What would JFK and RFK say?

As I write this, the Democratic National Convention is getting underway in Denver. It will be an intense week of speeches, workshops and symposia about the issues facing American today, among them our energy and climate security.

While climate change is arguably the most complex problem the community of nations has faced, it isn’t the first time an American president has grappled with issues of global and moral consequence. John Kennedy led at a time the world seemed only a few minutes away from nuclear annihilation, and when Russia threatened to dominate space. Bobby Kennedy opposed the Vietnam War and confronted the issue of civil rights around the world.

What might they say if they were addressing the Democratic National Convention today? The following is compiled from their speeches decades ago. (All are from JFK except where designated):

Today, every inhabitant of this planet must contemplate the day when this planet may no longer be habitable. The world is very different now. For man holds in his mortal hands the power to abolish all forms of human poverty, and all forms of human life. We would like to live as we once lived, but history will not permit it.

Do not pray for easy lives. Pray to be stronger men. Dante once said that the hottest places in hell are reserved for those who in a period of moral crisis maintain their neutrality. Our problems are man-made, therefore they may be solved by man…no problem of human destiny is beyond human beings.

I am an idealist without illusions. The United States has to move very fast to even stand still. The basic problems facing the world today are not susceptible to a military solution.

Let us not seek the Republican answer or the Democratic answer; but the right answer. Let us not seek to fix the blame for the past. Let us accept our own responsibility for the future.

I believe we possess all the resources and talents necessary. But the facts of the matter are that we have never made the national decisions or marshaled the national resources required for such leadership. We have never specified long-range goals on an urgent time schedule, or managed our resources and our time so as to insure their fulfillment.

A revolution is coming — a revolution which will be peaceful if we are wise enough, compassionate if we care enough; successful if we are fortunate enough. But a revolution which is coming whether we will it or not. We can affect is character; we cannot alter its inevitability. (RFK, speech to U.S. Senate May 9, 1966)

I look forward to a great future for America — a future in which our country will match its military strength with our moral restraint, its wealth with our wisdom, its power with our purpose. For time and the world do not stand still. Change is the law of life. And those who look only to the past or the present are certain to miss the future.

All this will not be finished in the first 100 days. Nor will it be finished in the first 1,000 days, nor in the life of this administration, nor perhaps in our lifetimes on this planet. But let us begin.

— Bill B.

15 Responses to What would JFK and RFK say?

  1. David B. Benson says:

    Well, here some denialists running for congress comment of climate change:

    Just for comparison. :-(

  2. johnnie says:

    This is FANTASTIC – we need so little, just the confidence to back this type of approach — and if this can coem form dead Kennedys — great! We can all help to make wise climate change resource decisions – read the emergency triage response to current climate change crises at

  3. Chris says:

    So do you think, Johnnie, that the current batch of politicians can make better decisions by a combination of JFK’s insights and the application of climate triage as you suggest (I followed the link to – it looks great)?

  4. Rod Adams says:


    JFK was definitely an inspiring who could see what was possible and motivate people to reach out for it. Here is an intriguing excerpt from a speech he gave on September 13, 1962 titled The Space Challenge:

    No man can fully grasp how far and how fast we have come, but condense, if you will, the 50,000 years of man’s recorded history in a timespan of but half a century. Stated in these terms we know very little about the first 40 years, except at the end of them advanced man had learned to use the skins of animals to cover him.

    Then about 10 years ago under this standard man emerged from his cave to construct other kinds of shelter. Only 5 years ago man learned to write and use a cart with wheels.

    Christianity began less than 2 years ago. The printing press came this year and then less than 2 months ago, during this whole 50-year span of human history, the steam engine provided a new source of power. Newton explored the meaning of gravity.

    Last month, electric lights and telephones and automobiles and airplanes became available. Only last week did we develop penicillin and television and nuclear power.

    I am with JFK – nuclear power deserves to be placed alongside penicillin and television as one of the marvelous developments of the 20th century.

    JFK would surely recognize the immense potential and challenge us to solve any remaining problems and move forward with great speed. That is especially true in a world threatened by global climate change; there is no way that he would have marginalized a power source that has demonstrated emission-free, reliable, affordable power.

