• Former U.S. Secretary of State George Shultz PhD '49 addresses an MIT audience about climate change, September 30, 2014.

    Former U.S. Secretary of State George Shultz PhD '49 addresses an MIT audience about climate change, September 30, 2014.

    Photo: Justin Knight

    Full Screen

George Shultz: “Climate is changing,” and we need more action

Former secretary of state — and former MIT professor — urges progress on multiple fronts.

Press Contact

Abby Abazorius
Email: abbya@mit.edu
Phone: 617-253-2709
MIT News Office

Media Resources

1 images for download

Access Media

Media can only be downloaded from the desktop version of this website.

You might not picture former Secretary of State George Shultz PhD ’49 as someone who drives an electric car, or has solar panels on the roof of his home. But he does — and Shultz has become a vocal proponent of action to combat climate change.

Shultz brought that message to MIT in a talk on Tuesday afternoon, advocating further policy and research efforts to address the problem, and discussing ways to engage people who have not previously supported action on climate change.

“The climate is changing,” Shultz told an audience in MIT’s Wong Auditorium. Speaking of those who have resisted the scientific consensus on the matter, he added, “If you don’t like the science, use your eyes.”

Shultz’s preferred approach involves two main steps: a revenue-neutral carbon tax, and increased government funding of research on clean technologies. The carbon tax would apply to the sale of fossil fuels, which produce greenhouse gases that become trapped in the Earth’s atmosphere and raise temperatures; money raised by that tax would then be refunded to citizens — making the approach “revenue-neutral,” meaning the government would not take in added revenue.

Shultz suggested referring to such initiatives as an “insurance policy” in recruiting support among those reluctant to take climate action. These policies, Shultz emphasized, would not be costly, especially compared with the long-term expense of dealing with climate change.

“The insurance policy isn’t even that expensive,” Shultz asserted. When it comes to R&D funding, he said, “The amount of federal government dollars is trivial. It isn’t even a rounding error.”

Moreover, he added, “You get a multiple out of the federal effort”: Private-sector investors will want to join a growing area of technological innovation.

In particular, Shultz emphasized, better electricity storage, whether through batteries or other technologies, would be a highly significant development, allowing intermittent solar and wind energy to be used when the sun is not shining, or when there is no wind.

“One of the real breakthroughs is when someone figures out long-term storage capacity,” Shultz said.

He added that implementing policies can bring about subsequent cultural or social changes as well.

“Once you have something like this in [place], it has an effect on people’s attitudes,” Shultz said. He noted that the Canadian province of British Columbia implemented a carbon tax in 2008, and has subsequently seen sales of hybrid and electric vehicles rise, perhaps as a result.

“We shouldn’t be discouraged”

Shultz’s talk, titled, “How to Think about Energy and Climate,” was hosted by the MIT Energy Initiative, where Shultz serves on the external advisory board. Working to address climate change “is very much in the MIT tradition,” Shultz told the audience.

Shultz received his PhD in economics at MIT, and served on the economics faculty in the 1950s. From 1969 through 1974, he served as U.S. secretary of labor, director of the Office of Management and Budget, and secretary of the Treasury. Shultz served as secretary of state from 1982 to 1989, during which time he helped construct the last major international agreement on the atmosphere — the Montreal Protocol of 1987 phasing out chlorofluorocarbons, which deplete the ozone layer.

Then as now, Shultz recalled, some observers adopted a skeptical position about the scientific evidence. However, he noted, “In the case of the Montreal Protocol, the people who were worried [about the atmosphere] were right.”

Then-President Ronald Reagan also “thought we should take out an insurance policy,” Shultz said, and backed the treaty.

While a significant gulf exists between the nation’s two major political parties on the issue of climate policy, Shultz tried to persuade the audience that progress was still possible among congressional Republicans. “We have to think about how we approach people to find a common ground,” Shultz said, urging diplomacy toward those currently opposing action.

