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"Apollo's Fire gets the situation almost exactly right."
— Bill McKIbben
"Apollo's Fire gets the situation almost exactly right."
— Bill McKIbben
. . . a passionate argument for the economic shift the authors say is necessary to ease America into a clean-energy revolution.
“Apollo’s Fire is a brilliant, inspiring book on the need to set goals and find future solutions to achieve clean, efficient energy. It is beautifully written, exciting, and hopeful. It’s a must read for every American who wants to save the planet.”
— Helen Thomas
“For those of you who want to move beyond the doom and gloom of the global warming dialogue, Apollo’s Fire fits the bill. Set in a frame of optimism and urgency, this book thinks big and shows that innovation, curiosity, and imagination already are driving the beginnings of an Apollo-like leap toward necessary solutions. The authors’ sweeping and attainable vision for America’s energy independence shows we can once again reach for higher goals and succeed.”
— Robert Redford
To free the U.S. of fossil fuel dependency while boosting the economy, we need the kind of visionary leadership that led to the Apollo moon landings in 1969, according to Inslee and Hendricks in this energetic articulation of a clean-energy future. That vision is sadly lacking under the current administration, reports Washington State Congressman Inslee in several caustic sidebars about his contentious energy discussions with President Bush and Vice-President Cheney. His first-person anecdotes lighten this otherwise earnest book, based on initiatives of the Apollo Alliance, an advocacy group and think tank uniting unions, environmental groups and business organizations committed to fostering a "green economy." Redesigning the car, investing in solar power, mining wind for power, exploring the nascent technology of "wave energy," using energy more efficiently and working clean coal and safe nuclear power into the equation are among the authors' prescriptions. Inslee is primary congressional sponsor of the New Apollo Energy Act and on the Apollo Alliance advisory board; coauthor Hendricks is a member of the alliance's steering committee. A brief foreword by Bill Clinton waxes enthusiastic about the synergy between the book, the alliance and the proposed legislation. (Nov. 2)Copyright 2007 Reed Business Information
A New Apollo Project for Energy
Where there is no vision, the people perish.
No one ever climbed a mountain they believed could not be climbed. No one ever started a business they believed would fail. And no nation ever undertook a major initiative it believed was destined for dust. When Kennedy said America was going to the moon, he did not believe we would fall short. So too, America will not commit itself to tackle the challenge of global warming or break free from the clutches of Middle Eastern oil until we have confidence that we can build a clean-energy future that will be brighter than the world we are living in today.
Why has America not risen to the challenges of climate change and oil dependence to date?
The problem is not inadequate information or insufficient scientific talent. It is not even the relentless obstructionism of vested interests, though we can't underestimate the tenacity and cleverness of the oil and automotive industries and the politicians indebted to them. Rather, the problem is an overabundance of fear. Fear that we cannot solve the problem. Fear that we cannot change the course we are on.
People have a finely developed ability to ignore problems—like the inevitability of our own death—that we believe we can do nothing about.Yet today, we do not have the luxury of ignorance. Our shift to a deep and abiding hope must be grounded in our ability to guide the forces of change for human betterment, informed by the dangers we face but guided by a belief in our own innovative potential.
As we shall see in the pages of this book, the spirit of innovation is alive today. It is alive at the labs of the Nanosolar Company in California, where a new type of solar cell may bring the world cheap electricity from the sun. It is alive in the wheat fields of Idaho, where the first commercial cellulosic ethanol plant in the world could be built. It is alive at the home of Mike and Meg Town in Washington State, which generates more energy than it consumes. In all fifty states of this union, individual Americans and their companies and communities are ready for the liftoff of a second Apollo project. Now we just need to engage the full scope of our national resources to that end.
Kennedy's original Apollo Project invested $18 billion per year (in 2005 dollars). The federal government's R&D budget for energy is now just over $3 billion. Kennedy got us to the moon. The current energy budget will not get us anywhere but to the next high-priced gas station. To put this miserly $3 billion budget into perspective, the federal government spent $6 billion last year building a truck to withstand improvised explosive device (IED) detonations in Iraq. This budget is eclipsed by that of just one company, the Microsoft Corporation, which invests twice that sum, or $7 billion a year, in research. Just one new biological drug can cost a pharmaceutical company $1 billion to develop and bring to market. Even more astounding, according to the Economist magazine, the U.S. power-generating business, arguably the world's largest polluter, spent a smaller percentage of its revenue on research and development than the U.S. pet food industry did. Clearly, our priorities are in the wrong place.
We don't need an incremental increase. We need the equivalent of a new space program. As with the original Apollo Project, much of the capital will flow from the private sector, but it will take federal investment and policy to move that capital toward new technologies that solve these problems.
It is not just money we need. Kennedy did much more than just write a budget. He wrote a new vision statement for the country. He created a national consensus that we were going to do whatever it took to reach that national goal. When young minds of a scientific bent asked "what they could do for their country," their answer was frequently to go into the space program. Our national leadership must now rekindle that sense of national purpose.
