Steve Chu on the White House going solar

I posted yesterday the news account of the White House decision to put solar panels back on the White House.  I had thought that the WH spinmeisters might not want to do this for fear  of being associated with the presidency of Jimmy Carter, which first put up solar panels before Reagan tore them down.  But in fact most voters either are too young or don’t have strong memories of Carter’s presidency — and those that do have strong negative memories ain’t Democratic voters anyway.

And so the calculus must’ve been that the WH needs to energize environmentalists who are pissed off about climate.  For me, this move is a not terribly important piece of symbolism from an administration that has a lot to brag about on the climate and clean energy front, but which killed its legacy by letting the climate bill died without a serious fight (see “How the Senate and White House missed their best chance to deal with climate change“).

What do you think?

Here’s what the Secretary of Energy thinks:

As we move towards a clean energy economy, the White House will lead by example. I am pleased to announce that by the end of this spring, there will be solar panels that convert sunlight into electricity and a solar hot water heater on the roof of the White House. It’s been a long time since we’ve had them up there. These two solar installations will be part of a Department of Energy demonstration project. The project will show that American solar technology is available, reliable, and ready to install in homes throughout the country. Around the world, the White House is a symbol of freedom and democracy. It should also be a symbol of America’s commitment to a clean energy future.

As Wonk Room notes:

Although photovoltaic power was first developed in the United States, two decades of domestic neglect have allowed Germany, China, and Spain to leapfrog this country in solar energy. Buoyed by the Recovery Act, however, employment in the U.S. solar industry has been exploding in recent years, more than doubling from 2008 to 60,000 jobs in 2010.

Youth climate activists with had challenged the White House to lead the nation by example, bringing one of the original solar panels installed by the Jimmy Carter administration to a meeting with White House officials last month. Secretary Chu’s announcement comes days before’s 10/10/10 Global Work Party. During the largest climate-action mobilization in the planet’s history, hundreds of thousands of people from early every nation in the world will follow Barack Obama’s example and participate in actions large and small to make their lives more sustainable this Sunday.

What do you think?

58 Responses to Steve Chu on the White House going solar

  1. I would love to see a calculation of how much energy those panels might have saved if they had been left in place since the Carter administration.

  2. Daniel Ives says:

    I think it a good move because it sets a good example and is symbolic. But my personal feeling is that it is a table scrap compared to what we should be seeing from this White House in terms of promoting renewable energy. Considering the climate bill failure, these solar panels are like a single daisy growing in a huge pile of crap (not that the WH bears most of the blame for the climate bill failure, but it does deserve a fair share). That my opinion anyway.

  3. Dave says:

    Symbolism matters, and motivating climate-minded voters is important. The removal of solar panels om the White House signaled the end of the ’70’s renewable energy movement. Putting new panels up does signal the beginning of another national push for renewable energy. How we climate activists react to this gesture will in some part affect how long, and how effective, this new era will be.

    Why stop with solar panels? How about installing a geothermal heat pump for the White House and congressional buildings – and decommission that old coal plant? How about a full energy efficiency audit and retrofitting of these national icons? How about a zero-carbon emissions White House?

    These actions would provide a high-visibility example of the benefits of efficiency and renewables, and allow advocates to explain the long-term economic and environmental benefits of these renovations for taxpayers. And these retrofits are harder to remove than a few solar panels!

    Thanks to all the activists who made this happen. See you all (at least virtually) on 10/10/10.

  4. Sasparilla says:

    After actively participating in the death of national climate legislation in the US, this gesture by the administration is finally nice (after rebuffing the folks on the original solar panels publicly before), but it is just window dressing on the coffin (of climate change legislation).

  5. Rob C. says:

    I think we need a whole lot more than token political gestures. Too little and too late; too little to make any real impact on the catastrophe we face and probably too late to help with the mid-terms.

    I just came across a study on the Journal of Geophysical Research website by Mark Z. Jacobson at Stanford that asserts that controlling soot particulates could reduce warming significantly. The best part is that the effect would be in the near term. Could enacting better soot control on vehicles and factories give us the breathing room we need? Maybe tackling soot pollution is Obama’s best bet to restore his legacy on this issue. Considering the illness caused directly by soot inhalation it may be a more tangible message for the public to grasp. What do you think?

  6. charlie says:

    Gestures, not policy.

  7. Michael Tucker says:

    “The White House will lead by example.”

    PV and a solar water heater for the White House and the military exploring the use of PV in combat situations indicate to me that all we can really count on is individual effort. It says that the only way to move to clean energy is to make your own. If your government is incapable of implementing a clean energy plan that will phase out fossil fuel use then you must do it yourself. Install solar and wind, get off the grid, recycle and compost, join Ed Begley Jr and Bill Nye and do it yourself!

    Thanks President Obama and Secretary Chu for showing us the way…Er, following the way, of others who have been advocating for individual effort for many, many years now. In light of the abysmal failure of ALL our leaders in getting a clean energy bill passed, in honor the Global Work Party, I think Obama and Chu should give credit where credit is due.

  8. Andy says:

    It’s not bad news, and in fact it is moderately good news. That’s a heck of a lot better than the vast majority of news coming out of Washington these days…

  9. Sam Bullitts says:

    Every little bit helps and I think the White House doing it is a good idea as a symbolic measure

    With my electric bill going through the roof and being hit with a fuel service charge that doubles my bill, I’m ready to put solar panels on my house.

  10. Douglas says:

    How about solar panels on top of every stand-alone post office? At least in areas with enough sun. Inside the building there’d be an easy-to-read meter that shows clearly how much is electricity is being generated per hour, month, year.

