On September 12, 1962, President Kennedy put forth a vision that the United States would put a man on the moon and bring him home safely by the end of decade. When JFK put forth this challenge, the United States had virtually none of the apparatus or technology to accomplish this vision and according to a Gallup Poll shortly after Kennedy’s speech, 58% of Americans were opposed to the idea.
Still, Kennedy eventually gained sufficient support from Congress, and America embarked upon what would become one of America’s most iconic technological achievements. Twenty-two percent of the world’s population watched the first men walk on the moon and America further solidified its leadership role amongst the developed nations of the world.
Fast-forward to the present day. President Biden recently announced that the US (with support from several major automakers), would set voluntary targets for electric, plug-in hybrid, and hydrogen fuel-cell vehicles to account for 50% of new car sales by the end of this decade. This announcement is part of a broader vision to reduce our greenhouse gas emissions, and given what the best available science tells us, failure cannot be an option. (IPCC, 2021)
While I am not attempting to compare Presidents Kennedy and Biden, there IS a clear parallel between the imperative nature of the 1960s moon shot and the imperative today to significantly reduce our carbon emissions. Both challenges are intricately intertwined with American leadership in the world, and both require(d) the willingness to create something new, even when there isn’t (wasn’t) a specific roadmap for every step toward the vision.
In a recent guest column, Chet Thompson, President and CEO of the American Fuel and Petrochemical Manufacturers, opined that Senator Tester should reject President Biden’s policy regarding electric, hybrid and hydrogen fuel cell vehicles. (The Billings Gazette, August 24, 2021). His rationale, in part, was grounded in the idea “that our country has neither the supply chain nor the electric grid to support it”.
This is the kind of short-sighted argument those opposed to Kennedy’s moon shot put forth back in ’62, and thank goodness this perspective didn’t rule the day back then — for who would argue today that it was a mistake to beat the Russians to the moon?
To his credit, Mr. Thompson correctly asserted that internal combustion efficiencies have substantially improved over the past several decades. Unfortunately, he then used these historic facts to argue that we therefore ought not introduce competing technologies. Clearly, the competitive (and regulatory) pressures that forced the improvements in internal combustion technology would only be enhanced by introducing competing electrification technologies, a reality that would benefit us all.
Supporting the Biden policy here doesn’t require an absolute choice between fossil fuels and electrification as Mr. Thompson suggests. Even with the current push for electric vehicles, internal combustion engines will be around for a good long while. (see, ICE studies) Moreover, the Biden policy for electrifying cars does not mandate 100% electrification, only 50%, by 2030.
Please contact Senator Tester and let him know you support Biden’s reasonable approach toward meeting one of the greatest challenges of our time! Transforming our economy with low/zero carbon emission technology is our “moon shot”, and we can/will do this and many 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 we intend to win, and others, too.” (JFK Speech)
This opinion is signed by Dave Atkins, Missoula; Marya Grathwohl, Billings; Mary Mulcaire-Jones, Missoula; Robin Paone, Whitefish; Hope Smith, Red Lodge; Kristen Walser, Bozeman; and Angie Winter, Kila.