12 August 2013

The Problem with Apollo Analogies

Last week I had a letter in the FT, commenting on the latest call for a new Apollo project, this time for solar energy. I explained that Apollo is a poor analogy for difficult challenges:
Going to the moon was easy by comparison

From Prof Roger Pielke, Jr.

Sir, David King and Richard Layard (“We need a new Apollo mission to harness the sun’s power,” Comment, August 2) call for new spending on solar energy technology of the magnitude that was spent on the Apollo moon missions in the 1960s and 1970s: “To match the spending on the Apollo project would require only 0.05 per cent of each year’s gross domestic product for 10 years from each G20 country.”

Over the next 10 years, assuming an aggregate 4 per cent gross domestic product growth rate across the G20, this new spending would equate to more than $430bn. However, in 2013 dollars the Apollo moon mission cost a relatively paltry $130bn. What they are really calling for is spend more than three times the cost of the Apollo missions.

The problem with Apollo analogies is that going to the moon was easy in comparison to the challenge of doubling or tripling global energy supply, while at the same time all but eliminating carbon dioxide emissions. Sir David and Lord Layard are in the ballpark on the scale of investment that is needed. They just have their analogy wrong.

Roger Pielke, Jr, University of Colorado, Boulder, CO, US