We must act on climate, and we cannot wait until the decade is out

By Chairwoman Eddie Bernice Johnson

When President Kennedy spoke to students at Rice University in 1962, he answered an important question after declaring, during a joint session of Congress, an American would step foot on the moon before the decade was out. The question: Why the Moon? “Why choose this as our goal?”. His answer became a rallying cry for dealing with future challenges: “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.”

Our country made a choice and dedicated ourselves to achieving the dream of landing on the moon before 1970. About 650 million people across the world watched that dream come true on July 20, 1969. In those moments, the United States broadcast to the world our commitment to leadership in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics. The Apollo 11 mission transcended an American success story and started a new frontier of international scientific cooperation and achievement.

In the 59 years since Americans looked towards the sky inspired to do the impossible, we have forgotten the full impact we can make if we unite as a nation in pursuit of a common goal. On this anniversary of a once in generation moment, as Chairwoman of the House Committee on Science, Space, and Technology, I urge our country to bring the same urgency and action to a new goal: solving the climate crisis. We cannot wait for the end of the decade, we cannot wait for 2025, we cannot wait for tomorrow. We must act today.

In answering why we should go to the moon, President Kennedy continued, “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.” It is for these same reasons, we must choose to act on climate in 2021.

We must adopt this call to action from President Kennedy 59 years ago and apply it now to how we address the climate crisis. We need the same sense of urgency, dedication, and pride in our country to do the right thing. This state of our climate grows dire, but it’s not hopeless. If we act now, future generations will not question our commitment to ensuring our nation’s top scientists, engineers, and researchers have the tools they need to create innovative ways to address climate change and develop vital mitigation and adaptation strategies. We will not have to persuade them that we made the right investment as a nation to lead the global response in the fight against the climate crisis.

As Americans listened to President Kennedy, they already were in awe of the cutting-edge breakthroughs of the 20th Century: penicillin, television, and nuclear power. Today, we have multiple safe and free vaccines developed through mRNA technology to protect against COVID-19. We have 5G technology which will bring Americans a stronger and more reliable network. We have new and more efficient methods of clean energy, including an astounding achievement by the U.S. fusion research community, just last month.

These achievements did not happen overnight. They are a testament to the breakthrough possibilities that can be reached through patient, diligent adherence to the scientific process and through steady, substantial investments in the people that carry out this work.

As we look towards the future of our planet, and the safety and well-being of the future generations who will inhabit it, we have an obligation to work together again, to choose the difficult and accomplish the impossible. This is not a decision of putting one field of science above another or pitting industries against each other. Taking action on climate requires every tool we have. It requires dedication, collaboration, and the full force of our entire nation’s scientific enterprise. In this spirit, we will boldly move forward and not only protect our planet but begin to heal it.