  5. Rod Adams says:

    Oops – poor editing. In my last comment I meant to say that “JFK was an inspiring leader…”. Somehow I left out a key word.

  6. Rod Adams says:

    Sorry Bill – I just noticed that you were the writer of this post, not Joe.

  7. Bob Wallace says:

    JFK wasn’t using current information when he praised nuclear.

    Here’s what Joe has to say on the “affordable” issue….

    Nuclear power is likely to find a place in history along side of fishing with dynamite.

    Works, but….

  8. Rod Adams says:

    Joe is not using current information either – he is quoting others who are attempting to predict future costs. That is always a risky evolution best approached with a lot of caution and study.

    Currently operating nuclear plants are producing electricity for an average production cost of just 1.76 cents per kilowatt hour. A good portion of their capital costs have been paid off, they all have decommissioning funds that are substantial and growing, and they all pay about $8-10 million per year towards long term fuel storage costs.

    Competitive fossil fuels have increased in price substantially compared to the baseline cases used in the studies that Joe quotes.

    Buffett may have abandoned his plans in Idaho – one of the least interesting electricity markets in the country due to its small size and low average retail price – but there are a lot of very competitive energy producers like NRG, Constellation, FPL Group, Dominion, Amarillo Power, and Entergy that are moving forward with nuclear plans.

    There are also some small venture funded companies that are working hard to build plants that can be manufactured and delivered to sites so they can take advantage of the economy of series production.

    Economics and cost estimation are, at best, guesses, and there are plenty of opinions. Mine happens to differ from Joe’s, though we do agree on the importance of emission free electricity production to avert the possibility of catastrophic climate change.

    Come to think of it – why are we arguing about cost? Joe is an advocate of concentrating solar thermal energy production with enough storage to make it baseload. What kind of cost estimates do you have for that kind of system?

  9. Bob Wallace says:

    What’s more current that Florida Light and Power’s October 2007 cost estimate for building new nuclear? That’s what an owner of existing nuclear calculates it would cost them to build a couple of new reactors.

    Current costs of power from existing nuclear have no relevance to what power would cost from a new facility.

    You might want to check to see how many of your listed companies are actually “moving forward”. And if any of them are actually likely to build anything. More likely they’re just keeping some staff employed and burning through funds.

    Small venture funded companies – probably eating up sucker money.

    As for thermal solar, it’s getting built. Real time. With private, non-governmental money. I’d say it penciled OK.

    Storage will come when we have a need. First we have to build enough so that there is some surplus to be stored.

  10. Rod Adams says:

    Bob wrote:

    “As for thermal solar, it’s getting built. Real time. With private, non-governmental money. I’d say it penciled OK.”

    Really. Are you telling me that there are no renewable portfolio standards that mandate the use of certain types of energy sources, no production tax credits (at least for facilities that get under contract before the PTC expires at the end of this year), no local incentives, no California state government subsidies for solar, and no DOE funds being spent to enable solar facilities to be constructed?

    Sure, there is private money involved, but there is also a lot of assistance.

    I will not dispute that there is hesitation for investments in new nuclear power. The people who do not like to compete against new nuclear power plants have helped to establish a very long and arduous review process on top of what is already a complex technically demanding construction project. The long lead times required add huge risk and cause widely varying cost estimates because they have to predict future events and potential delays. Money most definitely has a time value and investors always seek to ensure that they get a return commensurate with the risk that they take. If they can, they also seek government support to hedge the bets. That behavior is not limited to nuclear investors.

    The thing that I do not understand, however, is why people who believe that the world is facing a crisis focus so much on criticizing the cost of nuclear power instead of trying to figure out if there is a way to solve the problem. If they were brutally honest with themselves, they would admit that imposing delays and threatening protests and legal action certain do not help reduce the cost or minimize the financial risk.

    Going back to the theme of the post – JFK, a true leader, recognized that going to the moon was a costly proposition and that there were still aspects of the trip that were completely unknown at the time that he made his famous promise. However, he listened to his scientific and engineering advisors who told him that they knew enough to solve the problems along the way.

