An urgent Apollo project on earth

When astronauts first walked on the moon back in 1969, the original “Star Trek” had just ended, our poverty rate was 12.1 percent, the unemployment rate was 3.5 percent, the federal budget had a surplus, the national debt was an inflation-adjusted $1.8 trillion, the Vietnam War was raging, and the National Environmental Policy Act signaled a greener future.

Three-and-a-half decades later, our poverty rate is 12.1 percent and unemployment is nearly 6 percent, not counting workers so discouraged by the longest job loss period since the Great Depression that they’ve given up seeking work. The budget deficit zooms toward $500 billion, the national debt is over $7 trillion, casualties mount in Iraq, and catastrophic climate change is a real and present danger.

With the state our union is in, we must not squander billions to boldly go where man has gone before.

The International Monetary Fund warns that America’s rising budget and trade deficits and mounting foreign debt threaten to crater not just our economy, but the world’s.

The cost of President Bush’s moon-Mars enterprise would skyrocket from a few billion initially to projected hundreds of billions. Moreover, it would spark a lunatic race with other countries to colonize, militarize and privatize space.

The Apollo moon missions provided the first photos of earth as a beautiful, fragile globe, galvanizing environmental concern and inspiring creation of the Earth Flag in 1969. The National Environmental Policy Act of 1969 committed our nation to “promote efforts which will prevent or eliminate damage to the environment and biosphere” and “fulfill the responsibilities of each generation as trustee of the environment for succeeding generations.”

Today, with just 4 percent of world population, the U.S. uses 25 percent of world energy and uses more energy per capita than other industrialized nations. The League of Conservation Voters gives Bush an “F” for environment. Business Week gives Bush a “gentleman’s C,” with an “F” for global warming.

It’s time to take another giant leap for humankind with a new Apollo Project here on earth that will advance our environment, economy, health and security.

In a just-released report, “New Energy in America,” the Apollo Alliance-a labor, environmental, business coalition based in Washington-calls for achieving “energy independence in one generation” and creating “millions of good jobs building the sustainable energy system of the next century.”

“Mobilizing public and private investment in clean energy technologies such as solar and wind power, hydrogen fuel cells and highly efficient American made cars,” the report says, “will create a new generation of high wage manufacturing and construction jobs, capture growing markets of the future, reduce our dependence on foreign oil imports, create a resilient energy system, strengthen our cities and rural communities, bolster national security, and clean up our environment.”

The Apollo Project calls for a $300 billion investment spread over 10 years. Citizens for Tax Justice projects the 10-year cost of tax cuts for the richest 1 percent at more than three times that amount, with $86 billion in 2004 alone.

“Unlike aimless corporate subsidies or tax cuts that create long term structural deficits,” the Apollo Project is expected to more than pay for itself “through increased economic activity and related tax revenues, as well as energy cost savings-to say nothing of improved public health, environmental stewardship, and the many spill over benefits from new economic development.”

The Perryman Group, a Texas-based economic analysis firm with major corporate and governmental clients, says the Apollo Project would add more than 3 million jobs; save $284 billion in energy costs; and generate $1.4 trillion in new Gross Domestic Product, $953 billion in personal income and $324 billion in retail sales.

Environmental lawyer Robert Kennedy Jr. told Larry King last year, “If we raised fuel efficiency by one mile per gallon, we’d get twice the oil that’s in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge. If we raised it by seven miles per gallon, we’d get more oil than is now coming from the Mideast. … It makes economic sense. It makes national security sense.”

Instead of squandering resources and fueling economic and ecological calamity, let’s recognize the gravity of our times and reenergize the economy and environment for succeeding generations.

Holly Sklar is co-author of “Raise the Floor: Wages and Policies That Work for All of Us”

Distributed by Knight Ridder/Tribune Information Services.