    We need more people to see solar in action in their everyday lives. The White House thing is nice but I doubt it will have much impact.

  11. Chris Winter says:

    I think it’s a good thing all around.

    Symbolically, it sends the message that the White House is genuinely in favor of clean energy. If you will forgive a rather strained expression, Obama is putting his residence where his rhetoric is.

    Also, this comes in time to boost 350’s worldwide set of events next Sunday, and to perhaps improve Democrats’ chances in the November midterms.

    Practically it’s a good thing too, as it will reduce the White House use of fossil-fuel power and may be a first step toward retiring that Capitol coal plant.

    Now I’d really like to see some engineering details on these new additions.

  12. Dana Pearson says:

    While the situation is dire, the opportunities for change are huge…I was so angry at the rebuff got on their recent visit, and let the Whitehouse know as did many others, I’m sure… Obama obviously has ignorant staffers or some working against our best interests but fortunately the word finally got up the chain far enough and the right thing is being done… after blowing a huge media opportunity!

    I fill my google generated news feeds with extractive tags like: Solar, Renewables, Energy Policy, Sustainability, Energy Scenarios, Electric Cars… and Science Daily… so I am constantly reminded at all the advances that are being made to open a new and better world… Depression and giving up is not an option and it is too easy to find us there these days…

    We can totally transform the world in the next couple decades… the need is there, the opportunities are becoming more obvious every day, and We Must Advocate For Change more loudly than ever if change is to happen. The goal should be change, not bitching and moaning about how all is lost… you get what you ask for…and this is not a passive adventure…

    Fortunately we are beginning to see real impacts of our insane present position. I feel solar on the whitehouse is just one more of many steps we need to celebrate and activily advocate for to generate a larger voice for change.

    Personally I feel much more emphasis on the Psychology of dealing with these issues needs to be focused on. The fossil fuel industry obviously employs such techniques to promote their distortions; we need to do so in support of the truth.

  13. William P says:

    Solar panels are nice. They work well. But its just more “greenwash” – something to take our eyes off the huge, ominous threat bearing down on planet earth – rapidly developing global warming.

    A few solar panels won’t solve that. So much CO2 is in the atmosphere now (390ppm while Hansen says we need 350ppm or less to survive extinction), and everyday we had tons and tons more with no let up in sight. We are creating doomsday. That is the message we need to convey to the public – not whether a few solar panels on the White House is or is not a good thing.

    We must tell the public the grim, whole truth. We must determine whether global warming is survivable or not. If its not – let the good times roll and have as much fun as possible.

    If it is survivable – how? Moving to northern latitudes as Lovelock suggests might work? Production of reflective material in our atmosphere? We must get busy on serious defensive planning and action.

    Its time to admit – governments, our very much included, nor businesses will ever permit curbing CO2 emissions. It just is NOT going to happen. It is time to think about only one thing: Defense!

  14. Mark says:

    I am not happy with Secretary Chu calling this a ‘demonstration project”.
    This is just one more example of poor messaging from this administration.

    Calling the rooftop installation of solar panels a demonstration project implies that solar panels are some sort of ‘not quite ready for prime time’ technology. Most demonstration projects encourage folks to wait for the results of the project before adopting the solution for themselves.

    We can predict with a very high degree of accuracy and confidence the amount of energy these panels will generate over the next 20 years and the full life cycle costs of installing and maintaining this system.

    We can not predict with any degree of accuracy what the costs will be for the conventional fossil fuel based electricity consumed by the White House over the next 20 years.

    We can predict with a very high degree of accuracy and confidence the amount of CO2, NOx, SOx, mercury, and nuclear radiation that will be produced by those solar panels over the course of the next 20 years. Zero.

    We also can predict with a very high degree of accuracy and confidence the amount of CO2, NOx, SOx, mercury and nuclear radiation that will be produced by every kWh of conventional electricity consumed by the White House.

    The time for demonstration projects was over when Carter left the White House.
    Chu’s message should have been – This is a time-tested and proven technology that should be installed on every unshaded, south-facing rooftop in the country today.

  15. Jeff Huggins says:

    Here’s What I Think: We aren’t stupid.

    One of the things that causes people to demean themselves is when other people and the culture demean them.

    What I mean is this: Both sides — and all sides — of the political “leadership” seem clearly to be relying on little forced gestures. Throw a bone to the wolves and it’ll keep them happy and distracted for awhile.

    This is a hard one to discuss, because I do appreciate the fact that some of the hardest-working activists, with good intentions, have been pushing for solar on top of the White House. It IS a good thing that such activism took place and that the White House has decided to put solar up. But, to me, the White House’s action of putting solar up is ONLY a good thing if the very next day they (the WH) launch a sincere all-out no-holds-barred effort — and an effective one — to do what’s necessary to address climate change, even if they have to sacrifice the popularity of this administration in the process.

    In other words, I only want to see the “gestures” if they are attached to Big Real Things that will make a Huge Difference — the two going hand-in-hand. If the gestures and talk continue without the MEAT, without the REAL ACTION, then I can only conclude that the folks on top are treating us as if we’re stupid, and that turns me completely off. Completely. Off.

    Also, regarding 10/10/10, I’m hopeful, and I’ll be there, and I encourage others to be there, and I’ll be trying my best. And I DO applaud the efforts of those involved. BUT, my own assessment of “where we are” after 10/10/10, and of whether the people leading “get it”, and of whether I’ll continue to stick with them, will depend on the degree to which they make an honest critical assessment of the situation the week after the event. In other words, what will Bill and others say about their own assessment of the overall situation, what will they be doing to think bigger and creatively for the future, what will the next events entail, and so forth? The clock is ticking and (unfortunately) I’m not at all convinced that many of the movement’s leaders understand what will likely be necessary in order to generate the changes needed.

