The Climate Race


An Open Letter to the U.S. Government

Dear Congress, 

With the unprecedented hurricane’s and wildfires we have experienced in recent months it is painfully clear that climate change is here now. What we need now is the political will to address climate change with immediate urgency – scientists have determined that 2020 is the year by which greenhouse gas emissions need to start declining in order to stop run away, catastrophic climate change. Fortunately, we have a clear and compelling example in the recent history of the United States of creating the political will to achieve a monumental goal. At the beginning of the 1960s newly inaugurated President Kennedy asked rocket scientist Dr. Wernher Von Braun what it would take to build a rocket that could carry a man to the moon and bring him back safely to the Earth within ten years. Von Braun answered him in five words, “The will to do it.” Galvanized, President Kennedy delivered a “special message to the Congress on urgent national needs” on May 25, 1961 in which he laid out the case for the “space race”. On July 24, 1969, the Apollo 11 Mission returned to Earth after putting Neil Armstrong on the moon - a seemingly insurmountable task was achieved through sheer will to reach for the stars.  Given the urgent need to generate the will to rapidly and dramatically address climate change, Kennedy’s speech has been updated below to make the case for a new “climate race” to address the prevailing crisis of our times - the new text is in bold. 

“If we are to win the struggle that is now going on around the world maintain a healthy, habitable planet, the dramatic science of climate change should have made clear to us all the urgency of mitigating further global warming.  This is the adventure that needs to be on the minds of people everywhere, who are attempting to make a determination of which road they should take…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 clean energy and climate stabilization achievement, which in many ways may hold the key to our future on earth. I believe we possess 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. We have never specified long-range goals on an urgent time schedule, or managed our resources and our time so as to insure their fulfillment.

Recognizing the recent abdication of leadership and responsibility by the U.S. federal government on the issue of climate change, we are required to make new efforts on behalf of the American people. We can guarantee that any failure to make this effort will make the Earth a less economically, socially, and environmentally secure home for current and future generations. But this is not merely a race. The opportunity to mitigate severe climate change is open to us now; and our determination to address the dominant crisis of our times must not be governed by the efforts of others. We will race to address climate change because whatever humankind must undertake, free people must fully share, especially those in industrialized countries, such as the U.S., that are the most culpable for creating the climate crisis.

Let it be clear that I am asking the Congress and the country to accept a firm commitment to a new course of action, a course which will last for many years and carry heavy costs, as well as substantial benefits and opportunities…  It is a most important decision that we make as a nation. But all of you have lived through recent years and have seen the clear signs of an already changing climate.

This decision demands a major national commitment of scientific and technical resources, material and facilities, and the possibility of their diversion from other important activities where they are already thinly spread. It means a degree of dedication, organization and discipline which have not recently characterized our research and development efforts. It means we cannot afford undue work stoppages, inflated costs of material or talent, wasteful interagency rivalries, or a high turnover of key personnel.

New objectives and new money cannot alone solve these problems. We need every scientist, every engineer, every serviceman, every technician, contractor, and civil servant to give their personal pledge that this nation will move forward, with the full speed of freedom, in the imperative adventure of creating a healthy, stable climate on our shared home, Earth.”

Now, instead of a moonshot, we need to take a global shot at protecting the Earth. Space exploration had its glory and incredible resulting technological breakthroughs have rippled through the ensuing almost 70 years. However, all these decades later and Earth is still the only home we have – a “goldilocks” planet with exactly the right conditions to support life. The Climate Race calls on leaders within governments, businesses, and organizations to take a long-view, but act rapidly and in collaboration in the short term to address climate change. As we face this challenge we can be inspired by the space race as well as our more recent and similarly remarkable ability to shrink the hole in the Earth’s ozone layer through the Montreal Protocol, which the U.S. signed in 1987. 

