President Obama delivered a budget to the US Congress today. In the history of US policy, there has never been a more ambitious science-focused document to originate from the White House. This is Obama's moonshot for Earth. And Congress is essentially ignoring it.
The President's Budget for Fiscal Year 2017 is very long and filled with plenty of jargon that you might not want to ingest and may not completely understand. You can get a human-language version here, a kind of CliffsNotes from the president himself, but let me spell it out for you.
There are big ideas in here. Really bloody big ideas. These aren't just policy issues that will impact the health, wealth and happiness of American citizens. These are systemic changes to technology that, if implemented on a wide scale, could easily improve daily life for everyone on this planet.
Here are a few of the highlights.
- There is a 21st Century Clean Transportation Plan where $US320 billion over 10 years will increase spending on trains, subways, light rail, bike infrastructure and footpaths, and change the way we spend existing transportation funds — all paid for by a tax on oil companies.
- There is $US4 billion set aside just for developing pilot projects using autonomous vehicles that focus on safety and reduction of emissions.
- There is a "prioritised" R&D fund of $US152 billion — science is prioritised! — which includes $US7.7 billion for a government-wide clean energy R&D fund across 12 agencies, $US33.1 for biomedical research, and $US14.6 billion for basic research. (There also is an actual moonshot in there, which is described as such: A $US1 billion fund to cure cancer.)
- There is money for space exploration, food security, assessing climate risk and a comprehensive strategy for improving innovation around water, including protecting the land that holds that water.
- There is a fund for clean energy: $US1.3 billion to boost adoption of solar, wind and alternative fuels.
- And there is an entire Climate Action Plan, a separate $US1.3 billion to stop the impact of climate change, which includes $US750 million to help developing nations make smart investments around clean energy and climate resilience.
People are angry, and maybe rightfully so, that Obama waited so long in this presidency to attempt to push these ideas through. That a lame-duck, IDGAF president up against a ticking clock might be full of progressive ideas but won't have time to deliver on them.
But here's what I think. We shouldn't forget that the original moonshot — the one where we actually shot for the Moon — was issued by the person who held the very same role as Obama. In 1962, this person ordered the country to think bigger than ourselves.
A little over a year later, he was gone. And a few years later, we went to the Moon.
Who knows which, if any, of these ideas will carry forward into another administration. But if even one of these ideas becomes reality, then Obama will have accomplished more than any president before him when it comes to technology. Because what Obama is proposing here is not just a few good ideas for Americans, but a road map for all humankind.
President Barack Obama touring Kanai Fjords National Park in Alaska, September 2015 (Official White House Photo by Pete Souza)