In 2009, the House of Representatives passed a bill that would have limited carbon emissions through a “cap-and-trade” system, but the measure died in the Senate. The Obama administration has since directed the Environmental Protection Agency to limit greenhouse gases, a directive the Supreme Court largely upheld this summer, but the EPA’s efforts are still in their early stages.

Shultz also recommended that the U.S. and China pursue a bilateral agreement regarding climate and technology items where they could find common ground, and then use that to get other countries to sign on for further climate action, rather than waiting for global acceptance of a climate accord.

Shultz has made climate change one of his major interests as a policy advocate. In a 2013 interview with Scientific American, he noted that he had solar panels installed on his house several years ago and now drives an electric car, saying, “I figure I've got to walk the talk.” The presence of his four great-grandchildren, Shultz noted in those remarks, has helped give him a sense of urgency about the matter.

As difficult as the issue might seem, Shultz told his MIT audience yesterday, there is some progress being made, and more is possible.

“We shouldn’t be discouraged and think that nothing is happening,” Shultz said.

Topics: Environment, Energy, MIT Energy Initiative, Climate change, Renewable energy, Carbon Emissions, Special events and guest speakers, Alumni/ae, Global, Sustainability, Policy


Climate Change (CC) is a naturally occurring event. It's...uh...normal. There is absolutely NO MONEY involved in saying CC and global warming are normal climate cycles. But there is a HUGE PAYLOAD in scaring people, creating new programs, hiring more people in non-productive jobs, selling gimmicks, insurance, electric cars that are expensive and don't work that well, windmills that kill thousands of birds each year, etc., etc., etc. It's NORMAL. Don't get sucked in. In 100 years your ancestors will look back on one of the largest public scams in world history!

' Then as now, Shultz recalled, some observers adopted a skeptical position about the scientific evidence. However, he noted, “In the case of the Montreal Protocol, the people who were worried [about the atmosphere] were right.” '

Ozone formation and destruction, especially in the stratosphere is a poorly understood process. We simply do not know what the natural cycle of variability is, and what the underlying factors are. For example, the spectral variation of the sun' output (more/less UV) is seen to be such a factor, but is not quantified to any clear degree. It is therefore impossible to disentangle the effects of the Montreal Protocol from those of Nature herself. It was right to be skeptical of this protocol then, and it right to be so now, as there is no scientific proof that CFCs were a cause of ozone depletion, or that the Montreal protocol has led to subsequent ozone recovery. None. And until we understand the natural cycles affecting ozone in the stratosphere, Shultz' comments are merely unscientific propaganda.

Did Governor Brown choose a CA/DCA/BAR Chief who can find out if what is broken on a Smog Check failed car gets fixed? A Smog Check secret shopper audit would cut toxic car impact 1500 tons per day while reducing cost by $billions.

Yes, it certainly makes sense to buy “an insurance policy” against the costs of climate change. And yes the cost of the policy would be minimal. If the proceeds of a carbon tax are returned to American households, jobs will be created and the economy will
grow, according to a recent REMI study. http://citizensclimatelobby.or...

Because of the economic stimulus of recycling carbon fee revenue back to households, in 20 years, 2.8 million jobs would be added to the American economy.

And In 20 years, CO2 emissions would be reduced 50 percent below 1990 levels.

Ignoring that greenhouse gases have a slight cooling effect, while we are cooling into an Ice Age, George Shultz is echoing the $92 Trillion Carbon Disclosure Project propaganda,

Sure, I used my eyes in the 90s and saw the melting glaciers and the open water at the north pole. That seemed obvious.

But for the last 15-20 years, we've been at a plateau. If anything,there's more sea ice than ever down at the South Pole. And boy has it been a snowy winter in North America and it looks like another one coming. So I'm not sure I trust my eyes.

If the CO2 hockey stick theory makes sense, we should be getting even hotter. So do I trust my eyes when I read this article or when I look outside at the snow?

Back to the top