Our Next Moonshot: Saving Earth’s Climate
Originally posted on bloomberg.com.
The following is an adaptation of an address to the Massachusetts Institute of Technology class of 2019.
Fifty years ago next month, the Apollo 11 lunar module touched down on the moon. It’s fair to say the crew never would have gotten there without MIT.
Going to the moon was not a popular idea in the 1960s. And Congress didn’t want to pay for it. President John F. Kennedy needed to convince taxpayers that a manned mission to the moon was possible — and worth doing.
So in 1962, he delivered a speech that inspired the country. He said, “We choose to go to the moon in this decade, and do the other things, not because they are easy, but because they are hard.”
In that one sentence, Kennedy summed up mankind’s inherent need to reach for the stars. He continued by saying: “That challenge is one that we are willing to accept, one we are unwilling to postpone, and one which we intend to win.” In other words: For the good of the United States, and humanity, it had to be done.
And he was right. Neil Armstrong took a giant leap for mankind, the U.S. won a major Cold War victory, and a decade of scientific innovation led to an unprecedented era of technological advancement. The inventions that emerged from that moonshot changed the world: satellite television, computer microchips, CAT scan machines — even video-game joysticks.
The world we live in today is fundamentally different, not just because we landed on the moon but also because we tried to get there in the first place. In hindsight, President Kennedy called for the original moonshot at exactly the right moment in history. And the brightest minds delivered.
Today, I believe that we are living in a similar moment. But this time, our most important and pressing mission is not to explore deep space. It’s to save our planet, the one we’re living on, from climate change. And unlike 1962, the primary challenge is not scientific or technological. It’s political.
The fact is: We’ve already pioneered the technology to tackle climate change. We know how to power buildings using the sun and wind; how to power vehicles using batteries charged with renewable energy; how to power factories and industry using hydrogen and fuel cells. And we know that these innovations don’t require us to sacrifice financially or economically. Just the opposite: Those investments, on balance, create jobs and save money.