They Can Be Heroes
Updated: Aug 30, 2019
July 20 2019 marked the 50th anniversary of the moon landing.
I spent that week at my parents’ home in country Victoria caring for my 87 year old father, Ian.
Ian is a mechanical engineer from regional South Australia. His working years were during The Cold War, and his career took him into the emerging field of rocket design - chiefly nuclear deterrents and satellite technology development. He worked on Anglo-Australian projects such as Black Knight and Blue Streak to complement the NASA programs. All the while, the USSR was snapping at their heels.
In that 50th anniversary week, National Geographic channel had a 10 day, non stop space-a-thon of documentaries, biographies and analysis on the Apollo missions and all kinds of spacey science.
We watched together and I asked him : what did you think of the moon landing?
"A big bloody show off. It was a show of political strength and defiance. The launch of the Sputnik 1 satellite was the real breakthrough. After that, we knew a moon landing was just a matter of time"
- Ian Nietz, VIC.
And that got me thinking.
The Winning Line
Kennedy, in his moon shot speech, acknowledged that the goal of putting astronauts on the moon would require technology that had yet to be invented and would demand immense investments of capital and effort: “I think that we must pay what needs to be paid,” he said.
Kennedy felt humongous pressure to have the US catch up to and overtake the Soviet Union in the space race. Four years after the Sputnik shock of 1957, the cosmonaut Yuri Gagarin had become the first human in space on April 12, 1961. Totes embarrassing for the U.S.
So the money was approved (equivalent to US $264 billion today) and the work began with the some 400,000 people in the free world.
At the same time, there were other races to be won. From 1952-1988, Cold War tensions and rivalries also played out on the sporting arena. As with technology and space exploration, sport was an area where rival powers could prove or assert their dominance without going to war.
Huge investments were made to aggressively pursue the best possible results i.e more medals than the USSR. Or the USA. Or East Germany.
As a consequence, sport in the Cold War was often highly politicised.
There was no problem scrambling and finding all these resources when there was an obvious winning post such as Olympic gold or a moon landing.
Our House Is On Fire.
Would a competition help to put it out?
Not unlike the Cold War, I cannot help but wonder whether the impacts of climate breakdown, such as growing food and water insecurity, will act as a catalyst on instabilities to heat up conflict over the next three decades. Almost certainly, the nature of our next war will be due to inequalities with food and water.
This issue feels more pressing than a moon landing or a medal.
So given the history of eye watering investment in space travel, sports and more recently, in a growing arsenal of assorted weapons including the nuclear type, to ultimately WIN, it is obvious to ask :
How to shift the climate change mindset of leaders who continue to shake their heads, browse the latest Lockheed Martin catalog and change the subject?
In our backyard just last week, Pacific island leaders used the PI forum to urge Australia to lift its game on climate change [we are on the G20 shit list ]to protect low-lying countries like Tuvalu by curbing fossil fuel emissions.
No can do.
Prime Minister Morrison has offered cash and fruit picking jobs instead.
So, then, what does it take?
An embarrassment, a disaster, a competition, a medal, a trophy, a show, a definable , visible, live feed and viral Tik Tok real time scoreboard to get us to 'win' making our planet sustainable in order to sustain us?
The oft overlooked part of JFK's moonshot speech is the most vulnerable part, where he revealed that HOW the big hairy audacious goals of the Apollo program were going to be met was somewhat UNKNOWN.
That didn't matter - they were still going to go for it.
This is what author and researcher Brene Brown refers to as vulnerability or daring greatly. Being vulnerable takes courage. And so it should be looked upon as a strength, not a weakness.
Without a doubt, vulnerability is noticeably absent from the G20 leaders doing the least about climate change.
It seems to me, to incite action, we need a moonshot like end point for climate action to encourage the "competent and invulnerable" alphas to become climate change heroes.
With a visible end point with much fanfare, they can feel the glory whether the cause is important to them or not.
Because without a doubt, this cause is important to the rest of us.