Biden's moonshot

Biden's moonshot
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In 1962, President John F. Kennedy said: “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.”

President Joe Biden launched his own moonshot last week with an ambitious pledge to reduce America’s emissions of climate-changing pollution by at least 50 percent from 2005 levels — about 35 percent below current levels. Biden’s plan, if realized, will change the scope and direction of American life for generations to come. And just like Kennedy’s, Biden’s vision could very well leverage innovation, ingenuity, and technology that secures American leadership through the remainder of the century.

Sixty years ago, in April, Soviet cosmonaut Yuri Gagarin became the first human in space and the first person to orbit the Earth. At the height of the Cold War, the Soviet Union had dominated the early space race, beginning with its launch of the first Sputnik satellite in 1957. This Soviet space advantage also shook the U.S. national security establishment, adding to Kennedy’s anxiety about ballistic missile competition.


America faced an existential challenge: Would the liberators of Europe and the leader of the post–World War II era simply fail to match a rising Soviet Union and its impressive scientific breakthroughs?

Not under Kennedy’s watch.

JFK’s 1962 speech unleashed generations of innovation, research, and development that not only assured American technological leadership, but dramatically changed the way we live and think. Weather satellites, integrated circuits, solar panels, heart monitors, dialysis machines, and many other technologies all developed through investments in NASA’s Apollo program.

Astronauts have described their experience in space as the “overview effect;” a phenomenon that underscored the fragility of the planet Earth. Competition between the United States and the Soviet Union soon led to cooperation, beginning with the joint Apollo-Soyuz mission in 1975.

Today’s world is marked by a new period of global competition as China advances and regional powers begin to assert their own strategic interests. But both the United States and our global competitors also face a looming existential threat in climate change — a threat that requires cooperation to avoid cataclysmic outcomes.


Faced with this challenge, President BidenJoe BidenMilitary must better understand sexual assaults to combat them The Hill's Equilibrium — Presented by NextEra Energy — Tasmanian devil wipes out penguin population On The Money: Democrats make full-court press on expanded child tax credit | White House confident Congress will raise debt ceiling MORE has rejoined the Paris Agreement on climate change and has committed not only to reduce our national greenhouse gas pollution, but to support developing countries in reducing their emissions as well.

Biden’s commitment is bold. It has to be.

Science increasingly paints a grim picture of a future climate if the Earth’s average temperature warms much further. The United States is already experiencing accelerating consequences of emissions of carbon dioxide from burning fossil fuels, and methane from oil and gas production and distribution, and unsustainable approaches to agriculture and forestry. Witness how warming temperatures have changed vegetation zones, altered salinity in our oceans and marshes, given rise to higher sea levels and loss of coastal land, accelerated wildfires, and produced more intense storms.

If humanity does not hold the Earth’s temperature to approximately 1.5 degrees Celsius above pre–industrial levels, just a few tenths of a degree above where it stands today, risks to key systems — the stability of major ice sheets and ocean currents, the viability of the Amazon with effects on precipitation across our hemisphere and the globe, Western forests, coral reefs, even global prices for food crops — promise to disrupt our communities, states, and national fabric. Consider many of the challenges that vex the international order: economic inequality, population displacement and refugee flows, and loss of natural resources and biodiversity. These issues will pose greater tests the more temperatures rise.

This is not just our challenge — it’s an opportunity. Biden’s commitment serves as a national defining goal that offers the promise of American progress, leadership, and economic growth. Specifically, by investing in emerging domestic industries, Biden’s plan will put the United States on a path to be the leading producer of key technologies, including hydrogen, carbon capture, and energy storage.

Biden’s vision positions the United States as a global leader, by adopting a target that puts the United States in the top rank of countries, joining other countries to work together on key climate-related challenges.

At the same time, critically, Biden ensures that America will not leave behind communities that are especially reliant on fossil fuels.

How do we begin to build the next American century?

We can seize the future by decarbonizing electricity production, moving to electric and other zero-emission vehicles, and making major investments in industrial, residential, and commercial energy efficiency.

We must rapidly deploy wind, solar, and other renewable technologies, including rooftop solar on homes and commercial buildings and offshore wind energy installations, with the goal of ensuring 80 percent of our power supply comes from clean energy by 2030 and 100 percent by 2035. By charting U.S. leadership in energy storage and carbon capture, and adopting standards to drive this transition, we can cut carbon pollution from electricity generation by three-quarters and other types of pollution by more than 90 percent in this decade, as compared to business as usual, creating jobs and saving more than $1 trillion in health costs.

Transportation accounts for the largest share of U.S. greenhouse gas pollution. By shifting passenger vehicles to zero-emissions alternatives, we can bring the sector in line with a climate-compatible future. Electric vehicles (EVs) mean less carbon pollution and lower operating costs. American businesses are already investing in EV manufacturing and components such as batteries and EV charging (or battery-switching) stations, with a goal of driving down the price of EVs. GM has already committed to stop making gasoline- and diesel-powered passenger vehicles by 2035; other American manufacturers should do the same. To this end, the Administration should lay out a pathway, supported by stronger emissions and fuel economy standards, collateral investments, and consumer incentives, to ensure that all new passenger vehicles have zero emissions by 2035, as 12 governors have recommended.

Tackling climate change is our generation’s opportunity to create jobs, wealth, and technology. Climate opportunity offers our nation a chance to invest in the future rather than stagnate in the past. It’s Biden’s moonshot.

R. David Harden is managing director of the Georgetown Strategy Group and former assistant administrator at USAID’s Bureau for Democracy, Conflict and Humanitarian Assistance, where he oversaw U.S. assistance to all global crises. Follow him on Twitter at @Dave_Harden.

Eric Haxthausen is an independent consultant advising on climate policy and strategy. He has served in the Federal government under four presidential administrations, and as an economist and U.S. climate change policy director for leading environmental organizations.