Fifty years ago three Americans landed on the moon, culminating an eight-year national project proposed by President John F. Kennedy. Despite strong disagreements over civil rights, the Vietnam war, and economic policy, all Americans could take pride in this tremendous accomplishment.
It would be wonderful to find a similar project involving many Americans, challenging our creativity, drawing on and encouraging our idealism, and producing important results that we could all admire.
South Bend, Indiana Mayor Pete Buttigieg, contending for the presidential nomination, has proposed such a national project: halting the impending climate disaster caused by soaring levels of atmospheric carbon dioxide. His proposal is well-timed.
The increasing frequency and severity of weather extremes — especially heat waves and flooding — makes it harder and harder even for extreme skeptics to deny the dangers posed by global warming.
If we do not do anything about the climate, hundreds of millions may be fleeing third world cities, inundated by rising oceans, within the lifetimes of younger Americans. (See Antti Tuomainen's novel, "The Healer," for one possible scenario. ) We and the Europeans are already overwhelmed by the much smaller number of refugees escaping from Middle Eastern wars and Central American mafia-states.
Like the moon race, a national project needs an important, hard to reach, goal. Avoiding climate disaster is a huge challenge. With the possible exception of atomic energy, it will require replacing nearly all conventional energy sources with renewable energy, probably combined with massive reforestation.
Thanks to the decreasing cost of solar energy, the world is already moving in the needed direction. But it may not be moving fast enough. Our national project would accelerate this process.
This project would not focus only on the United States.
A world-wide problem requires a world-wide solution.
Americans, especially recent graduates, would be invited to join organizations charged with converting the entire planet to solar energy and planting vast new forests.
Their main task would be installing so many solar panels and developing so many ways to store electricity for nighttime or bad weather ( or to avoid the need for storage ), that people would stop burning coal, oil, and natural gas simply because solar energy has become cheaper.
Wind turbines, harvesting solar energy indirectly, may also be important.
But wind farms require large investments, mainly a job for power companies.
A few people might work to encourage this.
But most volunteers should focus on solar panels, which can be widely installed on a small scale, on the infrastructure needed for their efficient operation, and on reforestation.
During two-year service, volunteers would get room and board and a little spending money, but no salaries. The vast majority would serve abroad and benefit from learning about other cultures and languages.
They all would have the satisfaction of serving their country. The adventure would broaden their horizons.
Program alumni would help assure that future American foreign policy is based on a deeper understanding of foreign countries.
Organizations will be needed to run this project, like NASA did for the moon race.
But we don't need to create new organizations since suitable ones already exist: the Peace Corps and Americorps VISTA (Volunteers In Service To America). The Peace Corps would need to be greatly expanded but is already experienced at handling operations abroad. A rejuvenated VISTA would bring the same agenda to the United States.
To help make Peace Corps members acceptable everywhere, a major shift in foreign policy — desirable in itself — would help. We would announce that, while we rejoice when other countries become democratic and respect the rule of law, we will no longer try to overthrow regimes that do not meet our standards.
And, with regret, we would renounce military interventions to prevent foreign regimes from mistreating their people, since our "humanitarian" interventions have usually made things even worse for those people.
This program will cost a great deal of money even though volunteers would not be paid very much. But a more restrained foreign policy would allow a large reduction, 20% or more, in the U.S. military budget, and the money saved could finance the project.
These savings could also help Americans now employed by coal, gas, and oil companies, and whose jobs will be destroyed by the solar revolution, to find new opportunities or to retire in some comfort.
Like shooting for the moon, the Peace Corps was dreamed up by the Kennedy administration. JFK would have been pleased to know that the Peace Corps would help implement another major unifying national project --- saving the world climate while hopefully also improving the American political climate by giving us something we can work for as a team.
Paul F. deLespinasse is Professor Emeritus of Political Science and Computer Science at Adrian College. He received his Ph.D. from Johns Hopkins University in 1966, and has been a National Merit Scholar, an NDEA Fellow, a Woodrow Wilson Fellow, and a Fellow in Law and Political Science at the Harvard Law School. His college textbook, "Thinking About Politics: American Government in Associational Perspective," was published in 1981 and his most recent book is "Beyond Capitalism: A Classless Society With (Mostly) Free Markets." His columns have appeared in newspapers in Michigan, Oregon, and a number of other states. To read more of his reports — Click Here Now.
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