Fortunately, we have leaders today who can articulate the vision of a better future. We are about to meet some Americans who have already set out on that path. This book has been written as a map for the journey. It examines in turn each of the technologies in which we must invest to reach our goal, as well as pioneers of the new energy economy who are leading the way. While these inventors and activists can provide the engines of a new energy economy, it must ultimately be the people and our political leaders who set the course. If we choose wisely, when we reach our destination, we will have transformed the face of our nation. In so doing, we will have addressed the three legs of the new Apollo mission: attack global warming, reestablish our national security, and revitalize our manufacturing economy.
But while Kennedy had a decade to perform his feat, we may have far less time.
Surviving the Bomb, Dying from the Heat
To see the consequences of failing to act, we can look to an island nation once the home of America's nuclear testing program and now home to 60,000 very worried people. In the middle of the Pacific Ocean, about halfway between Hawaii and Australia, lie the Marshall Islands. In 1948 they were a charming series of 250 coral atolls that had been home to a gentle and friendly group of Micronesian communities for a thousand years. Those people lived an idyllic existence among the palm trees and abundant coral reefs.
Then we tried to blow it up.
We gave it all we had. We exploded twenty-three nuclear bombs on the Bikini atoll between 1946 and 1958 alone, one of which was the largest hydrogen bomb ever detonated by the United States. We hammered that little island with weapons generating temperatures equal to those on the sun itself. Ours was a scorched-earth policy.
But it did not destroy the will of the Marshall Islanders. They moved away from the Bikini atoll to other islands in the group and resumed their long traditions of living close to the land and sea. Their culture remained intact. The Marshall Islands, as a whole, survived.
But they may now be doomed by the more powerful, more pervasive, more insidious threat of global warming. A nation that survived hydrogen bombs may now succumb to H2O.
With their average height just seven feet above sea level, and the seas rising due to global warming, the Marshall Islands may be a nation that comes to know how the world, or at least their world, ended. As a nation that is literally built upon thousand-foot-tall coral reefs that also serve as critical bulwarks against the surge of the sea, it could drown. What is now an ocean paradise could become an underwater reef. The process has already begun, inch by inch.
The president of the Marshall Islands, a genial leader with a warm smile named Essay Note, knows what it is like to have one's nation nibbled away bit by bit by the power of the sea. "Our situation is already critical. We have seen the sea coming in and destroying our coastal areas. So much of our land is being washed away," he says in a tone that is remarkably calm given that his ship of state is sinking beneath him. "We live close to the ocean here. The sea is both our garden and our neighbor. It is so hard to now see it coming right into our homes. We have had to relocate people already. We have tried building sea walls, but that has limited success on an island that is two feet tall."
When you talk to this president, he will emphasize that the damage to his people has been as much cultural as physical. "Our whole culture is tied to the sea. Our traditional way of preparing food, of teaching our kids, of living in every way is interwoven with the coral reefs that sustain us. But the whole ecosystem around those reefs is now being killed. Our people have to go farther and farther out to get any fish. The reefs themselves are bleaching, and parts of them are dead. With them goes our culture."
His reefs are getting a one-two punch. First, water temperatures are rising as the ocean absorbs huge amounts of energy from the warming atmosphere. Second, the ocean is becoming more acidic as it absorbs CO2 from the air, the carbon dioxide going into solution and changing the pH level of the seas. The combination of warm water and acidic conditions is a deadly cocktail for coral.
If trends continue, there may be no healthy corals anywhere in the world in the next century, because the calcium that builds coral cannot be precipitated out of such acidic conditions. The acidification of the oceans poses a broader threat to our food supply since a substantial number of the tiny creatures that form the foundation for many food chains will also have this problem.
"It's not just the water level that threatens us," President Note explains. "Global warming causes more frequent and powerful storms that wash over us and can destroy what little margin we have to keep our noses above water. This is just another reason so many of our people have moved to places like Oregon and Seattle. It's a real problem."
The people of the island nation of Tuvalu have already agreed to move to New Zealand when their home becomes uninhabitable. President Note sees the United States as a more likely destination for his island's climate refugees due to political ties. We put Katrina refugees in the Astrodome. Where will we put the Marshall Islanders?
But President Note's first instinct is to stay and fight. "The United States is responsible for 25 percent of all the CO2 emissions in the world. How can it drown my nation and not do something about that? What gives it the right to do nothing as my nation goes under?"
Global Warming beyond a Reasonable Doubt
The science of global warming is well understood. Certain gases, principally CO2, absorb solar radiation that would otherwise be dissipated back into space. Like a down comforter on your winter bed, they then radiate that heat back to the earth. The more of these gases in the atmosphere, the more energy radiated back to earth. The higher the percentage of carbon dioxide (CO2) in the atmosphere, the greater the amount of the sun's energy that is trapped on earth. The basic principles of global warming are as scientifically accepted as gravity.
