This month will see the 50th anniversary of the first moon landing. This massive project involved hundreds of thousands of people, with an estimated cost of $150 billion in today’s money.
We think we are clever today with our iPads, Netflix and deep-fried Mars Bars, but 50 years ago people with slide rules (Google them) sent three men on a 500,000-mile round-trip on the most powerful machine every built, to land on the Moon in a spacecraft with a computer with 100 million times less calculating power than an iPhone. President Kennedy announced in 1961 that the US would put someone on the Moon and bring them back safely by the end of the decade. Many people thought it was an impossible challenge.
Of course, it was all about Cold War prestige. The US had already been beaten by the Soviet Union to the first satellite, the first man in space, the first woman in space and the first space walk. In the 1960s frenzy of superpower machismo nothing was more important than who had the biggest rockets. When Neil Armstrong stepped onto the lunar surface, and even more so when he and fellow astronauts Buzz Aldrin and Michael Collins got back to Earth alive, it was a dazzling technical achievement. It shows what can be done when a country is really committed to doing something very hard.
It is this kind of determination that we need to address the climate crisis. We are in a climate emergency, with record heatwaves sweeping Europe and water rapidly running out for seven million people in Chennai in India. It is perhaps a strange kind of emergency. From Scotland, it might look like we are being asked to change major things about society because of a threat that is barely affecting us yet. If you live in Bangladesh, with a third of the country under water some summers, or on a Pacific Island disappearing under the rising ocean, it looks like a much more immediate threat, that needs immediate action.
The Scottish Government declared a Climate Emergency in April and the big test of their resolve will come with the launch of the new Programme for Government this September. When Nicola Sturgeon stands up for the annual list of new announcements, we need to hear some bold moves forward in the fight to reduce carbon emissions.
On transport, why not make all the buses in Scotland free? This one move would go a long way to reducing carbon emissions, air pollution and congestion in our towns and cities, as well as improving access to job opportunities for many. That’s why Luxembourg is making all public transport free from March next year.
On energy, acknowledging that we can’t extract every last drop of oil from the North Sea would be the biggest step so far on the vital journey from high-carbon jobs to low-carbon jobs in energy. On waste, the promised Circular Economy Bill could not just crack down on the mountains of plastic we throw away but fundamentally change the way that resources flow through the economy, saving millions of tonnes of carbon emissions in the process.
On finance, taking public sector pension money out of the likes of BP and Shell could free up nearly £2bn to invest in housing, renewable energy and public transport. As policy ideas are developed and tested over the summer we need the kind of determination that took humans to the moon to produce a response up to the job of addressing the climate emergency.
Dr Richard Dixon is director of Friends of the Earth Scotland