    We’ll learn a lot on 10/10/10 and, also, by seeing how the election and proposition in California go, in November, and how close it all is. Then we’ll have to assess things and get creative.

    And (to the folks at the White House): I’m still rooting for you, for the time being, but please don’t forget: We aren’t stupid. Gestures and small moves won’t do it, at least not for me.

    Be Well,


  16. mike roddy says:

    Let’s see some followup by powering all government and military facilities in Washington DC with electricity produced from nearby offshore wind projects. It’s doable and competitive. Obama could issue an executive order mandating renewable power for the government in the region. Let the coal industry scream- it’s about time someone drew the line, and it would be the kind of action Obama voters expected.

  17. Anu says:

    Plenty of space for PV on the White House roof, and the wings:

    Those pale blue panels look nice on a white house:

    Forget hot water heating and token PV for powering a few light bulbs in the foyer – I want to see a respectable PV system, something like 50kW, cutting edge panels from an American company.

    Maybe add a another 20kW on the lawn, a nice “modern sculpture” on poles.

    Do it right.
    Set an example.

  18. Mark says:

    Based on the amount of coverage I have seen of this, It seems to be very useful, whatever the motivation is.

    “Thanks to all the activists who made this happen. ”

    yes, thanks to those people.

  19. ozajh says:

    I have a question about PV panels that has been bugging me for years, and that is their albedo.

    I know the best cells are now about 20% efficient, but large scale deployment would surely be DISASTROUS for global warming if most of the remaining 80% finished up as waste heat.

    Meanwhile, I echo the frustration of the posters above. My country is one of the best places in the entire world for truly large scale deployment of PV (we have literally millions of square kilometers of flat low-vale land which gets plenty of sunlight), and yet on a per-capita basis we are probably the highest ultimate source of CO2 of any nation (due to massive coal exports).

  20. James Newberry says:

    With a billion dollars a day for foreign oil, massive federal subsidies for fuels and weapons, and weekly disasters from climate change/contamination it’s nice to see some government officials catch up to the policy of the 1970’s.

    Having to reinstall solar on the White House is both prophetic and pathetic. This symbolism is from the proponents of clean, safe atomic fission along with an $80 billion nuclear weapons program budget, and with State Dept. approval of shale and tar sands oil pipelines. I don’t think the government knows the difference between energy and a hole in the ground.

    Those of us in the clean energy movement have been providing design demonstrations for decades. Now it is time for political demonstrations.

  21. Gary says:

    David Axelrod needs to step down….!

  22. mike roddy says:

    Ozajh, re albedo:

    If all electrical power in the United States were supplied by solar collectors, it would take about .0031 of our total land area. If we deploy on that scale, it will probably be mostly solar thermal, which has very high albedo as a result of reflecting sunlight to create heat.

    These numbers are even better in Australia, where you have a small fraction of our population and lots of land area.

  23. Raul M. says:

    Aside, I think they will like solar elec. and hot water.
    Maybe they will like a second helping in the following

  24. Doug Bostrom says:

    Glad to see they’re doing solar hot water, not just PV which has better theatrical value but is typically the -next- thing to do after insulation, air infiltration, solar DHW.

  25. PeterW says:

    Off topic: Joe are you going to post on this new article in Science?

    Declining solar activity linked to recent warming

    [JR: Not terribly meaningful given that is “limited to a very short period” and “might be a coincidence.” Come back in 11 years on this one.]

  26. Robert Brulle says:

    First, why did it take political pressure to get them to do this in the first place? If the White House is leading, they should have done this the first day they came into office.

    But more importantly, the Obama administration has not been able to get any real legislation through Congress to deal with climate change. Even the climate bill they barely supported only would have resulted in a 3% reduction by 2020 from 1990 levels.

    We need to have a 50% reduction by 2020 to avoid dangerous climate change. So 3% is symbolic. Putting up solar panels after failing to even get a symbolic bill is tokenism.

    The time has long passed for symbolic steps or believing that “any little bit helps.” As Joe repeatedly has warned, we are on our way to Hell and High Water unless we make a massive effort now.

    Save me your platitudes about “every little bit helps” and “it is a small step in the right direction” or “it is a first step.” The time for those sorts of steps was the 1980s. Such thinking is delusional. These steps are now “Too Little, Too Late.” Unless we act aggressively NOW, our chance to control climate change will continue to recede, eventually becoming beyond our control. We are perilously close to that point. Settling for symbolic actions is not a realistic solution. So this feel good moment represents to me a fundamental lack of understanding of how actually dire our circumstances are, and a naive acceptance of token actions.

    So I am totally in agreement with Joe on this. It is a symbolic step and doesn’t represent a “victory”.

    Dr. Robert Brulle

  27. My sense is, it’s hard work building movements but we need to build one. And one of the things movements need is a sense of…movement, of momentum. Otherwise it’s just too discouraging. We’ve taken endless hits this year: Copenhagen, Congress. It’s good to be reminded that every once in a while common sense prevails. And I can tell you that it’s given a great boost to our organizing efforts in the run up to 10/10/10…which won’t solve the problem either, or even come close. But it will be one more step in building a movement with enough clout to get something done. Many thanks for all the thoughtful comments above; it’s very helpful to see what everyone’s thinking

  28. Ben Lieberman says:

    Why criticize a small positive step at all? It makes sense to praise this step, thank those who have pushed for it, and also ask for and work for much much more.

