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Mission Accepted: Clean Energy

While watching President Obama’s State of the Union address last Tuesday night, I couldn’t help but draw parallels to President Kennedy’s challenge to embark on a lunar landing program. That now famous speech was given to a joint session of Congress on May 25, 1961. I went back and reread it and found the following quotes, still pertinent today:

  • "Now it is time to take longer strides—time for a great new American enterprise—time for this nation to take a clearly leading role in space achievement, which in many ways may hold the key to our future on earth."
  • "I believe we posses all the resources and talents necessary. But the facts of the matter are that we have never made the national decisions or marshaled the national resources required for such leadership."
  • "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 safely to the earth."
  • "The decision demands a major national commitment of scientific and technical manpower, materiel, and facilities and the possibility of their diversion from other important activities where they are already thinly spread."

We remember this speech and the way in which it galvanized the country. It laid out a simple goal that was both astounding and measurable. It had the strength of both moral and societal imperative. Kennedy said it was the right thing to do for mankind, and at the same time the goal supported our basic desire to explore. He tapped into America’s justifiable pride in our innovative nature and technological capabilities.  

What are the factors that allowed us to rise among world powers in the 20th century? Certainly we had raw materials and a low-cost workforce driven by immigration. But I would argue our innovations in science and technology were among the most important. Americans invented electrical applications in the 1920s, the auto industry, the petrochemical industry, synthetic fibers, and plastics in the 1950s and 1960s, and the electronics revolution in the last 20 years.

Similar to Kennedy, Obama laid down a challenge saying, "This is our generation’s Sputnik moment." Building meaningful groundwork in clean energy technology is a moral and societal imperative. We can’t continue depending on an ever shrinking pool of hydrocarbon reserves whose use is probably causing tremendous harm to our planet. How will the poor of the world ever be brought up to a reasonable living standard without cheap, plentiful energy?

This is the right thing to do and the time is now! The President said, "We do big things." Clean energy should be one of them.

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