Tuesday, July 21, 2009

…We Choose To Go To The Moon In This Decade…

In September 1962 President John F. Kennedy, addressing a crowd gathered at Rice University in Houston, Texas, gave the speech which committed the US to the space race. The lines most people hear from this speech are: "We choose to go to the moon. 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, because that goal will serve to organize and measure the best of our energies and skills, because that challenge is one that we are willing to accept, one we are unwilling to postpone, and one which we intend to win, and the others, too."

In the intervening forty years the country has changed. It has changed in fundamental ways such that the statement and the underlying ideals encompassed there in seem quaint and out-dated today.

These days we don't choose to do things because they are hard. We choose do avoid things that are hard. We choose to ignore things because they are too hard or too complex for the news to sum-up in the twenty seconds they spend on any story. We choose to bury our heads in the sand and ignore that which may take effort or thought.

"Global warming is a hoax." The right cries because it is simpler to believe in some omnipotent and benevolent got who would never allow us to destroy yourself through our own stupidity, laziness, and hubris! There is a quote I heard once, it goes something like this: "To the skeptic no evidence is sufficient; to the true believer none is required."

But underlying that (and often quoted as an excuse to do nothing) is the cost and the effort required to change to a green society; a society that can sustain itself and one that won't blithely walk off a cliff while ignoring the cliff is there at all.

"America has the best healthcare in the world." Really? With the highest rate of uncovered citizens in the whole of the industrialized world? With more money spent per-capita for the care that is granted? With the need for the homeless, or even the under-employed to wait until a minor malady becomes life-threatening and they end-up in a hospital emergency room? Exactly, how is this the best in the world? But changing it would be hard! So we sit and wait for "the right time."

Perhaps the other lesson of the space race would be important to remember here. When we chose to go to the moon, we chose to commit resources and talent to the effort; we chose to prepare our population to contribute to the effort; we chose to commit time and talent! And just look at the benefits we have gleaned as a secondary benefit of the main goal: We trained US students in math and engineering. We built whole new industries to support the effort. Our industries became the envy of the world and without the need to start (or participate in) a major war!

We developed advanced technologies specifically for the space effort which are now making every-day life easier: Teflon, Global Positioning Satellites, Medical devices that can be worn to monitor or improve the health of the patient, Advanced miniaturization of computer equipment… What boon to mankind may be derived if we choose to overhaul healthcare or minimize the American impact on the environment?

Ah, but there is that problem. We'd have to choose to do it even though it is hard. Ah. Well! It was a nice thought… I guess we'll just have to sit here and wait until someone else figures out how to do it. And hope someone else thinks up a way to do it. The alternative is one none of us wants to contemplate.

Wherever you are today, I hope you're having a good day and I hope you will do something good for your community even if it is hard!

Don Bergquist – July 21, 2009 – Lakewood, Colorado, USA


Anonymous said...

Hi - Years ago I remember being very concerned about the Ozone layer. I felt silly for having worried so much about that one day when I learned that The Ozone layer had fixed itself.

Hi - Over the past 3 or 4 years I've been concerned about the hot summers and the bad hurricanes we've been getting but I figured that Mom Nature would fix the hot weather in the same way she fixed the Ozone problem.

Do you think I might be wrong in my analysis? I haven't read too much about global warming because I assumed that nature would somehow resolve The issue.

Anonymous Reader

Don Bergquist said...

Dear Anonymous Reader:

There is never a reason to feel silly for your concerns. That is unless you're worried about silly things. But it is not quite true to say that the Ozone layer fixed itself.

The truth is that the damage we were doing was serious damage by releasing chlorofluorocarbons into the atmosphere. CFCs were widely used in household products since their introduction in the thirties. These non-flammable, no-toxic chemicals seemed ideal for use as aerosol propellants and refrigerants.

It wasn't until the seventies that conclusive proof was discovered that the chemical was acting as a catalyst in the stratosphere. Here, under the influence of the increased ultraviolet radiation it influenced the breakdown of the ozone or preventing its replacement.

Remember that the creation and destruction of ozone is a natural occurrence and is happening all the time. The UV radiation from the sun heats-up and excites the oxygen (02) and Ozone (03) molecules. This excited state causes the molecules to bump into and batter each other which has the effect of constantly converting oxygen into ozone and vice-versa.

The problem with the CFCs in the atmosphere was the introduction of free chlorine molecules that they leave behind as they themselves get bashed about in the atmosphere. These free chlorine atoms were being bashed into the roiling gases at the edge of the atmosphere and bonding with the oxygen so as to prevent the formation of new ozone. So as the ozone broke down into oxygen, less new ozone was being created and so we have an ozone hole.

So in the late seventies – early eighties CFC-free propellants were developed to replace the damaging gasses currently in use. Through the cessation of the release of new CFCs into the atmosphere, the chlorine levels in the stratosphere dropped. No chlorine – no preventative to the creation of new ozone. Viola! We have returned nature to its natural ability to repair itself.

Now we're seeing the hand of man in other manifestations. There are those that believe that the hurricane cycle that we are seeing are human influenced. Others consider this to be bunk; a natural cyclical pattern of ebbs and peaks that is reaching a peak. I can see both sides, but tend toward the former. It is measurable in the small scale that human activity increases atmospheric temperatures. Cities run warmer on any given day than forests or meadows in the same general area.

Ocean levels have risen as the polar ice caps melt. Glaciers worldwide are on the retreat. Sure, this could all be a natural cyclical occurrence. But what if it isn’t? Doing something to improve the environment cannot hurt whether-or-not the climate change being noted world-wide is manmade. And if it is manmade, doing nothing would be the disastrous choice.

No, you're probably right that Mother Nature will normalize given the chance. But as Irma Bombeck writes in the introduction to The Grass Is Always Greener Over The Septic Tank:

"It was Thomas Jefferson (or perhaps it was John Wayne) who said 'Your foot will never get better with your horse standing on it.'"

We have to quit damaging Nature before she can repair herself.

Thanks again for reading and commenting on my blog!


Anonymous said...

Thanks for the analysis. If John Lennon was alive today he would probably sing "all we are saying is give Mother Nature a chance".


Don Bergquist said...

If John Lennon were alive today, I am pretty sure he would be pretty pissed off at having been buried for all these years.


Anonymous said...

I think you have John Lennon figured out pretty well.