US Energy Secretary Steven Chu confirmed that he will leave his position a few weeks into President Barack Obama’s second term. Chu is something of a nerd hero: A Nobel-prize-winning physicist for his work on how lasers affect cooling atoms, he was a professor at Stanford University and then the director of the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory. At Berkeley, Chu led the lab to focus on biofuels and solar energy, while warning against the negative effects of climate change.
When Chu was appointed in the heady days after Obama’s inauguration, he became the aspirational vessel into which the nation poured its green energy hopes: Who could be better qualified to develop US energy policy in the new century? He also symbolized the Obama administration’s belief in science—not something that might need emphasizing in other developed countries, but in America, a pointed contrast to the increasingly anti-scientific mindset of the Republican party.
Alas, it was not to be. The bulk of policy decisions are made at the White House, and after a major climate-change bill failed in the spring of 2010, Washington’s priorities changed from climate change—which before the 2008 election was a bipartisan affair—to a partisan battle over the economy.