We Went to the Moon. Why Can’t We Solve Climate Change?

John Schwartz in The New York Times:

Climate change is certainly an urgent challenge. Rising levels of greenhouse gases are raising temperatures worldwide, leading to shifting weather patterns that are only expected to get worse, with increased flooding and heat waves, and drought and wildfiresafflicting millions. The task of reversing that accumulation of greenhouse gases is vast, and progress is painfully slow. The idea of a moon shot for climate has been gaining supporters. Beto O’Rourke and Kirsten Gillibrand use the idea in their presidential campaigns, as did Michael Bloomberg in unveiling his recently announced $500 million Beyond Carbon campaignIn a commencement speech this year at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology he said, “It is time for all of us to accept that climate change is the challenge of our time.” He concluded, “It may be a moon shot — but it’s the only shot we’ve got.”

Does the enduring metaphor fit the task of countering the grinding destructiveness of a warming planet?

Climate presents more complicated issues than getting to the moon did, said John M. Logsdon, historian of the space program and founder of the Space Policy Institute at George Washington University. In 1970, Dr. Logsdon wrote a book, “The Decision to Go to the Moon,” that laid out four conditions that made Apollo possible. In the case of the space program, the stimulus was the first human spaceflight of the Russian cosmonaut Yuri A. Gagarin, which filled Americans with dread of losing the space race. In an interview, Dr. Logsdon said it has to be “a singular act that would force action, that you couldn’t ignore.” Other moon shot prerequisites, he said, include leaders in a position to direct the resources necessary to meet the goal on “a warlike basis,” with very deep national pockets — people like President Kennedy, who began the program, and Lyndon Johnson and Richard Nixon, who brought it to fruition. Finally, Dr. Logsdon said, “the objective has to be technically feasible.” Scientists and engineers had told Mr. Kennedy that “there were no technical show stoppers in sending humans to the moon — it would just take a hell of a lot of engineering.”

More here.

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