In 1962, President John F. Kennedy energized the imagination and aspirations of this nation with a challenge that was, for its time, simply fantastic. At the dawn of the space age, President Kennedy made it a national goal to send a man to the moon and return him to Earth safely. No matter that such a task had never been undertaken. No matter that space travel was still the stuff of science fiction. In plain language, he laid out his hopes that American technological and industrial innovation would rise to meet his challenge. In his now famous speech, Kennedy told Americans that this goal would not be easy or cheap or even a guaranteed success, but that it was worth doing and worth doing to the best of our ability. He spoke about the need for America to lead the charge into space, not just for us, but also for the advancement of all humanity. He talked about the urgency he felt to achieve this goal by the end of that decade, not because the moon was going to disappear, but because it was there. Sure, he wanted to beat the U.S.S.R. in the space race, as well as boost American morale, but his desire to visit the moon went beyond such things. He felt that America was the most capable nation on Earth, and thus had an obligation to advance human knowledge and development. America seemed to agree, and in turn rose up to meet his challenge.

In the 21st century, space travel and exploration is old hat. From space shuttle missions to long-range probes, our knowledge of our solar system and the universe in general has expanded exponentially. So what then is the next great challenge for us? What pressing need could benefit most from the concentration of our scientific and industrial prowess? The answer, my friends, is energy. Our modern world requires an increasing amount of energy to fuel our cars, to warm our homes, to light our nights. As we grow more and more technologically oriented, our need for reliable energy grows too. And with more developing nations striving to join the industrialized world community, the need for energy will become even more acute.

The bad news is that most of the world’s energy is derived from non-renewable fossil fuels like coal, oil, and natural gas. These resources are called non-renewable for a good reason- once they are gone they can’t be replenished, and if we are still dependent upon these resources for our energy when that day comes, you can plan on going back to the days of candlelight reading, walking to the store, and huddling around the fireplace for warmth. I’m not naturally an alarmist, and I can’t say with any certainty when that day will come, but common sense dictates that it will come eventually. Isn’t it better to be prepared before then?

There are other negative aspects to our use of fossil fuels like pollution or the environmental damage caused by the extraction of these resources from the Earth. Our national security and economy are tied to our need for these resources, leading us into areas of the world that are filled with strife and draining our taxes. And our need to compete with other nations for access to those resources is costing ordinary citizens more money to meet the needs of daily life. Yet there are other ways for us to obtain the energy we need in this modern world, if only our government and business interests would challenge themselves to develop them. Unfortunately, business looks primarily at profit, and the amount of money they have tied up in the current energy production and delivery cycle keeps them from leading the charge towards better energy options. Their financial entanglement blinds them, and they ensure the status quo by keeping pressure on the politicians, keeping our country tied to fossil fuels for most of our energy needs.

I say that the time has come to issue another challenge. Much as President Kennedy did in 1962, American leaders should issue a call for new energy development that precludes the use of fossil fuels in favor of cleaner, renewable energy sources. We should do this not only because it will one day be necessary, but because of the benefits to our air, our water, our land, and our people. Kennedy’s speech recognized that to achieve his goal, things that did not yet exist would have to be created and failures along the way would occur. He told the public that the task would be expensive, but it would be worth it. The drive for new energy has these same problems, but it too is worth it.

We already have alternate sources for energy that come from renewable resources. Hydroelectric energy, solar energy, biomass energy, wind energy, and nuclear energy all exist at some level of development, but the problem with their proliferation lies in the profit margin for business. True or not, the claim that these energy sources are too expensive to develop en masse or not sufficient to meet our needs goes unchallenged. I say that the business interests that control our fossil fuel dependency don’t want to lose their hold on our wallets. To them energy is not a public necessity, it is a cash cow. From development to distribution, their greed not only creates false energy scarcity, it hampers modernization and innovation. It is time for business to either join in the search for new energy sources or to be left behind altogether.

I see a future where energy is no longer considered a commodity to be bought and sold to the highest bidder. The fact of the matter is that reliable and cheap energy has become a necessity of daily life. When something becomes a necessity, it should not be out of reach for people, it should become available to everyone. I see a future where every home has its own energy production plant, supplied by clean, renewable sources of power. I see a future where transportation is powered not by fossil fuels, but by clean, non-polluting energy. I see a future where our cities are not rimmed with power lines and smokestacks. I see a future where countries don’t go to war over oil or make deals with treacherous regimes just to gain access to fuel.

The space race was paid for with public funds and the knowledge gained from the space missions belongs to us all. The advancements in technology derived from space exploration was paid for with public funds, and the proliferation of that technology now touches every aspect of our lives. In this vein, the development of new energy should be paid for with public funds, and the benefits of our research and development should be returned to the public through cheap, reliable energy. And our reliance on foreign nations for our energy could be reduced or eliminated entirely, saving us even more money by avoiding conflicts and expensive security measures.

We must move to elevate the types of renewable energy we now have from second-class status and begin to wean ourselves off of fossil fuels. At the same time we must turn our scientists and industries towards developing new energy or increasing the viability of the renewable sources we do have like wind and solar and biomass. We should look towards the future of energy not from the prospective of profits for businesses, but from the prospective of prosperity for all. Energy supplies should not be fought over or suppressed. They should be clean, and plentiful, and cheap.

In 1962, America decided that going to the moon was worth the cost and the sacrifice and we met the challenge. Meeting this goal saved no lives, fed no hungry, cured no ills, but we did it just the same. Finding new and better energy sources is more important than going to the moon ever was. It’s time to meet this new challenge too.