    I can tell you, without writing a book here, that there are plenty of us in the nuclear field who have reasonable solutions to all of the remaining issues, including cost, associated with building and operating nuclear power plants. All we want is a fair opportunity to show them to you.

  11. Jamie Fagan says:

    France gets 80% of its electricity from nuclear. Nuclear power plants are being built in Europe and China even as I write. The reason they can’t be built in the US and the reason they are so expensive is because of the environmental regulations involved in building one. The fear mongering green lobby and the media that gobbles it up, long ago put a stop to any new nuclear power plants.

    The chicken littles that are running around scaring the be Jesus out of everyone with global warming doomsday predictions are the same crowd who won’t let us build any new nuclear power plants even though everyone knows that nuclear power puts no greenhouse gases into the atmosphere.

    If you guys really want to score some points with mainstream America and the rest of the world you will quit being two face hypocrites and lobby for the clean, renewable energy of nuclear fission.

    Discloser: I am a life long Democrat and until recently considered myself a liberal. I don’t think I can say that any more as I am disgusted with my parties hypocrisy with regards to energy and I am also disgusted with the media’s one sided fear pushing of the whole global warming issue.

    Jamie Fagan

  12. Earl Killian says:

    Rod Adams wrote, “Sure, there is private money involved, but there is also a lot of assistance.

    There is plenty assistance for all sorts of energy in the US, including coal and petroleum.

    Please consider I cannot vouch for the accuracy of that report, but it wouldn’t surprise me if true.

    It cites an estimate of $49 to $100 billion dollars of energy subsidies in 2006. Most of these were for things that are causing problems:

    Oil and gas got 52.4%
    Coal got 15%
    Total fossil was 66.2%
    Nuclear got 12.4%
    Ethanol got 7.6%
    Other renewables got 7.5%
    Conservation got 2.1%
    Other got 4.2%

    How backwards is that! Conservation should have gotten 50%. That would have made a larger difference in all of the others than the money they got.

  13. Earl Killian says:

    Rod Adams wrote, “I can tell you, without writing a book here, that there are plenty of us in the nuclear field who have reasonable solutions to all of the remaining issues, including cost, associated with building and operating nuclear power plants. All we want is a fair opportunity to show them to you.

    Isn’t that what the nuclear industry is trying to do in Norway? Going well, isn’t it?

  14. Earl Killian says:

    Jamie Fagan, I don’t see Democrats or environmentalists blocking nuclear in this country anymore. I see cost blocking it. Amory Lovins, in testimony before Congress probably overstated it to make his comments zingier, but there is still some truth to them:

    “Far from undergoing a renaissance, nuclear power is conspicuously failing in the marketplace, for the same forgotten reason it failed previously: it costs too much, and it bears too much financial risk to attract private risk capital despite Federal subsidies approaching or exceeding its total cost. … Only central planners buy it. … They have attracted no private risk capital despite U.S. taxpayer subsidies that can now total 13 billion dollars per nuclear plant, roughly its entire cost, which exceeds the market cap of any U.S. utility save one. … The U.S. can have only as many new nuclear plants as taxpayers are forced to buy. Heroic efforts at near or over 100% subsidization will continue to elicit same response as defibrillating a corpse: it will jump, but it won’t revive.”

  15. Earl Killian says:

    Oops, I meant Finland, not Norway:
    Quoting from the Bloomberg story:

    “Olkiluoto-3, the first nuclear plant ordered in Western Europe since the 1986 Chernobyl disaster, is also more than 25 percent over its 3 billion-euro ($4 billion) budget.”

    “If Finland’s experience is any guide, the ‘nuclear renaissance’ touted by the global atomic power industry as an economically viable alternative to coal and natural gas may not offer much progress from a generation ago, when schedule and budgetary overruns for new reactors cost investors billions of dollars.”

    “The U.K.’s Sizewell-B plant, which took nearly 15 years from the application to build it to completion, opened in 1995 and cost about 2.5 billion pounds ($5.1 billion), up from a 1987 estimate of 1.7 billion pounds.”

    “Landtman now says the reactor might be fully completed in 2011. The initial target was mid-2009.”