  29. Deborah Stark says:

    RE: Douglas | Post #10

    “…..We need more people to see solar in action in their everyday lives…..”

    This is a very important point. People need to SEE these innovations for themselves and there aren’t currently that many opportunities for them to do that. Your idea of installing solar in all free-standing post offices, with visible meters, is excellent, I think.

    I read of a study last year wherein it was concluded that people are more likely to consider changing their behavior if they see their peers (neighbors) actually setting directly-observable examples. In other words, talking about change, however sincerely, has limited influence. Giving form to ideas is what makes all the difference.

  30. Mark says:

    Thank you also for your helpful comments Bill and for all that you do to make this movement a movement.

  31. Jonah says:

    What do I think? Symbols are nice, I guess. I keep hearing that “people” like them, and while I don’t know who these folks are, political orthodoxy has it that their opinions matter. Inasmuch as that is true, and this symbolism matters to them, then I’m all for it.

    (That said, the cynical part of me wonders how long they’ll last after January 2013… Time for more “roof repairs”, President Romney? Tearing down symbols works just as well.)

  32. Barry says:

    I think adding some “green and clean” power is fine.

    At the same time, the solution to climate chaos is to STOP BURNING FOSSIL FUELS.

    If Obama and the White House want to send a clear message on climate they would stop using fossil fuels in the White House. Period.

    However they choose to do that is great. But the key is to focus on fossil fuels! We must leave most of them in the ground forever. Leadership means eliminating fossil fuels…not tagging on some green in addition.

    “Yes to green” won’t stop climate chaos if we also continue “Brown as Usual”.

    I’m with Hansen on this one: “Obama doesn’t get it.”

  33. Barry says:

    Re: Ozjah #20

    The albedo of solar panels is not a climate issue…though it has confused some brainiacs in the past.

    Joe covered this in detail in this post:

  34. Jeff Huggins says:


    I agree with Robert Brulle’s Comment 27. Well put, Dr. Brulle. We should all read your comment several times until it really sinks in — in order to help us see clearly and “get with it!” much more effectively (the best way I can think to word things in my present rush).

    Given that the weekend is coming up soon, the task seems to be to help make 10/10/10 as big, impactful, and positive as possible. That’s the aim. And thanks to Bill McKibben and his group for all the effort.

    After that, however, time to take stock, assess the situation, and think much bigger and even more creatively.

    We need to hear much more from people who understand what it takes for cultures to make major changes, so I’m hoping that Dr. Brulle and others will chip in, frequently and candidly, on that topic. At this point, THAT’s the KEY TOPIC.

    Be Well,


  35. Bobness says:

    I think its nice that they finally came to their senses on this.

    Bill McKibben had a lot to do with the behind the scenes work.

  36. Dana Pearson says:

    Bill, thanks for chiming in… People! Wake Up! Get Active! Enough with your cynicism and winy negativity… It’s easy to do… much easier than actually doing something.

    I come home from work every day (installing/caring for/promoting sustainable gardens) and then, after a bit of family time and harvesting from our own back yard garden, go out to my little studio and write “planetary music” till I collapse these days. NO MORE “IT’S ALL F’ed” for me… I’m doing what I can to advance the cause… and Alex, another tireless human working to educate with his weekly Radio Ecoshock broadcasts/podcasts is using my stuff more and more… thursdays show will be my best effort to date, titled “Deal With It!” So what… you ask? Well, I am trying my best to use my own unique talents to open minds and facilitate change… Each one of us has a role to play…making calls, writing emails/letters, working a few extra hours and sending the $$$$ to progressive candidates, working with or within other groups…

    Movement…. movement….. movement…. it all depends on…..


    My point is directed at the “We give ups'” posting caustic comments… I would suggest doing something meaningful for a change…it might begin to change YOU.

    Nobody said this is going to be easy…and I’ve run all the worst case scenarios like many of you… but it won’t do my lovely 9 year old daughter any good, and at 60 years old I’M NOT DEAD YET!!!

    Change can happen a lot faster than any of us are talking about… and it is up to us to “Make it so…”

  37. Roger says:

    Many great comments, as is so typical of CP! Thanks for posting this, Joe.

    We at the Global Warming Education Network couldn’t be much happier. We have been encouraging folks in the US climate movement to FOCUS our collective powers, solar thermal style, on the man at the top for a while now—and with this type of result in mind.

    Remember, Rome wasn’t built in a day, nor will a fossil-fuel-free Washington appear overnight. IMHO, this represents a small step for a man, but a giant leap for the climate movement. We are turning another corner, moving in the right direction, making some visible progress. All of Bill and’s hard work is now showing tangible results, above and beyond a sweet-but-less-satisfying huge numerical tally of events/countries.

    Dave (#3) hits a nail on the head with his suggestion for the WH to go far beyond the solar panels—an idea we had in mind when dreaming up the 10.10 White House Work Party plan this summer. For example, geothermal power was on our list, and I plan to mention that in my brief remarks in Lafayette Park on Sunday. (Susan has suggested the First Lady could hang a clothesline near her garden, so we’re bringing one along–realizing that it might be a stretch, NPI!)

    Along with Deborah, I agree with Douglas, and those who suggest that this WH step, and much more, be extended to wherever US presidential executive orders carry weight.

