Unless there is timely action on climate change, California's agricultural bounty could be reduced to a dust bowl and its cities disappear, Barack Obama's energy secretary said yesterday.
The apocalyptic scenario sketched out by Steven Chu, the Nobel laureate appointed as energy secretary, was the clearest sign to date of the greening of America's political class under the new president.
In blunt language, Chu said Americans had yet to fully understand the urgency of dealing with climate change. "I don't think the American public has gripped in its gut what could happen," he told the Los Angeles Times in his first interview since taking the post. "We're looking at a scenario where there's no more agriculture in California. I don't actually see how they can keep their cities going."
Chu's doomsday descriptions were seen yesterday as further evidence that, after eight years of denial under George Bush, the Obama White House recognises the severity of climate change.
Chu is not a climate scientist, and won his Nobel for his work on lasers. But he was well-known at the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory for his outspoken concern about climate change and his commitment to developing clean energy long before Obama appointed him.
The language he used yesterday, though stark, was in step with a co-ordinated effort by Obama's officials and Democrats in Congress to project an image of consensus among policy makers in Washington on the need to move America away from fossil fuels and cut greenhouse gas emissions.