We are at a critical juncture in human history. Many serious challenges confront us, not just as a nation but as a race, as inhabitants of this fragile blue miracle, afloat in a vast and hostile cosmos, awesome in its expanse and terrifying in its power.
This election will be one of the most pivotal in the last 100 years. The next president of the United States will bear a great burden; from the weight of their office, yes, but it will be compounded by the enormity and scope of the problems that face the world today. Never before in history have we been confronted with problems whose scope and breadth stagger the imagination. Also, never before in history and in so short a time span have we made such strides in so many areas as a people; the last 50 years have seen unprecedented advances in science, engineering and technology and this progress is cause for hope. Such strides have given us the ability to land a man on the moon, fly past the same object at 60,000 km/hr that was a faint point of light in 1930 and the ability to instantly reach a billion people with the click of a mouse. In his famous May 25, 1961 Speech before a Joint Session of Congress, President Kennedy committed this nation to landing a man on the moon within the decade and we did so on July 20, 1969! The question begs asking: where would we be if we had maintained that same drive to dream and to explore, that determination that allowed us to achieved President Kennedy’s goal ahead of schedule?
We have achieved great things, yes but, as Isaac Newton said long ago, “If I have seen further, it is by standing on ye shoulders of giants“, much of what we have learned and achieved has been built on foundations set long ago by others, not just in the science and its practical outcomes, benefits and discoveries but also and equally important, in its nobility of purpose. People believed in altruism, to do good for goodness sake. By conducting research and enhancing our understanding of the natural world and the universe we live in, we would be an inspiration to others, to new generations of fertile minds, to dream and to reach for the stars, quite literally. These qualities are largely gone today, replaced with cynicism and ambivalence; we need a new sense of hope and purpose, to look to the stars, not with detached indifference but with inspiration and humility, with the understanding that we and they are one and the same. To teach you must first inspire and to carry on this legacy, our nation’s next leader must hold high these ideals.
In 2010 President Obama provided additional funding for NASA’s brilliantly successful Cassini Mission at Saturn through September 2017, providing the opportunity for additional and unprecedented exploration of the ringed planet and its numerous satellites. He saw then and continues to do so today, the need for this country to play a strong, leadership role in science and space exploration. The next US President must continue that legacy.
With the last of the votes being tallied in the New Hampshire Primaries, the question looms large and begs asking, where do the candidates stand on the role of science and public policy? Science allows us to make real, measurable improvements in every facet of life, from medicine to communications, all forms of engineering, materials science, propulsion, optics, electronics and computer science; the list is as long as your imagination will allow. We face real and serious threats from a rapidly warming environment, climate change mostly brought on by willful indifference, greed, selfishness and ignorance. We face threats from disease, overpopulation, increasing demands on a dwindling food supply and from space in the form Near Earth Objects and asteroids, to mention a few.
Many of the Republicans now contending for their party’s nomination for President of the United States fail to see the ever increasing role science must play in many facets of public life. Some, instead, prefer to invoke their particular deity either for help or to give thanks to. A particular candidate comes to mind, having retired as a successful neurosurgeon, he suffers from a particular disorder prevalent among many of his rivals, a condition, ironically, where he probably would have prescribed some aggressive treatment or therapy, that of acute memory loss when it comes to matters of science and religion. He forgets his science training and argues passionately that humans walked with dinosaurs 6,000 years ago! He is not alone; his incompetence and lack of any tangible qualifications or character becoming of a President is spread out evenly among his rivals. Others don’t see the need for science at all since God is in control of everything. Why do we need science when God will save us from ourselves and that dreadful universe that’s trying so hard to kill us; he will raise his invisible hand and block the 5 km wide asteroid traveling at 30 km/sec towards the mid-Atlantic. We will all be lifted up in the Rapture when it hits! Still another wants to build a 2000 km long wall along our southern border with Mexico, have them pay for it and believes the Great Wall of China is 13,000 miles long (yes, Donald Trump believes the Great Wall of China is 13,000 miles long, 1/2 the earth’s circumference). As contenders for the President of the United States, they argue with such passionate intensity, a sincerity and conviction that is undeniable. That conviction and their adherence to superstition and nonsense is troubling in and of itself; what is more troubling is that they have so many followers! Oh yes, one more thing, if anyone of them wins the election, they will have access to the NUCLEAR LAUNCH CODES! Can you imagine Donald Trump (or possibly Sarah Palin if she is selected as VP in a Trump ticket) or Ted Cruz having access to the Nuclear Launch codes?
