Written by Natasha Juliana – April 25th, 2019
I woke up around 4:30 this morning. Maybe a little earlier (I tend to be in denial and pretend to be asleep for a while before I dare look at the clock). I told you last week that I’d been able to transform my anxiety around the climate crisis into excitement. That’s true. Most of the time. But those early morning hours give the brain plenty of opportunities to panic. I started thinking – the world’s top scientist gave us twelve years to turn the ship around…wait, no, that was last year…so now we have eleven years…But when I mention that to people, they don’t seem to take it too seriously…so why aren’t they panicking?…ELEVEN YEARS, PEOPLE!…that’s not much time…that will be gone in a flash!…why isn’t everyone freaking out?…
Okay, brain, settle down, things will look better in the light of morning. In an attempt to calm my heart rate, I started thinking back eleven years, instead. In the spring of 2008 I was living in San Francisco with a 3-year-old toddler. I worked for a nice boutique architecture firm designing and managing high-end residential projects on the peninsula – the job was “good,” but I wasn’t proud of it. This new guy, Barack Obama, was running for the Democratic ticket against Hillary Clinton. Google Chrome, iPads, Uber, Instagram, Kickstarter, and Airbnb did not exist. I think I had just gotten my first smartphone, but GPS would not have been available.
Today, I have a teenager finishing up her freshman year of high school in Petaluma, and a fantastic 7-year-old business that I had no idea was even possible, since coworking wasn’t even a thing back then. Now, I take for granted that I can call out “Hey, Siri,” and my “phone” can give me directions to pretty much any place I want to go.
So, what else have we accomplished in a decade? Inquiring minds want to know. So, I used Google Chrome to find out:
- Transitioning from horse to car – There is a great pair of photos on 5th Avenue in New York City (above). In 1900, the street is clogged with horses and buggies, with one lone automobile lost in the crowd. Thirteen years later, the street is packed with cars. Apparently, there is a horse in the photo, but I can’t spot it.
- Going to the moon – In 1961, President Kennedy announced his ambitious goal of sending an American to the moon before the end of the decade. It sounded crazy at the time! The very definition of a “Moon Shot,” this goal was achieved in 1969 – only eight years later!!! And when NASA looked back at the whole Apollo program, it was estimated that we spent $200 BILLION, in today’s money.
- Fixing Y2K – It was only 1996 when panic started to set in. Was the rolling over of the clocks to the year 2000 going to send all our computers into chaos? Over the next four years, the United States spent about $100 BILLION fixing the bug ($9 billion from the federal government and the remaining amount from businesses). The rest of the world forked over somewhere between $300-500 BILLION! What’s most notable here is that we were all able to come up with massive resources to improve our infrastructure and prevent potential disaster, before it could happen — and even though we weren’t sure exactly what would happen! A good lesson for today.
And 2030 is only the first goal. The long-term target is 100% carbon-neutral by 2050. That gives us 31 years to work with. The federal highway system took 35 years and cost $521 BILLION in today’s money. But we did it anyway. Because it was important. Because Americans like to build things. Because fear is a good motivator. That’s why we could spend $643 BILLION on the US military in 2018, when we didn’t even have any wars on our own soil.
So, don’t tell me we can’t take this next Moon Shot. Don’t tell me that the timeline is too short, or that the cost is too high. We pulled it together to race the Russians to the moon and we pulled it together to fix a computer glitch and we pulled it together to build nation-wide infrastructure. Where there is a will, there is a way. Averting climate disaster may be much bigger and much more expensive, but surely we can pull it together when the fate of the whole earth is on the line!