“A senior US official called China’s growing innovation a ‘Sputnik moment’ that should spur the United States to ramp up investment in clean energy, despite a shift in Washington on climate change.
“Energy Secretary Steven Chu likened a series of Chinese milestones — including the development of the world’s fastest supercomputer — to the Soviet Union’s landmark 1957 satellite that led the United States into the Space Race.
“Chu said the United States still concentrated on research in areas such as computers, defense and pharmaceuticals but that its funding for energy innovation was paltry.
“By contrast, China, the world’s largest emitter of carbon blamed for global warming, is working to build the world’s most expansive high-speed rail network and has developed technology for the highest-efficiency coal plants.
“Chu, however, will enjoy little political leeway when he heads to Cancun, Mexico, where representatives of more than 190 countries on Monday opened two weeks of talks on drafting a new global treaty to stem climate change.
“President Barack Obama last year went to the climate summit in Copenhagen where he pledged US action to curb carbon emissions along with assistance for poor countries hardest hit by rising temperatures.
“The rival Republican Party, which swept November 2 congressional elections, is strongly opposed to a so-called ‘cap-and-trade’ plan to require industry to cut carbon. Many Republicans argue that it is too costly in uncertain economic times, while some contest the science behind climate change.
“Chu countered that climate action would benefit the economy by opening up a new field in green technology.
“But Chu also defended potential costs. He likened climate skeptics to homeowners who are repeatedly told to change wiring but keep looking for electricians to tell them they do not need to.
“Two recent studies found that China’s investment in green technology has outpaced that of the United States. But China has held firm in rejecting a treaty that would legally require it to cut carbon emissions.
I played highlights of Secretary Chu’s event on the show today. You can watch the entire event by clicking on the video player.