“..we don’t want our children to ask, “What were our parents thinking? Didn’t they care about us?” Stephen Chu’s Farewell

February 2, 2013

From Stephen Chu’s farewell letter, as he steps down from the position of Secretary of Energy.

I want to conclude by making a few observations about the importance of the Department of Energy missions to our economic prosperity, dependency on foreign oil and climate change.

  • The United States spent roughly $430 billion dollars on foreign oil in 2012. This is a direct wealth transfer out of our country. Many billions more are spent to keep oil shipping lanes open and oil geo-politics add considerable additional burdens. Although our oil imports are projected to fall to a 25 year low next year, we still pay a heavy economic, national security and human cost for our oil addiction.
  • The average temperature of our planet is rising, with majority of the temperature increase occurring in the last thirty years. During the three decades from 1980 to 2011, the number of violent storms, floods, droughts, heat waves, wildfires, as tabulated by the reinsurance company Munich Re, has increased more than three-fold. They also estimate that the financial losses follow a trend line that has gone from $40 billion to $170 billion dollars per year. Most of those losses were not insured, and the country suffering the largest losses by far is the United States.  As the President said in his recent Inaugural Address, “some may still deny the overwhelming judgment of science, but none can avoid the devastating impact of raging fires, and crippling drought, and more powerful storms.”
  •  The overwhelming scientific consensus is that human activity has had a significant and likely dominant role in climate change. There is also increasingly compelling evidence that the weather changes we have witnessed during this thirty year time period are due to climate change.
  • Virtually all of the other OECD countries, and most developing countries including China, India, Mexico, and Brazil have accepted the judgment of climate scientists.
  • Many countries, but most notably China, realize that the development of clean energy technologies presents an incredible economic opportunity in an emerging world market. China now exceeds the U.S. in internal deployment of clean energy and in government investments to further develop the technologies.
  • While we cannot accurately predict the course of climate change in the coming decades, the risks we run if we don’t change our course are enormous. Prudent risk management does not equate uncertainty with inaction.
  • Our ability to find and extract fossil fuels continues to improve, and economically recoverable reser­voirs around the world are likely to keep pace with the rising demand for decades. As the saying goes, the Stone Age did not end because we ran out of stones; we transitioned to better solutions.
  • The same opportunity lies before us with energy efficiency and clean energy. The cost of renewable energy is rapidly becoming competitive with other sources of energy, and the Department has played a significant role in accelerating the transition to affordable, accessible and sustainable energy.
  • 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. There is an ancient Native American saying: “We do not inherit the land from our ancestors, we borrow it from our children.” A few short decades later, we don’t want our children to ask, “What were our parents thinking? Didn’t they care about us?”
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22 Responses to ““..we don’t want our children to ask, “What were our parents thinking? Didn’t they care about us?” Stephen Chu’s Farewell”


  1. [...] “..we don’t want our children to ask, “What were our parents thinking? Didn’t they care abou… [...]

  2. omnologos Says:

    My Dad was of my age 35 years ago, 1978. What would I blame the people of 1978 for? Of course, nothing. They had no idea. They didn’t care about Iran or Afghanistan, knew nothing of internet and mobile phones, were confused about global warming or cooling, never heard of Reaganomics, etc etc.

    I say, leave the children alone. Nevermind intergenerational justice’s slippery slope towards outlawing all forms of abortion.

    • jasonpettitt Says:

      Which is why retrospective criticism of, say, Margaret Thatcher is almost entirely unheard of in the UK.

      Oh wait :/

    • jpgreenword Says:

      “What would I blame the people of 1978 for? Of course, nothing. They had no idea.”

      And that is the difference. We know (and have know for a while now) that our pig-headed obsession with fossil fuels is threatening the stability of our climate and the well-being of our society. Having that knowledge, we have a responsibility to act.

    • andrewfez Says:

      Omnologos posting is a welcome sight, after the storm of characters this blog has seen recently. Thumbs up to you sir, even if I can’t figure out what the heck you are saying half the time.


  3. [...] From Stephen Chu's farewell letter, as he steps down from the position of Secretary of Energy. I want to conclude by making a few observations about the importance of the Department of Energy missi…  [...]

  4. livinginabox Says:

    ‘I say, leave the children alone.’

    The irony and dishonesty of this statement. – We are guilty of child abuse on a global and trans-generational scale. Degrading ecosystems world-wide and perturbing the climate are neither wise, nor are they beneficial to anybody.

    We do not inherit the Earth from our ancestors, we borrow it from our children.

    • omnologos Says:

      Unsurprisingly you find refuge in rhetorical ineptitude. It’s exactly because we know we don’t know about the world of our children that we better leave them alone. Imagine discussing WiFi with the Victorians?

      In 1992 the US Congress iirc passed legislation that became the basis for ethanol fuel. That was all to protect the Earth for the children. Some protection it was.

      • livinginabox Says:

        Dishonest rhetoric and inverted logic seems to be your stock in trade.

        Please do explain how uncertainty could possibly be our friend. Especially since the climate die is set to throw us more sixes than we would normally expect and occasionally sevens and perhaps higher?

        • astrostevo Says:

          Yup. The measured obserations (eg.Arctic sea ice melt) all seem tobe at the upper limits of the models predictions. The so-called “Alarmist”* scientists appear to have been too conservative erring on the side of less dramatic, more optimstic predictions. That .. Really. Ain’t. Good.

          Uncertainty is not only NOT our friend its also becoming our flippin’ nemesis!

          Hope I’m wrong but I really fear we’re in a lot worse than anyone realises yet.

          Makes me glad I’ve no kids, fearful ’bout the end of my lifetime and sorry for future generations. Incl. my brothers new daughter. She does NOT deserve what’s coming. No Justice.

