Our Apollo Project

Let’s define our generation through the environmental legacy we create.

Holly Lahd

In 1962, President John F. Kennedy declared the United States would land a man on the moon by the end of that decade. His declaration inspired a new generation into a national goal with many young people clamoring to be that astronaut.

With this inspired generation came huge technological advances and a large boost to the U.S. economy. From this project we gained invaluable inventions that we use in our lives every day, and a generation had a collective moment of awe when Kennedy’s goal was accomplished when Apollo 11 landed on the moon in 1969.

The baby boomers had the Apollo Project to establish a part of their generational identity. The Greatest Generation had the New Deal. What will our generation’s calling be? At the United Nations gathering Tuesday, President George W. Bush said that fighting extremism is the calling of the current generation.

This column isn’t about that goal, though. I argue our generation has a different direction to go in. Our plethora of environmental challenges and opportunities will be the dominating public issue in our lifetime.

This should be the project we devote our technology, innovation and public will to in the 21st century.

We have inherited environmental problems from our parents’ and grandparents’ generations and, with our growing numbers, we are likely to exacerbate these problems if we continue on this path.

The task is large: We face global warming, air pollution problems, shrinking water supply, species loss, forest fragmentation and the list goes on. Our challenge is to reverse or minimize the impacts these dilemmas will have in the face of a growing population and rising affluence levels around the world.

There are no quick fixes to any of these problems. They will take creative minds and dedication of resources.

But the benefits – including reducing global warming, maintaining our forest lands, having clean water for all and many more ecosystem benefits – are worth the effort and challenges, and will have lasting effects well beyond just our generation.

And, most importantly, this goal of lasting environmental protection does not have to come solely through sacrifices. Like the Apollo Project, there will be new inventions and opportunities to come out of our quest for solutions to these issues.

There will be money to be made, too. Take the recent Californian Global Warming Solutions Act.

Economists of the University of California-Berkeley say that by achieving this goal, the state can create 89,000 new jobs for the California economy by 2020.

New biofuel and wind technologies are giving farmers a new crop to harvest, and a profitable one at that. For every 100 megawatts of wind power a landowner has on his or her property, he or she can expect to receive about $250,000 per year from lease payments.

As more companies such as Toyota voluntarily reduce their emissions and enhance their environmental practices, they will need skilled people to implement these ideas. That is just one place where our generation can meet the need.

We students have come along at the time when these solutions are ready for application in our world and we need to be the ones to make this transition.

Expanding fields like life cycle assessment, environmental economics and green marketing are just some of the careers that we can take up. The University is preparing for this expansion, also.

Over the summer, the University took a big step in positioning its students for these opportunities by creating the new College of Food, Agriculture and Natural Resource Sciences and the Institute of the Environment.

You don’t need to have the word environment in the title of your major to make a career out of environmental solutions. For architecture students, this could mean learning green building design to make buildings more efficient and more eco-friendly.

In marketing, there will be a great need to create new ways to market renewable products and services.

Educating the coming generation on issues in the environment is key to inspiring new people in the field, and those in education have the opportunity to develop a niche in this area.

Look in your own field and see how it applies to the environment. I can almost guarantee it does in some way.

A great way to meet like-minded people and to learn more about your role in our environmental challenge is to check out community and campus organizations.

Organizations like EcoWatch and Minnesota Public Interest Research Group have a history of working toward environmental solutions on campus, but those aren’t the only groups that are part of the environmental dialogue.

Find a way to incorporate your ideas into the campus and community environmental discussions.

Do we have the will to dedicate our pursuits to the causes of energy and the environment in our own lives? If yes, will we demand that our elected officials act on this? Our generation is more aware than any before it of the consequences of our daily interaction with the environment. Now we need to move that consciousness to action.

The Apollo Project brought great prosperity and a generational sense of accomplishment to the baby boomers, effects we can still feel today. Now we have a great challenge to tackle, yet there are also great opportunities to be earned by focusing our generation’s efforts into solving our environmental challenges. I hope that you, too, hear the calling.

Holly Lahd welcomes comments at [email protected].