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    US News: “Generation We’s Apollo Project”, Me: “What a dumb idea”

    I saw this in the online version of US News:

    …he’s urging both presidential campaigns to focus on one mega-idea the kids endorsed: an Apollo-style approach to the energy crisis. His plan is to create a department of new energy and give it $30 billion to $40 billion a year to invent the next best energy source. And put a 15-year cap on the department’s life. “They need votes, and 70 percent of gen we-ers want this,” says Greenberg, an Obama backer eager for either campaign to adopt his plan.

    To which I responded (first!):

    What a dumb idea. Governments are no good at “inventing” anything. The Apollo project and the Manhattan project are the exceptions (and they had clearly defined goals).

    The same thing could be accomplished by:

    1) Increase basic science research grants through the Dept of Energy and NSF.

    2) Sponsor prizes to be awarded when certain energy producing threshold are met.

    3) Get government regulations out of the way of the entrepreneurs who will make this happen.

    This is simple. It does not require dozens of “deputy assistant under secretaries” and the like.

    Also, little public money (e.g. current taxes or debt obligations) is spent without success being incurred.

    2 Responses

    1. It sounds like a nice way of spreading money around to various interest groups, and entrenching another sacred-calf bureaucracy.

      Woe to the Republican that wants to cut funds to such an organization.

      Apollo and Manhatten were different–they were fundamentally simple missions with huge amounts of R&D and engineering required. The goal was well-defined, and the science of putting a man on the moon/splitting the atom was understood. Technology just had to be developed to make the science practical.

      This, on the other hand, will essentially try to find ways of making unaffordable and unscalable energy sources a bit less so. And nobody knows how…because if they did, no doubt the market would have caught on by now.

    2. Reminds me of Kucnich wanting to make a “Department of Peace,” when of course we’ve had that for centuries (it’s called the Department of State).

      Obama’s “Department of New Energy” looks like, as you’ve said, higher funding for grand-issuing agencies such as the National Science Foundation. Possibly a wise goal, but the cultness that the Obama campaign generates is still deceptive and creepy.

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