To someone who does not know anything about modern issues or parties, I might appear to be a raging lefty. But what I really am is anti-idiocy, anti-dishonesty, anti-stupidity, and pro-science, pro-fact, pro-reality. Forty years ago, at the dawn of my political consciousness, that made me a centrist to a middle of the road conservative. Today it makes me some kind of Marxist-socialist progressive. Even though the years have barely changed me, the primary difference being politics made my eyes glaze over then, but I have more patience for them now.
It turns out that former Secretary of George Shultz who served under Ronald Reagan isn’t just anti-idiocy, he’s non believer, too. At least according to the last post. Egad, the man even has solar panels on his house and recommends them for everyone!
SciAm — Your long career in government was often focused on protecting the U.S. How will climate change affect national security?
GS: I think in the energy area, we have to be constantly aware of three big objectives. Number one: we have to think of energy as a strategic commodity that is very important to our national security. Number two: we have to recognize that energy is the engine of the economy, so we want inexpensive, reliable, consistent energy. And number three: we have to recognize that energy produces pollutants as it burns, so it affects our environment. It affects the air we breathe; it affects the climate we create. So we have these three issues to keep in mind all the time, and you can’t just do one or the other, but you’ve got to work on them all at the same time.
We’ve had these renewable energy efforts in the past, like after the first oil crisis in the 1970s, but they weren’t sustained. Are things different now?
GS: Solar panels right now are almost competitive with the grid, and if you talk to the scientists working on them they are full of ideas for what they call improving efficiency. Getting more power out of a given sunbeam. But half the costs are installation costs, pick-and-shovel work. So I said to them: Why don’t you start thinking about how you build something that’s easier to install? If we could build something that’s half the cost of installation, bang—the costs are way down.
I think it’s essential in this country, and I encourage it around the world, to maintain the funding for the [research and development] effort that’s going on right now. There’s a greater mass of it than ever before. The amount of money from the federal government is nothing compared with the total budget, and as I’ve seen here at Stanford, the federal commitment and the federal money is more than matched by private money.