    I also agree with Jeff, who graciously came to our Earth Day Citizens Climate Congress in front of the White House earlier this year. Those of us who have plied the consulting trade, and/or have been schooled in business planning, know that most companies in the FF industry have one-year and five-year plans, and so should the climate movement!

    What are our next objectives? What are the appropriate strategies and tactics? Should we agree that certain steps be accomplished? Should we ALL plan to have a really HUGE rally on 11.11.11? Should we start now to plan a mega-event that will honor our veterans, while we fight to preserve the way of life (including a livable climate) that they have fought for? Whatever the plans are, they need to be shared with “the troops” and hopefully agreed to soon by a large majority of those who care about our climate.

    I know at least one major player in the climate movement has some cool plans in the works. Will others join them, multiplying their power? I truly hope so. For, if we don’t all stick together, we’ll surely all get stuck individually. And it won’t be pretty—that’s the thought, I know, that thankfully keeps Joe, Bill, Jim Hansen, me, and millions of others motivated. So, lets all shoot for even more cooperation and FOCUS in 2011!

    End of rant, and business consultant-type advice. Anything to add, Jeff or others?

    Finally, as many CP readers likely already know, the coalition of climate groups now collaborating on the White House Work Party is thrilled to have Joe Romm among our featured speakers on Sunday, along with climate hero-scientist Dr. James Hansen, “Plan B” author Lester Brown, DC Councilwoman Mary Cheh, Hip Hop Caucus president Reverend Lennox Yearwood, Green for All CEO Phaedra Ellis-Lamkins, and Bush Administration climate whistle blower (plus “Everything’s Cool” climate documentary star) Rick Piltz! (And rumor has it that Bill, himself, may stop in to say a few words.)

    More information at and Google.

    Warm regards,

  38. Colorado Bob says:

    Mean while the extreme rain events roll on –

    Floods Force Evacuation Of 130,000 In China

    At least 7 inches (18 centimeters) of rain fell in 16 cities over the past week, the Hainan provincial government website said. More rains and strong winds are expected through Friday.

  39. Roger says:

    A clarifying and extending thought re my comment above: by applying the priciples of physics to the climate movement we could harness a lot more power and be much more effective.

    Joe, you could write a great post about this–focusing especially on, well, focus, and the impact that it has on concentrating power–and what a difference it makes in, say, the effectiveness or impact of a beam.

    I think it would be an interesting and helpful topic for discussion.
    Not that you don’t have enough to cover–but this could really help!


  40. Dana Pearson says:

    please disregard last post… got angry and not enough sleep….


  41. Sime says:

    William P @ 14 said…

    “So much CO2 is in the atmosphere now (390ppm while Hansen says we need 350ppm or less to survive extinction), and everyday we had tons and tons more with no let up in sight.”

    Hum, so I got to mulling this over. We emit some 30GT of carbon a year, so how much is that really? Can your average human actually envisage 30GT, do they even know a GT is a billion tons? So I asked myself “How can we represent that figure in a way we can actually get our heads around?”

    Note: I am calculating a year as 365 days to be accurate it should be 365.25

    1 minute = 60 seconds
    1 hour = 60 secs * 60 mins = 3,600 secs
    1 day = 3600 secs * 24 hours = 86,400 secs
    1 year = 86400 * 365 days = 31,536,000 Secs (should be 365.25)

    1 billion seconds is therefore approximately 31.7 years (1,000,000,000 / 31,536,000) …hum that’s an eye opener…

    Ergo 30 billion tons of carbon is 30,000,000,000 / 31,536,000 = 951.3 (approx as rounded above) tons being dumped into the atmosphere every second of every minute, of every day, of every week, of every month, of every year, of every decade… you scared yet?


    If anyone with an IQ > 1 believes you can drop that much of anything into the environment of an enclosed system without serious repercussions you need to go to “Walmart” and get an exchange brain because yours is clearly not functioning! (Members of the “Genocide Only Party” and “Climate Zombies” please take note)

    If there are any avid coders out there who like to create a Java app a “Carbon Poop-o-meter” I suspect it would be a most useful addition to this and other sites such as Skeptical Science as it would pictorially drive the message home.

  42. Laphroaig says:

    Re: Ozjah #20

    As Barry says, it’s not an issue. The whole point of using solar PV is to offset electric power generation from fossil fuels, thereby reducing CO2 emissions. A given amount of emitted CO2, over its lifetime in the atmosphere, causes the retention of about 100,000 times more heat than was released during its formation by burning coal, oil etc. So the amount of heating caused by lowering the albedo of an area by installing PV panels is MANY orders of magnitude less than the heating that is avoided by reducing CO2 emissions – even in the worst case scenario of covering up some highly polished 99.9999999999% reflective surface with perfect black-body PVs.