          I hope its not tolo ate. The sooner we actand the more we do the better.

        • omnologos Says:

          I say “don’t do it for the children because we don’t know what we are doing” and you transmogrify that in “how uncertainty could possibly be our friend”?? Well if you can’t read then don’t reply.

          Is there anything we can do that will bring a better world to our children? We do not know. Is there anything we can do that will bring a better world to us? Yes. For example, remove incentives for corn-as-fuel (and palm-oil-as-fuel) that have been put in place by our “parents” to make the world a better place for us, and ended up making it worse from most if not all point of views.

          • greenman3610 Says:

            I’d agree with the perverse biofuel incentives.

          • omnologos Says:

            I’ll note the date and time when we agreed on something. :)

            The original idea was of course a good one but what came out of the lawmaking machine was..compromised by compromises.

            I guess that’s the most likely fate of anything that cannot be legislated in a single article. You can see the same story about the Space Shuttle, for an example in a completely different field.

  5. Jean Mcmahon Says:

    Try not to be so fearful ..Seven generation sustainability is an ecological concept that urges the current generation of humans to live sustainably and work for the benefit of the seventh generation into the future.[1] It originated with the Iroquois – Great Law of the Iroquois – which holds appropriate to think seven generations ahead (about 140 years into the future) and decide whether the decisions they make today would benefit their children seven generations into the future.

    “In every deliberation, we must consider the impact on the seventh generation… even if it requires having skin as thick as the bark of a pine.” This is an often repeated saying, and most who use it claim that it comes from “The Constitution of the Iroquois Nations: The Great Binding Law.”

    In fact, the original language is as follows: In all of your deliberations in the Confederate Council, in your efforts at law making, in all your official acts, self-interest shall be cast into oblivion. Cast not over your shoulder behind you the warnings of the nephews and nieces should they chide you for any error or wrong you may do, but return to the way of the Great Law which is just and right. Look and listen for the welfare of the whole people and have always in view not only the present but also the coming generations, even those whose faces are yet beneath the surface of the ground – the unborn of the future Nation.


  6. “The United States spent roughly $430 billion dollars on foreign oil in 2012. “

    Ironically, $430 billion dollars is about what it would cost to buy enough solar PV panels to produce all the electricity needed for the United States to replace all fossil-based fuels forever.

    One year’s worth of foreign oil.

    What’s the lifespan of a PV panel in a hot dry climate? Twenty to 50 years?

  7. astrostevo Says:

    Tim Lambert that is.

    Sorry typo – too late at night my time.

  8. Bruce Miller Says:

    Optimism for further oil discoveries outside the U.S.A. – foreign oil – must be tempered by the Asian Fact and ever higher bids for oil, in a much stronger currency (Yuan) and from greater numbers, Asia’s growing worker class. As the U.S. Dollar loses PPP against the Yuan, as other countries consolidate Gold reserves, as Chinese goods production now exceeds that of America, and even as Asian production now further exceeds that of the U.S.A., Americans can expect rapid rises in the price in U.S. Dollars for oil and all resources. America’s Golden Age commanded up to 70% of the world’s resources. This Golden Age was fueled by the Cheap Oil Era. The Cheap Oil Era is over. The Asian Fact, the Fed’s U.S. Dollar printing sprees, and diminishing world oil availability are forcing oil prices ever upward.
    China and for that matter the rest of the world, seek Thorium fueled cleaner fission processes, while U.S.A. remains locked on their proven dangerous and very expensive (fuckoshima) enriched uranium technology. China has more Wind Power than most of the rest of the world. China has developed the Three Gorges Dam, China is working on Solar on a scale Americans cannot even imagine, China has electric bullet trains currently replacing oil intensive jet plane flights, China has mandated a drift from gasoline to electric cars.
    This is my favorite cut and paste from the net.
    “Had the $4 Trillions+ spent on Iraq, been spent even only on conventional Solar/Thermal development of South Western U.S.A. – Today, Americans would receive a huge ROI ( “Return On Investment”) in cheap electricity, in place of horrendous tax rates to service unpayable war debt to China. Americans would be gainfully working, using this renewable, perpetual, eternal, clean, radiation free, radioactive waste free, domestic, electricity source – to compete in world markets with well priced products, to irrigate dry lands, to heat and cool homes, and much less foreign oil would have be imported, fewer “Parasite Nations” supported. This is the lost “opportunity cost” for having Saddam’s scrotum on the Bushes mantlepiece? Shiite eh!”
    P.S., (Oil, gas, wells do go dry, not really sourced from an eternal pipe up &Allah’s-ass, as some believe – But, the Sun never stops shining, Wind blows forever)
    My Question: Is the current American path truly the path to the greatness we aspire to? Can we do better? Will Solar, Wave, Wind, Hydro, Tidal, Geothermal, Biological, all domestic, all clean, all renewable = perpetual = eternal energy sources add to our nation’s greatness, contribute our individual lifestyles? Can Thorium be fissioned safely, cleanly and cheaply to provide us with energy? Did we even study this? Are their alternate and perhaps better routes to our goals?
    Stephan Chu, at his age is concerned with the next generation. Why can’t this generation have jobs in energy development? Why can’t this generation surpass the last generation, take the handles of power and build on the past generations? In America a terrible constipation exists. Even our Congress illustrates this. Our system in faulted in that it serves big money, and the older crowd’s desires and sacrifices the youth on this alter. This will have to change or Chinese communism will most certainly overtake America and the world.


  9. [...] 2013/02/02: PSinclair: “..we don’t want our children to ask, “What were our parent… [...]


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