Feinstein feels it’ll  be more palatable to start at a lower level and gradually phase in a higher tax over several years.

Feinstein acknowledged that with other issues stealing center stage (notably saber-rattling in North Korea and the ongoing domestic gun control debate), climate change is not currently on the government’s “high priority list,” so it’s hard to predict what progress the government will achieve.

Nevertheless, Feinstein was vocal on the topic of climate change and bullish about renewable energy during an earlier interview with the Commonwealth Club’s Greg Dalton:

On the threat of Climate Change Dianne Feinstein talks with Greg Dalton, Commonwealth Club

“People don’t really understand. They think the earth is immutable. They think we can’t destroy it, that it’s here to stay. It’s not so… As we fill the atmosphere with pollutants: methane, carbon dioxide, other things…it warms the earth. And it begins with animal habitat disappearing, the ocean beginning to rise, more violent hurricanes, tornadoes…drought is more prevalent.”

“What’s going to be the ultimate change is weather. People see weather, they see the devastation and so eventually people are going to come around to support restrictions on carbon dioxide, maybe a fee on the use of carbon to replace our deficit, our debt. A $20 fee (per ton of carbon or methane equivalent) is like $1.2 Trillion in revenue over 10 years.  If you just take half that: $600 Billion.”

“I wouldn’t say there’s much (support in the Senate) but I would say this: people are coming to realize now… climate change is getting worse. Actually  since 2008, ‘good energy’ has doubled. Electric cars are being more prevalent, hybrids are being more prevalent. People are saving money. Good things are happening. The question is: can we really bite the bullet and make the decision that we’re going to save the planet?”

On the Keystone Pipeline

“I’m told the area in Alberta (Canada) is bigger than the state of Florida, I’m told it’s a forested area which they mow down and begin to dig the huge giant lakes which they pour chemicals in to produce this form of tar sands oil. The earth is defaced forever.”

“Now we have to make up our minds: do we want to deface large portions of our earth forever? I don’t think so because we’re making progress on clean energy and that ought to really be where we go.”

“Some people say if the pipeline isn’t built north-south through the center of our country, they’re only going to do it east to west and send it to China. That’s not a good argument.”

Feinstein urged the audience to read the latest article on tar sands from National Geographic.

On California’s Monterey Shale Reserves

“I don’t think candidly that it’s all that necessary. There will be no oil drilling off the coast of California, if Senator Boxer and I prevail, and we have so far. My emphasis would be on clean energy: the wind farms, the solar facilities and there’s so much research going on on different forms of fuel. Leave those fossil fuels alone because they pollute the atmosphere.” Read more on the country’s largest shale oil resource from KQED.

Photo by Alison van Diggelen

Photo by Alison van Diggelen

On Tesla’s Model S

“I sat on one (a Tesla Model S) out at the Tesla Fremont plant. I kind of dented the fender. But anyway…” (laughter)

Feinstein drives a Lexus hybrid

On California’s water shortages

“We’re on our way to a much drier climate…the Sierra Nevada snowpack’s drying up and it’s very serious…The key is: we need to store more water from the wet years and hold it for the dry years and this environmentalists don’t like. It may mean raising a couple of dams (eg Shasta)…I do believe that the time is now to have a storage water bond. The most important thing we can do for our state is to hold water from the wet years for the dry years and we should get that done (or) we’re going to lose our agriculture… I live in Washington now for a lot of the time and I can tell you the crops grown in California taste much better than most places in the world.”

On subsidies to oil and gas

I think the day has come for subsidies to go for industries other than startups like some of the clean energy…solar. As you know, everything is “cut cut cut” back there (DC) right now. With sequestration cutting another $85 Billion before the beginning of the fiscal year and the amount goes up. So there’s going to be cut after cut after cut. And they’re big cuts. So I think we need to look at tax reform and we need to look at all those deductions and remove a lot of them and we also need to look at our entitlements programs.”

2012 Energy Policy After Solyndra – Axelrod Transcript

2012 Energy Policy After Solyndra – Axelrod Transcript

By Alison van Diggelen, host of Fresh Dialogues

Here is a transcript of my interview with David Axelrod on January 27, 2012 re. Solyndra, 2012 Energy Policy and President Obama’s State of the Union speech. Video here

ALISON VAN DIGGELEN: Hello and welcome to Fresh Dialogues. Today I’ll be talking with David Axelrod. President Obama’s Chief Political Strategist. David, thank you for joining me today on Fresh Dialogues

DAVID AXELROD: Happy to be here.

ALISON VAN DIGGELEN: Good. Now Obama has started his first  (2012) Campaign ad with a defense of his clean energy policy. Why did Obama choose to start with green?

DAVID AXELROD:  The ad that it was responding to was an ad sponsored by a SuperPAC… sponsored by the Koch brothers… two oil billionaires … and it was an attack  particularly on the Solyndra issue but it was really an attack on the whole green energy initiative of the president’s. And we’re proud of that initiative…we’re proud that we’re on par to double renewable energy during the course of his first term. He believes very strongly that we need to command the clean energy technology of the future and that as a country we need to be encouraging the development of clean energy technology or we’re going to see that go to other parts of the world.

ALISON VAN DIGGELEN: You mention Solyndra specifically. Solyndra seems to be a thorn in the side of Obama. It keeps coming up. How does he intend to remove the thorn?