  43. Mulga Mumblebrain says:

    Of course Mr Chu lost me as soon as he intoned that the White House was seen around the world as a ‘symbol of freedom and democracy’. In fact, in most of the world the US is seen as the global overlord, the racist and murderous overlord who invades countries based on transparent lies, kills millions, tortures thousands, sends Hellfire missiles crashing into sleeping villages, kills thousands of total innocents in Panama City to arrest one former employee no longer following orders etc (I could go on for the rest of history).
    That the Obama regime differs in no degree from all previous US regimes in its constant appeal to American chauvinism and delusions of moral and ethical superiority, doesn’t surprise, but it still outrages. I’m sorry folks, but you’re just human beings like the rest of us, and your political and economic system is what got the world into this fix in the first place. The vicious bad faith of the West, led by Obama, at Copenhagen, where they attenpted to impose a virulently unfair and regressive climate agreement on the poor countries, as they have done before, over and over, at GATT and WTO negotiations, should have told everyone that Obama was just another cappo di tutti cappi, prepared to do whatever is necessary to maintain US global dominance forever.
    This is a PR stunt, designed to suck in a few patsies before the November electoral rout. In Australia, our Obama, Kevin Rudd, signed Kyoto at the Bali conference in 2007, then betrayed the antipodean suckers by backtracking on every front in favour of the fossil fuel pathocrats. That’s all the likes of Rudd and Obama amount to-pathetic PR charades while business as usual proceeds with dreadful inexorability. I recommend that you vote for the Tea Party. As recent research(and long suppressed experience) has shown, ‘spontaneous remission’ in cases of terminal neoplastic disease often comes after a severe infection like septicaemia, which provokes some sort of healing crisis by stimulating the immune system. It’s a long stretch at an analogy, but it’s definitely ‘clutching at straws’ time.

  44. Prokaryotes says:

    Symbolic, but a clear message which can create more momentum.

  45. Preston Wright says:

    I think it is a great ploy by this administration to avert our eyes from what really needs to be done. Symbolism is nice but we need radical surgery and soon. Action not symbolism…

  46. llewelly says:

    ozajh says:
    October 6, 2010 at 6:54 pm:

    I know the best cells are now about 20% efficient, but large scale deployment would surely be DISASTROUS for global warming if most of the remaining 80% finished up as waste heat.

    Try doing some back-of-the-envelope calculations.
    Suppose 10 terawatts of electrical power were generated by photovoltaic cells. (1 terawatt is enough to supply all the power needs (electrical and otherwise) of about 70 million people at the American usage rate of 14.4 kw/person. Total world power usage (of all sorts) is about 15 terawatts.) If 80% (actually, modern solar cells are closer to 25% efficient) of solar energy incident on solar cells is becomes waste heat, generating 1 terawatt of electrical power results in 4 terawatts of waste heat, so that’s 40 terawatts of waste heat for 10 terawatts of electrical power. The Earth’s surface area is about 510 * 10^12 m^2 , so 10 terawatts is a forcing of about 0.02 w/m^2 – or, it would be, if every solar panel replaced magic 1.0 albedo white roofs. In practice, most surfaces convert a large portion of incident solar energy to waste heat; many kinds of rock convert over 90% of incident solar energy to waste heat. If the solar cells are replacing nonmagical white roofs with an albedo of 0.6, the forcing is no longer 0.02 w/m^2, but 0.01 w/m^2, as the 0.6 albedo white roofs replaced were converting 40% of incident energy to heat. But perhaps you should go outside. Are most of the roofs around you white? Probably not. What if they have an average albedo of 0.3 instead of 0.6? Then the forcing is about 0.0025 w/m^2 .

    In short, the forcing from waste heat is trivial, even if highly unrealistic assumptions are made about the amount of power likely to be generated, even more unrealistic assumptions are made about the albedo of the surfaces the solar cells replace, and the efficiency of the solar cells is low-balled.

  47. Jeff Huggins says:

    Being Real

    First, thanks to Roger for his Comment 38. And thanks to him and GWEN for the great work in Washington last time and this time, and I imagine there will be a next time or two too.

    Alas, I won’t be in Washington this time, for 10/10/10. But I’ll either be at a 10/10/10 event in Berkeley or San Francisco or Santa Cruz, or I might decide to be a one-person event in front of the local Valero gas station here. I’m still trying to decide.

    I applaud Roger’s and GWEN’s efforts, and one way to think about my views regarding what will be necessary to prompt society (corporations and the government and lots of people) to face and address the global warming issue is that millions of people and small groups will need to DO the sorts of things — the sorts of activism and so forth — that Roger and GWEN do. In other words, if there were one million Rogers and one million GWENs, that would tip the scales. And if you think about it, that possibility is just a matter of “internal effectiveness” and leadership and organizing (of all sorts) within the movement and among people who are already concerned. In other words, there are already one million “potential” Rogers and “potential” GWENS out there, concerned at least somewhat, but not activated — not giving themselves enough encouragement or oomph to DO something, not inspired quite enough. We don’t have to convince Rex Tillerson to picket against Shell or BP, which would of course be a tough challenge. Instead, we just need to convince and enable the many, many, many people who are already concerned — many of them deeply — to be more effective and courageous to make their concerns known, usually together.

    But there is another thing . . .

    What are some of the sorts of activities that WILL be NECESSARY — no doubt about it — in addition to the sorts of things already being done?

    Well, there will need to be massive — not dozens of people, but tens and hundreds of thousands — demonstrations (civil, mind you) aimed at specific projects (coal-fired power plants, refineries, etc.) and at specific organizations at their headquarters (ExxonMobil, the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, the API, etc.). There will also have to be pleas — and if those don’t work, demonstrations — at the institutions that own large chunks of the stocks of the worst-offending companies, to divest them. In other words, (and this may not be a good example, because I don’t know if they own such stock), we should plea to the teachers’ pension fund in California to divest ExxonMobil stock and a few other stocks. The universities should also NOT own stocks of the worst-offending companies. Those that do should be asked to sell. Those that don’t sell should be “asked” again, via appropriate demonstrations.

