Frustration is how most Americans feel about Congress. Campaign reform? Bank regulation? Jobs? Pick your favorite. Being a scientist, mine is clean energy, the major solution to climate change. But even Jon Stewart got bored trying to explain the congressional climate bill back in 2009, the last time action on climate and clean energy was really debated. Congress did not act.
Meanwhile, we continue to experience air pollution, droughts, extreme storms and heat waves. Record-breaking U.S. weather and catastrophes occurred last year, of the sort predicted under climate change. 2012 is no different. A record-breaking hot spring was followed by a record-breaking summer. The devastating derecho storm, the vast drought that will linger into the fall -- it's just part of nature's steady, continuing drum roll, which explains why most Americans are finally understanding climate change is a reality.
Indeed, when a rich Republican finally decides to donate $50 million towards solving the problem, as Michael Bloomberg did last fall to the Sierra Club, you know this has become a nonpartisan issue that's gathering steam. The club is now inspiring a clean energy revolution from the roots up, something we've been advocating for years.
Through its Beyond Coal program, the Sierra Club previously helped U.S. communities stop the construction of 150 new coal-fired plants. Now the club is pressuring California for a Clean Energy Bill of Rights that removes the limit of people who can go solar, and allows for the expansion of local, clean energy sources. As it is, California recently doubled the number of rooftops that can receive energy credit for going solar. And given that Wall Streeters appear to have manipulated the energy market recently (getting richer via people paying higher electricity bills), wouldn't you rather produce your own electricity?
So, this is where you come in. How about going solar via rooftop solar panels (RSPs), and getting your community to go solar, too? A few years ago the upfront price of getting RSPs would have stopped many in their tracks, but no longer. The game changer is the recent evolution of solar panel leasing companies, such as Green Mountain, Sunpower, Solarcity and Sungevity. For a relatively small initial fee and monthly utility bill, these companies will install the RSPs, then maintain and update them for 10 or 20 years per leasing contract. The monthly bill will usually either equal or be cheaper than your current one. The Sierra Club, Wilderness Society, and many other groups have been collaborating with Sungevity to offer discounts when customers place orders through them.
California has the Million Solar Rooftops Initiative, and recently Governor Jerry Brown has set a new goal to power three million homes via rooftop solar. Now let's think bigger. Why not expand this vision to 60 million U.S. solar roofs? That represents about 70 percent of all U.S. homes, or all the ones we roughly estimate are suitable for RSPs.It is not really that outlandish since, for relatively little money, a family can go solar.
Going solar is part of the push towards a green economy, the source of nearly 3 million U.S. jobs so far, well beyond the number devoted to fossil fuels. Most Americans want carbon pollution regulated. Clean energy answers the concern of the American Medical Association and other health professionals, which see climate change and fossil fuel pollution as major, costly, health threats. The military are really gun-ho because it saves lives in the battle theatre (no more sabotaged fuel convoys), and increases national energy independence -- they have ordered the largest U.S. RSP installation yet.
So, going solar is not just the economic but patriotic thing to do -- and so is voting in senators, representatives, and a president this season who understand the economic and patriotic connections. As we all found out last time, just having a president who believes in transitioning to clean energy is not enough: We need 60 clean energy votes in the Senate, and a House with a clean energy majority. Getting them means letting Congress know that you're committing your votes this fall to those candidates who will stop subsidizing dirty energy, create reliable continuous support for clean renewable energy, and vigorously support a clean energy transition. The We Are The Clean 99% petition to Congress (full disclosure: started by me) sets out to do just that -- let Congress know that a sizeable clean energy voting bloc exists. Want to join it?
After all, clean renewable energy is all about a clean, safe future, AND the economy.