NEWS & EDITOR’S COMMENT: US energy policy

Nobel physicist chosen to be energy secretary

President-elect Barack Obama has chosen Steven Chu, a Nobel Prize-winning physicist who heads the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory, to be the next energy secretary, and he has picked veteran regulators from diverse backgrounds to fill three other key jobs on his environmental and climate-change team, Democratic sources said yesterday.

Obama plans to name Carol M. Browner, Environmental Protection Agency administrator for eight years under President Bill Clinton, to fill a new White House post overseeing energy, environmental and climate policies, the sources said. Browner, a member of Obama’s transition team, is a principal at the Albright Group.

Obama has also settled on Lisa P. Jackson, recently appointed chief of staff to New Jersey Gov. Jon S. Corzine (D) and former head of the New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection, to head the EPA. Nancy Sutley, a deputy mayor of Los Angeles for energy and environment, will chair the White House Council on Environmental Quality. [continued…]

Editor’s CommentLast year, Steven Chu said that energy research and development needs a massive infusion of public investment: “We need money on the magnitude of what the U.S. invested in the Apollo program,” he said.

Since he is now about to become the leading advocate for this amount of investment, he needs to be well-armed if he’s going to have any chance of winning the public debate during a period of deep economic recession.

Unemployment won’t be slashed by putting scientists back to work. In fact, Chu might be able to better plead his case if he argued that the mission he’s pushing is so important that it will require a few scientists being forced to sacrifice their pet projects.

That possibility might be what has pushed the NASA chief, Mike Griffin, into a bunker mentality as he apparently now views members of the Obama transition team as the enemy.

But if Chu wants to make a powerful pitch for an Apollo mission that America needs far more than it needed the actual Apollo mission, part of his argument could be that in order to save the planet we need to stop wasting money on catapulting human beings into space.

Last year, Steven Weinberg, a particle physicist at the University of Texas at Austin and a co-recipient of the 1979 Nobel Prize in physics, said: “The International Space Station is an orbital turkey. No important science has come out of it. I could almost say no science has come out of it. And I would go beyond that and say that the whole manned spaceflight program, which is so enormously expensive, has produced nothing of scientific value.”

Let’s repeat that: THE WHOLE MANNED SPACEFLIGHT PROGRAM, WHICH IS SO ENORMOUSLY EXPENSIVE, HAS PRODUCED NOTHING OF SCIENTIFIC VALUE.

As the idiot-in-chief is about to leave office, maybe now is the time to draw up a list of some of the most wasteful and ill-conceived projects he has cherished and say, enough is enough. Now is the time to invest in what matters.

No more big budget, high-tech Viagra projects: Goodbye mission to Mars; goodbye the Vision for Space Exploration; goodbye missile defense.

Let’s stop acting like we’re dying to be part of the biggest suicide cult in human history and instead start doing whatever it takes to develop a sustainable way of living.

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