What kind of advice would you like to give to future presidents of the United States? Physicist Richard A. Muller chose to hand over his knowledge about energy in his newest book Energy for Future Presidents: The Science behind the Deadlines. The supply and demand for energy has a major impact on the economy, foreign policy and of course, global warming. With an accessible, scientific approach, Muller covers all the main energy issues of our time.
What do you think is the biggest misconception concerning the relationship between energy production and global warming?
“That many changes in local climate and weather are misattributed to greenhouse gases. Much bigger effects dominate, including the variability we call “El Nino.” The recent US heat wave was not due to global warming; hurricanes are not increasing; nor are tornadoes. The list is very long.”
Can you give an example of a relatively simple change in (global) energy policy that could have major environmental benefits?
“A switch from coal to natural gas. Natural gas, for the same energy, releases only one third as much carbon dioxide, the main greenhouse gas.”
To what extent do U.S. policy makers collaborate with scientific experts on energy production and its environmental influences, and should this collaboration be improved?
“There is a lot of discussion, but it tends to focus on what the US can do. Far more important is what we can do to help reduce future emissions from China and the developing world. If we are going to “set an example” it has to be one that will work there. For example, if we inspire China to adopt electric cars, it will INCREASE their carbon dioxide emissions, since they derive most of their electricity from coal.”
What is your main “energy advice” for future presidents?
“As I say in my new book, future presidents must become US’ energy teachers. Be objective, and stick to the science. Energy policy requires technical energy conservation and a switch from coal to natural gas. We must expedite the shift in the developing world.”
Scientists say there is a risk that a solar storm could knock out the power grids, satellites and communications within the next two year. Do you consider this a big threat?
“It is a possibility and it is a threat, although I think the “two year” number is a great exaggeration. Solar activity has actually decreased, so the threat is arguably lower now than it has been over the last decade. Far more likely is that we will have a big storm that has a regional effect.”
Richard A. Muller is professor of physics at the University of California, Berkeley, and a former MacArthur Foundation fellow. He is the author of various books including “Energy for Future Presidents: The Science Behind the Headlines,” “Physics for Future Presidents” and “The Instant Physicist.” He and his daughter Elizabeth founded the “Berkeley Earth” project to evaluate the science and evidence for global warming.
Physics for Future Presidents: The Science Behind the Headlines, by Richard A. Muller