    There will also need to be large and effective boycotts of some companies in some cases. If we can’t develop a massive boycotting skill — a “national competence”, if you will, to mount major and effective boycotts when conditions warrant — then we may as well go to the beach, in my view. Although I hate to say this, “money speaks the loudest” when it comes to many of the worst climate offenders: Indeed, that’s why they still are the worst climate offenders, after all this time. I’ve learned many things in business, and some of them very positive, and there are many, many admirable and nice and wonderful people in business, of course, but one of the things I’ve learned is that, in the case of far too many companies — when people get together in corporate mode — and also in the case of far too many people — money speaks far too loud (relative to other and higher values) and it’s just about the only thing that does. Again, money speaks too loud and is sometimes the ONLY thing that some people pay attention to. This is one thing I’ve learned in being a former McKinsey consultant, a former Disney executive, a Baker Scholar from Harvard, and blah blah blah (sorry for all that). (I’m not saying that all of the people, or even most of them, at those places are that way, of course; not at all; but I AM saying that my experiences in business suggest to me that we won’t address the climate and energy problems, let alone the even broader and larger sustainability problem, unless we get very good at influencing the revenues and stock ownership of the largest offenders. Period. Exclamation point! You can give me an “F” if it ends up that I’m wrong on that.)

    In other words, the movement(s) will have to do things that they haven’t included very much in their repertoires so far. Not only that, but we’ll have to do those things (large events, boycotts, responsible civil demonstrations) better and bigger than they’ve been done in most periods and places throughout human history. Any honest assessment, I should think, will show that what has been done so far represents only a very small fraction — a bare beginning! — relative to what will be necessary to prompt society to face and address the climate and energy issues. Of course, we can choose to “make happy” and think otherwise, but that will just cause us to defeat our own purpose.

    There are other approaches that will be helpful and necessary too, and that are all fully civil and responsible of course. I won’t mention them here, for now. But after 10/10/10, I’m hoping that people will begin thinking bigger and more creatively, and I’d be happy to share my thoughts and suggestions.

    I applaud Roger and Bill (we need millions like them), and (or but) I do think that we have to add things to the repertoire, and effectively. And I’d also enjoy hearing much more of what Dr. Robert Brulle has to say on the subject.

    Cheers for now, and have fun on 10/10/10,


  48. mike roddy says:

    Jeff, thanks for your continued commitment, and your understanding of the need to boycott the worst offenders. The Big Green organizations have become too timid to take this most effective step, so it may have to come from the grassroots.

  49. Robert Brulle says:

    If there is any positive aspect to this action of the Obama administration is that politicians respond to political pressure. At first, they turned down Bill McKibben’s effort to get the solar panels up on the White House. But then, they reversed themselves a week or so later.

    This reminds me of what Dr. Barry Commoner said around Earth Day. He maintained, correctly, that the government isn’t going to take action to protect the environment unless the citizens make it. It is much easier to acquiesce to the power elite than to take substantial environmental protection actions.

    Environmental legislation really took off in the 1970s when Environmental Action (now defunct) created the Dirty Dozen list of Congressional representatives. In conjunction with the League of Conservation Voters, they took out 7 of the 12 in the 1972 election. The next Congress was very proactive on the environment.

    So I think what Bill is trying to do is great. We need to build a wide and deep social movement for change. This means building a movement with real political power.

    Dr. Robert Brulle

  50. Jeff Huggins says:

    Politics, Economics, People, and The MAHB

    I agree with Robert Brulle’s points in his Comment 50. Thanks Dr. Brulle.

    I’d also like to add to them or, put another way, point out some interrelationships I see between the points I made in my Comment 48 and the points in Dr. Brulle’s comment. (Thanks also to Mike for his kind comment.)

    Politics these days is . . . uh . . . “interesting” and divisive, to say the least. That won’t surprise anyone. The media also have an immense influence, and money influences things via many paths — advertising, the media themselves, political contributions, jobs for politicians post-office, and so forth.

    So, in the contest and scramble for the political pressure that Dr. Brulle talks about in Comment 50, I don’t think it will be sufficient — not nearly — for citizens to simply try to apply political pressure, through messages and rallies and the ballot box, directly on the politicians themselves, without placing pressure on the economic interests that ultimately have immense influence on the system and on the politicians. In other words, putting pressure on the politicians directly is good and necessary, but it won’t work (I believe) unless immense — and effective — pressure is also put on some key economic interests in languages that they speak. This gets back around to the sorts of points I made in Comment 48.

    Consider elections these days. Given the political divisiveness and the fact that much of America seems to have divorced itself from reason itself, and given the influence of the media, and of corporate advertising, it is entirely unclear — and actually doubtful — that messages directed only at the politicians can be of sufficient impact. The 70s were a bit different, perhaps, although I don’t remember them all that well. These days, the key environmental groups can put some Senators and Representatives on a “don’t vote for” list, but such actions might be just as likely to help get the person elected as not elected, such as things are today. The media often don’t cover those lists. And attempts to preserve the climate are positioned (too easily) by the other side as being arrogant or misguided intrusions on the public’s right to an entirely unfettered free market.

    My point is this: Some approaches to societal change — involving some public pressure placed directly on politicians — that might have been sufficient in some (not all) earlier times, are unlikely to be anywhere near sufficient today. The countervailing entrenched economic influences are huge and pervasive. So, public action will need to have some substantial impact on those, too.

    Also, many people gauge their own sense of what’s REALLY important by what other people’s actions indicate that those other people feel strongly about. So, if small or modest numbers of people are “merely” writing letters to government representatives, attending modest rallies to put pressure directly on government reps, attending nationwide things (like 10/10/10) one day, once a year, and periodically putting the names of some candidates on “don’t elect this person” lists, BUT NOT doing much more than that (in other words, not boycotting companies, amassing much larger numbers of people, dramatically and visually changing buying habits, and so forth), then most other people will be left wondering, “it can’t be all THAT important”, and the whole pattern will simply and easily be assimilated into a “new normal”. Indeed, climate activism, at its present level, is already assimilated into society as a “new norm” in some ways. Just another climate event. What will it be next year? Shall we take a picnic? Sorry, can’t go this time, the Giants are in the playoffs. And so forth and so on.

