Dear New Incumbent: Help America Solve Big Problems Again, Starting With Climate Change

Apologies to Benjamin Franklin.

Letter to a new member of Congress

Dear New Incumbent-

There was a time when we led the league in muscular thinking.

The flattop American in square glasses and a pocket protector was an icon of western exceptionalism: he and thousands like him carried us to the moon—the moon!—and rebuilt a war-torn chunk of the planet through the Marshall Plan, modernizing where his cohorts had coordinated to defeat great evil. We, Americans, once launched capital-P Projects, tackled massive problems with our sleeves rolled up and pencil stubs scribbling in overdrive. We were not all cowboys, generals, or presidents, but that was okay; we were smart too, and we crushed challenges by superior know-how when we couldn’t by other means. We did what seemed impossible many times over, and tough, pragmatic thinkers in hardhats or lab coats were often to thank. Your parents or grandparents may have been among them; at the very least, some were your heroes.

Guess what? We can do that stuff again. But we’ll need to work together.

Perhaps the greatest challenge facing us now as a nation and a species is global warming. There is no longer any serious debate about whether it is happening, or whether we are causing it. Its projected consequences are enormous, and we must meet it in kind. The solutions we bring to bear—and we must, make no mistake—may well save humanity itself.

Nobody claims that fighting climate change will be easy. But if it’s going to happen, tough American nerds will need to be at the front of the line, working into the night and fighting just as hard for that cleaner, greener future as they did for an American future free of fascism, polio, or, somewhat more fancifully, Soviet domination of outer space. Many of them are already doing it, but they need the full support of their fellow citizens and their proxies in Washington. However bitter your path to office has been, you now fall into both categories. A warming planet and its consequences won’t pay heed to political affiliation, and our Senators and Representatives, including the newly minted variety, must remember this as they prepare to make the decisions that will either divest those thinkers of their ability to forge ahead, or empower them as they embark on our greatest shared adventure. Please do the latter, remembering those brave, square, can-do visionaries of epochs past.

This cannot be an alternate, a ‘B’ initiative. This cannot ‘wait’ until after economic stabilization or worldwide detente—in fact, it will be a crucial component of those and many other policy initiatives, if done correctly. Addressing climate and energy will help stabilize the country and the planet. It must take center stage now, in laboratories and Congressional offices alike. You can help that happen both in the affirmative, by supporting clean energy development and climate science, and in the negative, by keeping challenges to each at bay.

Offshore Wind TurbineI hope we can capture that national academic ideal again, the brawny, can-do nonpareil that, for all its luster lost, has spurred more than two centuries of innovation. I think we will, because we are Americans, and we still have more than a little Buzz Aldrin in us—not to mention a little TR.

Today, as we take stock of the morning after, adjusting to new partnerships and warily looking across the aisle, let’s remember that there’s nothing un-American about fighting climate change. Hell, it may be the most American thing we—and you—will ever do.

Your out-of-state pal,
Max T. Greenberg

All together now…yes, it’s the greatest, strongest country in the world

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Published: November 3, 2010