On May 25, 1961 – nearly 50 years ago – John F Kennedy uttered a few words that transformed a nation, inspiring its citizens to undertake an unthinkable, unachievable task:
“I believe that this nation should commit itself to achieving the goal, before this decade is out, of landing a man on the Moon and returning him back safely to the earth. No single space project in this period will be more impressive to mankind, or more important for the long-range exploration of space; and none will be so difficult or expensive to accomplish.”
It was a preposterous challenge, and the costs would be enormous. But Kennedy insisted, and the nation responded. On July 20, 1969, the dream was fulfilled when Apollo 11 landed on the moon. The ancillary benefits were huge and far reaching. Here’s a list of 79 of them.
Fifty years later, no president has come close to harnessing the energy, determination, and spirit of the American people to achieve a great and unobtainable goal like the race to the moon.
But now is the time.
The fact of the matter is, this nation, this continent, this planet is facing serious environmental change, that will have major economic, political, and human wellbeing consequences. Of that, there is no longer any serious doubt or debate. I can think of no single issue with greater importance to human welfare that the United States should take a leadership position on. To Kennedy, I say:
“This nation should reduce its per capita production of climate changing emissions from the highest in the industrialized world to the lowest in the industrialized countries by 2020.”
I cannot think of a more difficult, more inspiring, or more important challenge for the world today. I can already hear the critics starting to murmur:
“It will be disastrous to our economy.”
“It will make us uncompetitive.”
“It will raise the costs for the American consumer.”
I completely disagree. Just like the space race spawned hundreds of industries and thousands of new technologies that have fueled our economy for five decades, this enormous challenge will do the same. Is it possible to create technologies that reduce emissions and reduce costs? Of course it is. And THIS will be an enormously valuable and exportable product. The companies that seize this challenge will be providing industrialized goods and technological solutions to the rest of the world for another 50 years.
And it couldn’t come at a better time. Despite decades of lax regulation, the US trade deficit has reached unprecedented heights. It’s time to change this while doing the right thing for the planet. Challeng the American people. They will respond.