To weaken any climate initiatives, such as the SCOTUS has just done, is irresponsible and counterproductive. In a 5 – 4 decision, decided strictly along political lines, the court on Tuesday temporarily blocked implementation of the president’s action to curb greenhouse gas emissions from coal-fired power plants. That the court did this is unprecedented and bespeaks as dim, any chances of meaningful, near-term climate progress. The original case, an expedited legal challenge brought by 29 states and numerous corporations and industry groups, is being decided by the US Circuit Court of Appeals for the DC Circuit. SCOTUS has issued a temporary stay of the administration’s climate action while the case is being decided. The outcome of this case has far-reaching implications that could directly effect the accord reached in Paris. The next president has to be strong on climate change and the environment. Science is not a popularity contest and isn’t a matter of opinion nor should policy considerations be based on any debate by an uneducated public. Those who make and set policy must be informed by science, not the opposite. Science should never be subject to coercion and scientists must rise above the rancor so often a part of any political process.
The next president cannot seek to dismantle the US Department of Energy, the US Department of Education, the US Environmental Protection Agency, the US Department of Agriculture and other agencies as was proposed by ranking Republicans in the US House of Representatives. Instead, the Department of Homeland Security must be eliminated and the country’s internal security structure returned to its pre-911 state with the appropriate federal agencies, such as the FBI, given what they need to effectively fulfill their respective roles. The next president must be a strong advocate for education with an emphasis on expanded funding in the STEM fields. There needs to be an enhanced federal science budget providing R & D for new and emerging technologies with an eye towards reining in a bloated military, increasing NASA’s budget while building up a new Green-energy sector. As a compliment to emerging or improved green technologies and to meet our obligations set forth as an outcome of the Paris climate accords, as well as to behave as responsible stewards of our environment, there must be renewed interest in and deployment of nuclear power. New technology breeder reactors effectively eliminate most, if not all, nuclear waste. Regarding development of new sub orbital and orbital capabilities, I discuss that in this article.
The next president needs to keep this country out of the internal affairs of other nations and extricate us from the Middle East, permanently! In terms of domestic policy and security, we need to go back to basics, the Constitution and its Amendments. The USA Patriot Act must be allowed to expire completely and we should mourn its passing as we would a dead insect.The next president must eliminate all warrantless spying, internally and externally.
This is a pivotal election, the outcome of which will set the stage for this country and the rest of the world for decades to come. The effects of electing the wrong person now will be a disastrous legacy that our children and grandchildren will suffer. We must all vote, yes, but we must arm ourselves with the facts and vote as informed, educated, responsible individuals.
Lastly, as President Obama has done, as did his predecessor, the next president must continue to advocate for sustainable outposts on the moon or Mars within the next 20 years. They and their successor must have the vision, foresight and leadership to bring that to fruition. Achieving this goal will insure the long-term survival of our species; it will be the first chapter in an enduring legacy where humankind will have come of age; we will have emerged from our nest, fledglings pushed out by necessity, much as a mother does her young, to fend for ourselves and survive. We shall survive, sustaining ourselves off our home world, beginning our story as a truly modern, mature race. Although I surely hope they will, such outposts may not become a reality in my lifetime as there are many obstacles to overcome before this vision becomes reality. These outposts will be a refuge in the event of a worldwide catastrophe; they will be a testament, that we will have learned and developed the sociopolitical maturity to overcome all that divides us, venturing out, unified as a single race, to boldly go where no one has gone before.
“Imagination is more important than knowledge”
An index of all articles in this blog can be found here.