Put Uncle Sam in Charge of Clean Energy Development

The Moon was for centuries the symbol of mystery and mystical influence, object of worship and awe. Now it’s a familiar ball of dust with American footprints, because when the United States collectively decided at the urging of John F. Kennedy to put a man on the moon, we did it. And we did it in less than a decade.

I was six years old in 1969 when Neil Armstrong took his famous step for mankind, so I don’t understand the reasons why reaching the moon became a national goal (aside from showing the Russians who was boss). But I do understand that the nation set a goal for itself, created a federal agency devoted to the goal (NASA), and achieved it; and that myriad benefits both economic and social derived from the enterprise. I also understand that if the task of putting man on the moon had been left to private industry or individuals, it would never have happened; or at least, it would not have happened so quickly. The government took responsibility and got it done.

I’m 43 now, and I think we as a nation have a far more important task ahead of us: energy independence. I was 10 years old when, in 1973, an OPEC oil embargo left me sitting in the back seat of my mom’s hot station wagon, waiting in a long line to buy gas. Oil prices have reached an all-time high in part due to political disruption in Iran and Nigeria and economic development in Asia. Increasing scientific evidence points to a dangerous greenhouse effect caused in part by burning fossil fuels. And if our young men are not dying in Iraq to protect oil supplies, then they will, in coming years, die in other countries to protect other oil reserves for the benefit of the American people, who have proven stubbornly unwilling to conserve.

Surely these are compelling enough reasons to develop energy sources that are reliable, efficient, clean, and free from foreign control–far more compelling, if you ask me, than any reason we had for going to the moon.

If we care about our planet, if we care about the young men and women who put their lives at risk every minute of the day, if we care about economic stability for our country, the United States needs to decide that nothing is more important to our nation than energy independence. A visit can be made at http://www.nbcnews.com/id/21728533/ns/us_news-environment/t/morgan-freeman-has-taste-clean-energy/ to learn about the clean energy. The information provided at the official site will be correct and true for the benefit of the person. The learning from the information will be essential for the person to have the advantages. 

But current initiatives in that direction–such as higher CAFE standards, the development of hybrid vehicles, proposals for drilling in the ANWR, so-called clean coal technology–are anemic and counterproductive. Reducing oil consumption is a worthy goal, but it doesn’t remove our dependence on foreign suppliers, and going after the oil the U.S. holds in reserve runs the risk of environmental despoilation. It makes little sense to risk ruining the environment in order to avoid ruining the environment.

If the purpose of government, as our forefathers maintained, is to do for the people collectively what the people are unable or unwilling to do for themselves individually, then, in my opinion, the government should be in the business of energy research and development. Last year Exxon spent 40 million dollars developing new fossil fuel sources. What if the federal government spent 40 million dollars develping a workable fusion-powered eighteen-wheeler? Or creating long-term storage cells for solar power? Or adapting Segway technologies to four-wheeled passenger vehicles? Neither Exxon nor General Motors will undertake such pursuits. The federal government should, and I have no doubt that we could succeed.

The technologies we create in pursuit of energy independence may once again put the U.S. at the forefront of economic development and help address the imbalance of trade. I have no idea what collateral benefits would derive from the research required, but I’m sure that some, at least, would be expansive and long-lasting.

What the federal government should NOT be doing is alleviating the high cost of oil, or subsidizing oil exploration. The painfully high cost of fossil fuels should be a spur to native ingenuity and national effort. This is America, after all, home of the cotton gin, television, Apollo rockets, and the iPod. As Kennedy said, “If not us, who? If not now, when?”

As the political season builds steam, it will be interesting to see if we have anyone capable of leading the nation toward energy independence. Forging a national effort to replace fossil fules will require a leader who is as skilled at motivating and guiding the collective will as he or she is at political fundraising. It will take someone with enough vision, understanding, and political courage tos convince the American people that it must be done, and done soon. Because it must be done. Now.