    I’m also eager and hoping that MAHB will pick up momentum and reach high.

    Cheers for now,


  51. Robert Brulle says:

    I completely agree with you. We need to have a social movement that has real power to force change. After three decades of compromise and negotiations, the environmental movement has zero to show for its efforts. Across the board, all of the global environmental indicators show deterioration. I think the wisdom of Fredrick Douglas applies:

    “If there is no struggle there is no progress. Those who profess to favor freedom and yet depreciate agitation, are people who want crops without plowing the ground; they want rain without thunder and lightning; they want the ocean without the roar of its many waters. The struggle may be a moral one, or it may be a physical one, or it may be both. But it must be a struggle. Power concedes nothing without a demand; it never has and it never will.”
    Frederick Douglas

    This is an enormous political battle, and the sooner we recognize this, the better.

    Dr. Robert Brulle

    P.S on the MAHB – we are hard at work on that.

  52. Jeff Huggins says:

    Robert (Comment 52):

    Thanks for your comment, and Bravo! And, thanks for the great Frederick Douglas quote. I agree.

    Thanks again, Be Well,


  53. William P says:

    Sime #42

    Thanks for the very much needed shot of reality.

    Notice my comment got no response except yours. People just do not want to deal with the reality of where we are on global warming. They want to work on solar panel projects and such. So much more satisfying and they feel like they are doing SOMETHING at least.

    I hate to discourage them. These are very good and well intentioned people.

    James Lovelock pointed out there will soon be one trillion tons of carbon in our earth atmosphere. You are correct indicating what a huge amount this is and how much more we daily pump into our precious earth’s paper-thin atmosphere that protects all life.

    Its time to shift the paradigm to a new way to look at global warming. And its not more solar panels and wind generators and ways to win the argument with the Deniers, Big Oil and Big Coal. A whole new approach is necessary.

    Its a painful shift. We need to admit our world is going to change in big ways. Many humans will not survive. Its hard to write that and harder to accept. The mind just shouts “No! no! no! Please NO!

    We lust after the comfort of business as usual. Tomorrow will be just like today we want terribly to believe. But our best climate scientists say, in as controlled and acceptable language as possible, that tomorrow will be different – very, very different.

    The Juggernaut of global warming is gathering real steam now. Its time to move from planning deck chair arrangement on our Titanic earth to, first, determining if survival is possible at all, then, if scientific consensus says it is, planning for survival to the maximum extent that is possible.

    Perhaps this kind of planning cannot take place in public. The public would not tolerate even the thought of such planning, especially with the powerful, corporate media we have now. Maybe the Pentagon’s semi-secret work on this is the only avenue for serious planning.

    Regardless of how it is done and by whom, we need to move into a whole new phase of thought, planning and action on global warming. The time is now.

  54. Ziyu says:

    I’d like to know whether these solar panels are new ones or the same solar panels that Carter installed. None of the news agencies mention that. Hopefully, they’re new efficient ones.

  55. espiritwater says:

    What do I think about it? Not much! In the near future, we could be witnessing sea level rises that are measured in meters instead of centimeters and the White House announces its decision to install solar panels for one building in the near future? Wow! How impressive!

  56. Roger says:

    Thank you, Jeff(#48), for your too kind remarks about GWEN in response to mine(38). We’re just a small group, but, having gone to HBS, as did you, one learns to “think big.” And, relative to the magnitude of the problem we all face with climate change, we ALL need to STEP IT UP!!!

    We’ve arrived safely in DC and are gearing up for the big event at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue tomorrow afternoon. Hardhats ready?.. Check. Banners ready?.. Check. Weather balmy?.. Check! And so on…

    We’re excited to have a huge coalition working together on this, and to be part of a 7200+ worldwide action mega-event (with GWEN running 3 of these tomorrrow), yet we wish it could be–and it needs to GROW to be–100X larger IMHO. To wit: Susan and I rode down on the train yesterday, sitting near a very bright college student who never heard of 350, etc.!

    So, Jeff, thanks again for all of your comments at CP. Together, we can win this battle of all battles. But our work has barely just begun!

    Warm regards,


  57. William P says:

    #56 espiritwater – Right you are.

    There seem to be levels regarding how people react to global warming.

    In the basement, there are the flat out deniers and their hired “scientists.” Oil and coal companies, Limbaugh Ditto Heads, etc.

    Next, comes a layer of people who can’t imagine anything will change that much in their lives. Hey, the sun always comes up, I go to work and drop the kids off at school, the supermarket is always filled with food, etc. These folks believe in and very much like happy endings – just like in the movies. They fully expect such an ending to global warming which, they admit, may exist.

    Following that are those who worry about global warming, but have not grasped the extent of the threat and how close we are to the final stages of that threat. They run out and buy those efficient light bulbs, and maybe even an electric car. Now they feel better.

    Eventually we come to people like James Hansen and James Lovelock eminent climate scientists who know our earth system well. They paint a threatening situation, but try to soft peddle it somewhat because they know the public will react angrily if given too large a dose of reality and gloom.

    These men have both been viciously attacked for their conclusions. That does not feel good to anybody. So they hold back somewhat from painting too stark (and true) a picture of what mankind is up against.