These gases are called greenhouse gases for good reason. Their presence at the right concentrations is vital to life on earth. Without them, we would be a frozen planet. But we know with a high degree of certainty that over the last two centuries, human activities have increased the concentration of these gases to levels never before seen during human existence and probably not during the last 20 million years. The levels of CO2, for instance, have risen from 280 parts per million (ppm) in preindustrial times to 382 ppm today. And CO2 stays in the atmosphere for a long time; the carbon we emit now will be part of our atmosphere for another fifty to two hundred years. The question is not whether we are causing global warming, but whether we can avoid almost doubling preindustrial levels of these gases in our atmosphere. Unless dramatic changes are made in our energy economy there will be between 500 and 600 ppm of CO2 in the atmosphere by 2050, and 800 ppm by 2100. These are more than just numbers.
In other words, by the middle of the century, the gases that trap heat on our planet could be nearly twice as "thick" as they were before we started cutting down our forests and burning oil and coal—if we're lucky. Does it stretch the imagination to think such a titanic global change would have a dramatic impact on our lives? Much worse, should it not alarm us to realize that these projections may understate the problem, since world economic activity based on fossil fuels is accelerating, and these projections are based only on the rate of increase we are suffering today, about 2–2.5 ppm per year?
Among all but a few scientists, it is a given that we have already irreparably altered the course of life on earth. Mean temperatures have risen by 1.4°F and sea surface temperatures by .09–1.8°F over the twentieth century. Sea levels have risen nearly .2 meter, and the extent of Arctic ice has decreased by 7–15 percent, depending on time of year. According to both the National Academy of Sciences and the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, the evidence that human activity is causing most of this change is unequivocal.
But this is only the beginning. It is virtually certain that continued buildup of greenhouse gases will cause increased warming, with the potential for sudden changes in major ocean currents, tundra meltoffs, and other unpredictable results presenting additional dangers.
We can expect further increases of between 3.24 and 7.2°F this century if CO2 emissions continue on their present ominous path .7 To put that in perspective, the difference between the last major ice age and our current climate is less than 10°F. Such temperature increases mean longer periods of severe storms as energy in the environment increases. As rising sea levels threaten our shorelines, increased storm surges and extreme wind events become matters of concern. Declining soil moisture will mean lost agricultural productivity and more frequent drought, pests, and forest fires.
All of these statements represent the consensus of an enormously diverse community of scientists from around the world. At a hearing of the U.S. House of Representatives Energy and Commerce Committee in July 2006, organized to challenge the science of global warming, even the witnesses called to question the science ended up agreeing to these basic findings. And of 928 peer-reviewed articles in scientific journals randomly selected from the thousands that have been published in the last decade, not one questioned these fundamental conclusions.
Like the tobacco industry of the 1960s, which declared, "Doubt is our product," some in industry have nonetheless continued to stress uncertainty to promote inaction; but questioning the basic fact pattern is no longer acceptable in public debate, and many signs of change are emerging. As an example of how far the conversation has moved, even Shell Oil has come out in favor of managing CO2 to reduce the threat of global warming, and Exxon has dropped some of its support for groups questioning global warming science.
But the scientific news has not gotten better as the picture has become clearer. The damage predicted is more imminent than it was considered just three years ago when the world's largest scientific panel ever assembled—the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), established by the World Meteorological Organization (WMO) and the United Nations Environment Program (UNEP)—released its Fourth Assessment Report.
"All the new information makes it more ominous. Ice caps are melting faster. Greenland is melting faster. Permafrost is melting faster. Beetles are killing millions of acres of forests—since 2000, we have lost an area the size of Illinois to forest fires—and this wasn't even contemplated. Extreme weather events are accelerating in frequency. Feedback mechanisms like methane escaping melting permafrost were not even considered by the IPCC. It's worse than we thought," says Joe Romm, whose book Hell and High Water ought to make the most sanguine concerned.
For example, hardly anyone had heard of the problem of ocean acidification three years ago. Some even proposed pumping CO2 into the ocean to store it. Now the evidence is conclusive that CO2 from the atmosphere is entering the water and turning it more acidic. Little ecosystem bombshells like this keep going off as our understanding of the climate grows.
When it comes to responsibility for global warming, not all men are created equal. We Americans are the leaders, unfortunately, in global warming. We are only 4 percent of the world's population, but we emit 23 percent of the world's CO2. On a per person basis, the average American is responsible for close to twenty tons of CO2 each year, nearly ten times what an average Chinese citizen emits. We must do better, and we must do so urgently. It is literally a matter of survival.
Kissing the Arctic Good-bye
It's not just foreign nations that will suffer. To our north lies a threatened place that holds the key to the world's climate, the Arctic.
Excerpted from Apollo's Fire by Jay Inslee, Bracken Hendricks. Copyright © 2008 Jay Inslee and Bracken Hendricks. Excerpted by permission of ISLAND PRESS.
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