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The Sexiest Men Alive

By Philip Duffy

Move over Matt Damon, Brad Pitt, and Johnny Depp. While U.S. Energy Secretary Dr. Steven Chu may not strut at the top of the list of sexiest men alive, he does know what’s sexy.

At a reception yesterday in Copenhagen hosted by the Alliance to Save Energy, Dr. Chu convinced the gathered guests guzzling shrimp hors d’ouevres with Carlsberg chasers that climate scientists are sexier than politicians, and physicists are even sexier than biologists.

Sounding a note of optimism on a day when a small group of diplomats were getting stuck inside the Bella Center, and thousands of others were stuck outside, Chu pronounced his core belief in scientists as the key to getting unstuck. There are still things to be discovered, he said, and it’s the scientists, not the talking heads, who will do the discovering. President Obama set a goal of reducing carbon emissions by 80% by 2050, and it is the scientists, with the help of business visionaries who are smart enough to support their work, who will come up with ways to achieve this goal.  If necessity is the mother of invention, Chu said, “climate change is the mother of all necessities.”

And Dr. Chu has a tip for the world: “I am an energy conservation nut”, he said, because “I am cheap.” Energy efficiency sometimes means spending money first, but ultimately tends to save it. Besides financial barriers, what stops individuals from using already available energy savers at home, such as energy efficient appliances and building materials, are the same obstacles keeping commercial enterprises from employing energy savers at work are lack of knowledge and inertia. Highly publicized events like COP-15 help to bridge the information gap, and knowledge tends to provide the kick some of us need to get moving.

But what about financial barriers? As with the raging health care debate, the men and women in suits are addressing the perverse incentives in the system that currently discourage saving, and coming up with financial incentives that will encourage scientists to discover, industries to produce, and consumers to purchase energy efficient products.

At the same time, Obama’s proposed “Cash for Caulkers” program, borrowing from the popular Cash for Clunkers program, would provide tax breaks for homeowners who install energy-efficient retrofits. Home improvement companies like the Home Depot store he visited this week would be key partners in the program, creating jobs and helping families save money on energy bills, while at the same time improving energy efficiency.

This is not another case of “eat your spinach.” The idea: energy efficiency is not only good for you, it’s also sexy. As Dr. Chu said, “when you want something badly enough, it becomes sexy.”

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