I have watched with embarrassment as employees with various federal agencies have gone rogue on social media to criticize President Trump. The alternative agency Twitter feed that I find the most upsetting is Rogue NASA.
I became a scientist and engineer because of NASA. My dad took me to see Apollo 13 in theaters, I was 12 years old. There is that great scene in the movie where a bunch of engineers are tasked with making the CSM filters function in the LM.
BOOM!!! That’s it. I was hooked. That’s what I wanted to do with my life. I wanted to solve technical challenges. Also, SPACE!!! Space is awesome!
It is one of the greatest joys in life that I get to drive by an Saturn V rocket on my way to work everyday. The Saturn V is perhaps in the top 10 engineering advances in human history, right up there with antibiotics and splitting the atom.
NASA was founded by President Dwight D. Eisenhower with the signing of the National Aeronautics and Space Act of 1958. The purpose of which was:
To provide for research into problems of flight within and outside the earth’s atmosphere, and for other purposes.
As an adult, I was dismayed when President Obama turned NASA’s gaze around to stare at earth to study climate change. NASA’s vision it outer space. We already have an agency that studies the earth and its atmosphere, the NOAA. NASA didn’t need to become a redundancy. A refocus of NASA on deep space exploration is exciting to me. I am thrilled about the impending launch of the James Webb Space Telescope. I look forward to a NASA that I hope will inspire my son with new discoveries the way NASA inspired me.
Then I read the Rogue NASA Twitter feed. It is 100% climate change.
I am not inspired.
Well, the first stage of the Saturn V burned 203,400 gallons of kerosene in 162 seconds to produce 7.5 Million pounds of thrust. We did that 10 times, not to mention all the unmanned launches of the Saturn IB that we conducted to get the Saturn V ready.
The advancement in knowledge and reach we gained was worth every molecule of CO2 we made doing that.
Climate change is all these alt agency Twitter feeds are yammering about. A group of scientists are planning a march on DC to protest, and what is their march all about? Climate change and Social Justice intersectionality.
This brings me to my point, or should I say points.
First of all, I am dismayed that in Liberal America, “science” is synonymous with climate change. Any speculation about anything less than a totally apocalyptic future brought about by burning fossil fuels is “science denial.”
The attitude regarding climate change has become such an article of political faith that climate change and science hardly belong in the same sentence anymore.
So much of the climate change noise sounds like the street preacher screaming “The End is Neigh” only to change the date when the world doesn’t end when he predicted.
This brings me to my second point.
I remember when the panic was mass starvation and Soylent Green was made of people. Then Norman Borlaug came along with genetically engineered crops and saved a billion people from starvation. When I was a kid, acid rain was going to dissolve the forests and turn the world into a dust bowl. Then some next generation scrubbers came online and industry changed, and nobody talks about acid rain anymore because its all but gone away.
This is where the problem of the combination of political religion and scientists really kicks in: fixing the problem.
Now is when I take of my scientist lab coat and put on my engineer hard had. Let’s say for argument’s sake that man made climate change is completely real. Now what?
The response from the “scientists” (the use of scare quotes was deliberate) is to destroy the economy. Our economy thrives on shipping goods around the world on oil burning ships and across the country in diesel burning trucks. Our economy is possible because the cost of power in Western World is so very low.
Two thirds of US energy comes from coal and natural gas. Just how fast should we shut down these power plants? To listen to the environmentalists, we need to stop burning fossil fuels for energy by 2018.
That is a call for rolling blackouts. People would starve to death just due to the amount of food spoilage from shut off refrigerators. Innovation would end. Our economy would die overnight as electricity became prohibitively expensive. There is no way to replace 66% of our energy infrastructure with wind and solar in 5 years (the article was published in 2014). It took 20 years to electrify America. Rebuilding our energy infrastructure will take at least that long.
The same with any technology that aims to replace the internal combustion engine. There is no point to a commercial vehicle that takes an hour to charge up enough to drive 22 miles. Sure, Tesla Superchargers exist, but until an electric vehicle is built that has the carrying capacity, range, and recharge/refill time as any current commercial gas or diesel vehicle, the investment in the infrastructure isn’t there.
That’s OK. The Tesla today is like the Motorola of the 1980’s, battery life sucks, it is wildly expensive, and is mostly a toy for rich people to show off. Fast forward 20 years and through innovation brought about by the consumer market, everybody has a really awesome smart phone. Give the electric car industry another 20 years an I’m sure my son’s first new car after college will be something electric and awesome.
The point is we have to get there at a rate of technological progression that is economically feasible. We need to keep the lights on with coal to do that.
We’re not going to get to Star Trek by taking a detour through The Flintstones to avoid putting out any more CO2.
This isn’t bowing to the oil industry or big coal or hating the planet. This is Engineering Econ 101.
Without cheap energy our economy fails, A failed economy can’t innovate. Without innovation we have no solutions. We can’t bankrupt the economy to save the planet… assuming we can even save the planet.
And yet my saying “hey, slow down, we’ll get to a future that is nearly free of energy and transportation generated CO2, we just have to do it in an economically sustainable way” makes me a science denier.
It is truly embarrassing.