As representative in the federal government, I am asking you to vocally propose the need for a “climate race”. This will require a strategic and multifaceted approach, including: 

If the above has not compelled you to take immediate action to call for a new climate race, allow me to make some closing arguments for my determined request: 

  • The hottest decade in at least the last 1,300 years was 2000–2009, and 2016 was the earth’s warmest year on record. We’ve all witnessed the real and consequential effects, including Hurricanes Katrina in 2005, Sandy in 2012, and Harvey last week as well as the long drought in California from 2011 to 2017, and the heat wave broiling the Southwest this summer. If greenhouse gas emissions continue to rise unchecked, the risks are profound. Scientists have credible reason to fear climate effects so severe that they might destabilize governments, produce waves of refugees, precipitate the sixth mass extinction of plants and animals in the Earth’s history, and melt the polar ice caps, causing the seas to rise high enough to flood most of the world’s coastal cities. Bold efforts to limit emissions would reduce these risks, or at least slow the effects, but it is already too late to eliminate the risks entirely. This is why our military and national security agencies have long recognized climate change as a threat to the stability of countries. And “instability breeds conflict,” notes retired Army brigadier general Gerald Galloway, as when terrorists in Somalia exploit crop failure and famine, preventing food aid from reaching communities, or when melting Arctic sea ice opens up new shipping lanes and, with that, new opportunities for nations to compete for natural resources. Climate change may seem like a distant, far-off issue, but it is truly a challenge for today. If we don’t act swiftly to peak global emissions in the next three years, the world will be on a path to runaway climate change that will undermine the future for our children. 
  • What Medicare for All is to the healthcare debate, or Fight for $15 is to the battle against inequality, 100% Renewable and a functional WWII-scale climate change mobilization bill is to the struggle for the planet’s future. It is how people who respect science will think about energy going forward and your stance on this issue will be increasingly significant in future elections. 
  • America’s warped politics may slow the transition to renewables, but other countries are now pushing the pace. In June, for instance, China’s Qinghai Province—a territory the size of Texas—went a week relying on 100 percent renewable energy, a test of grid reliability designed to show that the country could continue its record-breaking pace of wind and solar installation. In April, Great Britain, for the first time since the launch of the Industrial Revolution, managed to meet its power demands without burning any coal. Since 2014, solar production has grown six-fold in Chile, where Santiago’s Metro system recently became the first to run mostly on sun. These are all good signs—but, set against the rapid disintegration of polar ice caps and the record global temperatures each of the last three years, they still amount to too little. It’s going to take a deeper level of commitment—including turning the U.S. government from an obstacle to an advocate.  

In July Dan Rather reflected on the 48 year anniversary of putting a man on the moon. He noted that “In the historical background were the turbulent, divisive 1960s: the assassinations of President John F. Kennedy, Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. and Bobby Kennedy...there was the Vietnam War, civil rights marches, race riots, the sexual revolution and rebellious youth...Nixon had just become President. As a nation, as a people, we were more divided than at any time since the Civil War. But in this moment, with our bold, risky journey beyond the bounds of our Earth, we were united. Never since, with the possible exception of the immediate aftermath of 9/11, have we been so together, so together as one. America had scored an historic first. We had beaten the Soviets to the moon, by coming from behind. The cosmos had been opened and the triumph was one for all humankind. But more importantly, we had confirmed that our species is an adventurous one, capable of great feats by adhering to a spirit of collaboration, science, and dreaming big. Now, in an age of pettiness, small-mindedness and ignorance, I hope we can find a way to unite once more in a new era of human exploration. We are at our best when we are literally, or metaphorically, reaching for the stars... together.” 

I strongly believe that in today’s turbulent times a “climate race” is the critical path forward to achieving this dream, and a habitable home for humanity. As an environmental scientist and educator and parent of two young children I believe that hope is not yet lost on mitigating a climate disaster. I am committed to doing everything I can to come from a place of active hope that fosters my ability to take personal, professional, and political action on this, the crisis of our times. But in reality it comes down to leaders like you having the conscious and courage to take bold action. Please do not let humanity down – we are counting on you. As a species we have transitioned through the agricultural revolution and the industrial revolution, help us transition through the clean energy/climate revolution while there is still time.