A New Apollo Project Can Help Unplug our Need for Oil

May 5th, 2003 - by admin

by Representative Jay Inslee – Seattle Post-Intelligencer


Is it reasonable to worry about perpetual security threats stemming from our involvement in the Mideast? Yes, we have a right to worry because at the moment our nation has no plan for breaking the addiction to oil that so entangles us in this regional quagmire.

Do Washingtonians long to start skiing but cannot because there is no snow in the mountains this late in the year? Yes, we have a right to worry because a radical reduction in our snowpack is predicted for the Cascades due to global warming, a challenge we have no national plan to address.

To that end, Congress should seize the moment to champion a unified and highly prioritized national program to fulfill America’s destiny of leading the world to a new clean energy future. We should call for a total national commitment to harness the genius of America’s can-do attitude that would design, invent and deploy the new clean energy technologies that befit this new century.

No single national endeavor has such capacity to expand our economy by tapping our innate and unique technological genius for innovation. No single national priority is so critical to reduce the risks from impending man made climate change. No single non-military action can be as effective in avoiding the security challenges that haunt us due to our addiction to Mideast oil.

Now the laws of economics, the laws of physics and the laws of politics all are aligned in a possible perfect storm, allowing us to inspire the nation to achievement just as grand as John F. Kennedy’s challenge to the nation in 1961 to put a man on the moon.

This national endeavor needs a name. It needs a name invested with the historical imagery of American innovation and sense of destiny. We should call it “the New Apollo Project.” What the nation achieved in building the technologies that took us to the moon now can be matched by technologies that keep our launching pad, Earth, in healthy condition.

The New Apollo Project will follow the fundamental law of economics in the new global economy — the nation with the most advanced technology wins. As one representing a district that includes Boeing and Microsoft, the benefits are obvious of leading the world in computer sciences and aerospace technologies, both of which occurred in no small part due to federal government investment in the project.

But we are on the cusp of a “clean energy gap” just as worrisome as the missile gap of the Sputnik era. The dominant wind turbine manufacturer is Denmark, a country that will produce 50 percent of its electricity by wind power within the decade. The dominant photovoltaic panel producer is a German company. The dominant manufacturers of hybrid cars are in Japan.

Why should we, the greatest seedbed of technological innovation in world history, cede these emerging markets to the rest of the world?

The New Apollo Project will create jobs in the unpredictable but ultimately wildly beneficial ways that the Apollo project gave birth to a thousand new products, such as Tang, and to entire new industries, such as the computer industry. We went to the moon but we ended up on the Internet.

The New Apollo Project is also necessitated by a law of physics, which states that the presence of carbon dioxide and other byproducts of burning fossil fuels in the atmosphere traps infrared radiation reflected off the face of the Earth. This “CO2 heat trap” warms the planet and we are now seeing the melting of the Arctic ice cap, a harbinger of things to come.

But we are a responsible and innovative people, and solutions to this man-made problem are surely within our grasp. With the New Apollo Project we can jump-start the technologies that are close to providing market-based power, such as photovoltaics, and take on the more visionary horizons such as the hydrogen-based transportation system. Fear of failure should not stop us.

Lastly, the laws of politics call upon the Democratic Party to demonstrate our sense of optimism, expansive can-do Americanism and unabashed confidence that we can answer the technological call to arms. As long as we are addicted to Mideast oil, we are slaves to the animosity and backlash against the repressive regimes, which have now brought Middle Eastern violence to our own shores.

Since that day in March 1961, when a Democratic president inspired our nation to seek a higher calling that seemed beyond reach, the moon itself, our party has not issued a more stirring call.

“That’s one small step for a man, and one giant leap for mankind” — this time toward a new national energy future.

Democrat Jay Inslee represents the 1st District in Congress.