The editorial about President John F. Kennedy has been open on my desk and in my thoughts for the past several months (C&EN, Dec. 2, 2013, page 3).
The success of the U.S. space program in putting a man on the moon is an example of the great things that can be accomplished with political will and commitment to the endeavor. I think of this in terms of the challenges currently facing our world—those of energy and the environment. When I read of scientific advances that put us so close to conquering these issues, I imagine a world where carbon dioxide is captured and converted catalytically to methanol to fuel our cars in a solar-powered process. I also see a place where all the roads are themselves solar panels, which not only would supply ample energy for the nation but also would eliminate the need for snow removal—an issue very close to my heart as I write this in Toronto. I expect that increased global prosperity would also have a positive effect on some social problems.
The U.S. has a charismatic and optimistic leader now, but it does not have the political will or unity to do what was done in 1961. In the 1960s there was the Cold War, an arms race, and a space race. Perhaps we need the imminent threat of global catastrophe to move us. I would say that we are not far off.