Global teamwork will be required, absolutely, but for the moment let's simplify things by just looking at the USA. Cynics like to assert that our nation can no longer come together in great national endeavors. We're too selfish, too partisan, too path dependent, too obsessed with comparatively minor issues. Okay, maybe, but it's instructive to look back and take note of when we have accomplished great deeds as a country. We won WW II, transforming ourselves into a military colossus within just a few years. After the war, we resuscitated Europe with the Marshal Plan (for a tidy $100 billion in 2018 dollars). We built an amazing interstate highway system from the Florida Keys to the Puget Sound, from San Diego to the potato fields of Caribou, Maine. Then we put men on the moon -- take that, Sputnik! And then, well, since then we haven't thought so big.
Permit me, please, to go back a bit further to another feat of great national engineering. In the 1930s, FDR's Rural Electrification Administration brought electricity to rural America -- a vast, if forgotten, public works achievement that transformed life for millions and enabled the prosperity of the 1940s and '50s. The REA existed on the cutting edge of technology, using a 7200 volt distribution network that allowed lines to run up to 40 miles without significant voltage drop. REA crews traveled our vast land, stringing electrical lines, wiring houses and barns, and even putting light fixtures over people's kitchen tables.
I was reminded of this epic feat last night as I watched The Homecoming: A Christmas Story, the 1971 TV movie that birthed the popular TV series The Waltons. Specifically, I refer to the scene in which John-Boy Walton turns on the Christmas tree lights. Electricity had come to the rural Blue Ridge Mountains of Virginia, allowing this family to illuminate its Xmas tree, buy labor saving devices and listen to news, weather and comedy shows such as Fibber McGee and Molly on the upright RCA radio stationed, like a magic portal, in the living room.
Now it's almost 2020. Why not establish an SEA -- Solar Electrification Administration? Why not use loans, grants and every conceivable financial tool to bring solar power to the roofs and yards of homes and business across the USA? Why not employ SEA crews to roam the nation, hooking our grid to the sun and greatly lessening our dependence on fossil fuels? (Here I'll play Grinch and add that fossil fuels not only drive climate change but kill over 100,000 Americans every year through their inherent toxicity. So cutting them out would be a magnificent two-fer.)
Why not, indeed, come together as a nation to counter climate change? Yes, there are many, many reasons why it may not happen, soon enough or at all. But wouldn't it be something if in addition to fruit cakes, tube socks and Baby Yodas we decided to give ourselves and our children a truly precious gift for Christmas? Thanks, Mom and Dad, for the healthy, sustainable future!