Visiting U.S. scientist urges young to 'ask the right questions'

  • Arthur H. Rosenfeld, 2014 Tang Prize Laureate in Sustainable Development
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Taipei, Sept. 24 (CNA) A visiting U.S. scientist on Saturday encouraged young people in Taiwan to ask the right questions and gain knowledge in multiple disciplines to tackle modern-day challenges in the field of sustainable development.

"I think the most important quality to develop is the ability to ask the right questions," Ashok Gadgil, a professor from the Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering at the University of California, Berkeley, told reporters in Taipei.

He said mankind's problems today can no longer be addressed within a single discipline, unlike a few hundred years ago, when people exploring the ocean may have asked narrow technical questions, such as "how do we find the right longitude?"

Today's problems require an understanding of various disciplines, including economics, social behavior, science, law and policy, said Gadgil, who is in Taiwan to receive the Tang Prize in sustainable development on behalf of American energy expert Arthur H. Rosenfeld.

Gadgil, who studied at the graduate level under Rosenfeld, said the most important lesson he took away from Rosenfeld was his "fearless ability to go into other fields and learn them quickly and understand interdisciplinary connections."

In a speech earlier Saturday, Gadgil highlighted the achievements of Rosenfeld, a physicist, energy expert and former commissioner of the California Energy Commission whose promotion of energy efficiency technologies, standards and initiatives since the 1970s has made California a leader in energy conservation.

Before Rosenfeld took office, the standard question people asked was, "how can we supply enough energy to meet society's goals?" Gadgil said.

But Rosenfeld reframed the question in a revolutionary way by asking "how can we accomplish society's goals more efficiently and cheaply?" leading to an entirely different discussion, Gadgil said.

Rosenfeld, 90, formed the Center for Building Science at the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory and served as its director from 1986 to 1994.

The center developed groundbreaking energy efficiency technologies such as low emissivity "smart windows" and high-frequency electronic ballasts for compact fluorescent lighting.

Rosenfeld went into public office in the 1990s, first serving as senior advisor to the U.S. Energy Department's assistant secretary for energy efficiency and renewable energy from 1994 to 1999 and later as a California energy commissioner from 2000-2010.

In 2009, he helped California pass the United States' first energy efficiency standards for televisions -- standards that the state estimated at the time would save consumers US$8.1 billion in energy costs over the following 10 years.

The Tang Prize was awarded to Rosenfeld "for his lifelong and pioneering innovations in energy efficiency resulting in immense reductions in energy consumption and greenhouse gas emissions around the world," according to the Tang Prize citation.

"He has led a long and glowing list of innovations in energy efficiency policy, including efficiency standards for refrigerators, air conditioners and freezers, as well as the integration of energy efficiency into building codes," the citation read.