DAVID AXELROD: All you can do is be open and candid about it. We knew when made investments in clean energy technology that some would do well and others would not. That’s the nature of this…these are speculative investments. And that’s the reason why they needed some nudging from the government in order to blossom…You can look at Solyndra or you can look at the fact that when we started, the US had about 2% of the advanced battery manufacturing for electric cars. We’re on course to get to 40% by the middle of this decade.

ALISON VAN DIGGELEN: That’s impressive.

DAVID AXELROD: That wouldn’t have happened without the investments we’ve made. We’ve seen real growth in solar and in wind energy and so these are investments that are paying off for the country. I’m very certain that we’re going to look back at the seeds that were planted during this period and we will say that it has made a big difference for the country in a positive way.

ALISON VAN DIGGELEN: What percentage of the program’s investment went to Solyndra?

DAVID AXELROD: There were forty under this specific program, so it was a small percentage of the entire program. It was a program… that was begun under the Bush Administration and we accelerated that program because we do believe that we are in a real competition for the clean energy technology of the future and we as a country have a great interest in developing alternative energy and home grown domestic energy and renewable energy. These were investments that made sense. Some will pay great dividends, others unfortunately will not.


DAVID AXELROD: Plainly, we have to have our eye on the future and really encourage and develop renewable sources of energy. It’s good for the planet, it’s good for the economy, it’ll create great jobs…high end manufacturing jobs. This is going to continue being a thrust for us. We’re not going to back off.

ALISON VAN DIGGELEN: Thanks for joining us.


The interview took place backstage at Foothill College’s Celebrity Forum on January 27, 2012. Check back soon for more with David Axelrod:

On Michelle Obama’s influence on green policy

Read transcripts, see photos and check out our ARCHIVES featuring exclusive interviews with Tom Friedman, Paul Krugman, Vinod Khosla and many more green experts and visionaries…

and join the conversation at our Fresh Dialogues Facebook Page

Check out exclusive VIDEOS AT THE Fresh Dialogues YouTube Channel

Game Changers Highlights: Newsom Demands Californians Wake Up

Game Changers Highlights: Newsom Demands Californians Wake Up

By Alison van Diggelen, host of Fresh Dialogues

Here are video highlights from the SVLG Game Changers 2012 Conference which took place in Silicon Valley, September 13, 2011.

Gavin Newsom, CA Lieutenant Governor was on fire as he talked about California’s struggling economy and political disfunction: “We’ve been flat lining for 30 years…we have to wake up!”

California State Senator, Joe Simitian echoed his frustration with polarized politics and called for a popular public uprising. Striking a more optimistic viewpoint, the charismatic Shai Agassi, CEO of Better Place, the EV infrastructure, battery replacement company shared his vision for making the San Francisco Bay Area a model for the future of electric vehicles to “show Detroit…DC the way to go.”

Weili Dai, the intriguing cofounder of Marvell, the fabless semiconductor company, reiterated the need for cooperation with China, despite several calls for taking a more aggressive stance to protect and nurture America’s deteriorating manufacturing base.

This interview was recorded in Silicon Valley on Sept 13, 2011. With thanks to the SVLG and SV Community Foundation for front row seats. See video at the Fresh Dialogues Channel here

Here is an exclusive Fresh Dialogues interview with Marvell’s VP, Weili Dai – she gives tips to women in business. Number one: believe in yourself

Read transcripts, see photos and check out our ARCHIVES featuring exclusive interviews with Tom Friedman, Paul Krugman, Vinod Khosla and many more…

and join the conversation at our Facebook Page

A Sputnik Moment for U.S. vs China?

A Sputnik Moment for U.S. vs China?

By Alison van Diggelen, host of Fresh Dialogues

“This is our generation’s Sputnik Moment,” said President Obama in his State of the Union Speech last night. He’s referring of course to the space race with the Soviet Union, which spurred massive investment in research and development… and massive job creation.  Today, he challenges the nation to invest massively in the future again, especially clean energy and green tech. It’s the only way we can catch up with (or surpass) China  in the clean energy race.

Is China the invincible leader of clean energy and clean tech? It certainly looks that way. In a Fresh Dialogues interview, New York Times columnist, Tom Friedman explained his China envy… and emphasized that government has a huge role in jumpstarting the green economy. Would he like to be Obama’s Green Czar? Not a chance. He explains why in the video below.

What can we learn from China’s remarkable lead in clean energy?  I talked with China expert, Isabel Hilton, founder and editor of China Dialogue who has earned a OBE for her groundbreaking work in this field. Her team’s mission: to give the reader an inside look at China’s environmental policy and encourage dialogue between China and the rest of the world. (Check out the site…it’s in Chinese and English)

“If you think you can ignore China, you don’t know what’s coming down the road,” warns Hilton. She describes the strategic economic shift in China over the last four years, from dirty unsustainable development to a new cleaner, greener outlook. In 2011, a new five year plan will be released to position China for the future. Hilton is impressed by the focus and conviction of China’s new policies which invest heavily in research and development; and support for new cleantech industries; strategies Obama says are necessary here in the US.

Hilton cautions that public opinion is a stumbling block to progress in the West and that the “Merchants of Doubt” community is undermining policy change by generating and sustaining doubt on established scientific issues. She challenges Obama to act decisively. So far, she says, “Obama has failed to live up to his convictions.” Time will tell if Obama’s forceful State of the Union speech last night – with its “The Future is ours to win” optimism –  and the bipartisan mood of Congress will create real change.