Why I Chose Rooftop Solar

I chose rooftop solar for two good reasons: to save money and help fight climate change. Apex Solar, the installers of my four kilowatt system, told me I’d save $72/month in electricity bills at current power rates with a 30 year lifetime savings of $35,000.  Better yet, the system will be producing 85% of the electricity it is generating now in 30 years. In other words, sunlight to electricity conversion efficiency lasts a long time. I also chose to go solar for the environment. I calculated the moderate four kilowatt system located on my garage will annually reduce carbon emissions by three tons (6,000 pounds). The whole system costs $54/month (15 year loan), well below the $72/month in savings.P1000261

Solar energy is cheap relative to other electricity sources, which wasn’t always the case. During the 1970s, President Jimmy Carter installed panels on the White House at a module cost of $100 per watt.  Today, solar panels are $.50 per watt. Solar energy is less expensive than fossil fuels, and thanks to Moore’s Law, costs will continue decreasing as the technology improves. What’s not to love about solar? It’s inexpensive, reduces carbon emissions, and creates jobs.

I own my solar system thanks to the ITC Solar Tax Credit and New York State Tax Credit which reduced the price by 55%. Incentivizing renewable energy solutions through tax credits is evidence of good political leadership–which is why I’m urging my elected officials to extend the ITC Solar Tax Credit beyond its 2016 expiration date. The investments have led to thousands of solar installation jobs around the state, reductions in carbon emissions, and a general sense of good will as people grapple with ways to fight climate change. I’m also feeling good about the legacy I’m leaving for my daughter’s generation and those that follow. As my colleague at work commented after recently having a solar rooftop installed at his home, “Someone asked me, ‘At my age why would I do it.  Isn’t the payback too long?’  I’m thinking, “At the planet’s age, why wouldn’t we do it?  Aren’t the costs of not acting too great?”  He then added, “This one is for Cylas (his grandson).  Every little bit helps.”  Indeed.



What’s All This Fuss About Climate Change?

Seriously, things are good so what’s the fuss about the climate? I don’t really feel any big changes in my life. Yup, today is but another typical day. I woke up and brewed my Costa Rican dark roast coffee, had some granola cereal, ate a banana, and stopped at the supermarket for some California organic grapes and locally baked raspberry cookies. Then off for my 14 mile commute to work. There were no severe weather events to deal with. I didn’t have any water issues, and the sky is blue and temperatures comfortable. Life is good.Screen Shot 2014-12-23 at 4.13.12 PM

I’ll fess up that I did hear a few things on the radio that briefly caught my attention. I guess California is doing a really good job water rationing as they cope with their historic drought (Thank God. Those red grapes from California are delicious!). The fires in Washington state have expanded to an area the size of Rhode Island (Isn’t Rhode Island like one of the smallest states in the US?), and New York has started this new downtown flood control project in preparation for the next Superstorm Sandy. Oh, and I did hear that Salmon runs in Washington and Alaska are down nearly 90% due to a lack of water from the drought (Yes, but did I mention how delicious my salmon dinner was?). This climate change stuff is far removed, and all in all, doesn’t seem to impact me.

C’est la vie. Many of us live comfortably with the discomforting news of climate change easily exorcised by the click of a button. News of the slow and steady churn of rising sea levels, dwindling species, increasing temperatures, etc… are such that they’ve become the new norm. And we proceed with our lives failing to realize the climate change urgency upon us. We know if we get too serious about the issue people will freak out and shut down, helpless to act or deal with this omnipresent force of nature–a force we tampered with. We opened up the Pandora’s Box of climate change through relentless extraction of natural resources, and it’s time to stop pretending everything is honky dory and start getting serious. We can begin by electing political leaders who understand climate change and have climate solutions that include a quick end to fossil fuels and a new market model driven by sustainability rather than consumption.





$44 Trillion Reasons Why We Need The Clean Power Plan

$44 trillion is a lot of money. Yet that is what research by U.S banking giant Citi-group projects the global price of climate change will be by 2060 if we fail to reduce carbon emissions starting now. Let’s forget all the environmental climate change nasties and consider just the bottom line: acting aggressively and globally to fight climate change is a very, very good financial investment. New jobs, improved energy infrastructure, clean air, reduced health problems, and more come with an end to fossil fuels. And, of course, $44 trillion in savings.Screen Shot 2014-05-07 at 4.04.50 PM

Each of us can do his or her part to reduce climate change costs, but political leadership will ultimately shape the necessary national and global policies and laws required to make the switch over to a carbon-zero energy system. And the U.S. Government is taking on that leadership role through its recently released Clean Power Plan, which for the first time ever sets national carbon emission standards for power plants. From the government website,

  • “The Clean Power Plan cuts significant amounts of power plant carbon pollution and the pollutants that cause the soot and smog that harm health, while advancing clean energy innovation, development and deployment, and laying the foundation for the long-term strategy needed to tackle the threat of climate change. By providing states and utilities ample flexibility and the time needed to achieve these pollution cuts, the Clean Power Plan offers the power sector the ability to optimize pollution reductions while maintaining a reliable and affordable supply of electricity for ratepayers and businesses.”

There will be upfront costs to the Plan, but those will pale in comparison to the $44 trillion in climate change damage if we do nothing.  And the upfront costs are an investment which the Economic Policy Institute predicts will create 360,000 new (and well-paying) renewable energy sector jobs by 2020. California is a good example of renewable energy’s labor benefits. According to UC Berkeley’s Labor Center, 10,200 renewable energy jobs were created in California the past five years to expand solar electric generation at state utilities–jobs that average $78,000/year with health and pension benefits.

Sadly, fossil fuel companies and coal-producing states are unhappy with the Plan, and 15 states have filed a lawsuit in federal court to block the Plan. Let’s not think blue state, red state, or neutral state. Rather, let’s think about our planet’s well-being. When a banking institution researches climate change and finds $44 trillion will be the cost of climate inaction, the solution is clear. The EPA’s Clean Power Plan is a significant step forward to reducing carbon emissions and reducing climate change. It is a Plan that this country needs now. Let your legislatures know you support the Clean Power Plan.


If You Think Science Education Is Expensive, Try Climate Change

Okay, that’s a play of words on one of my all time favorite bumper stickers, “If you think education is expensive, try ignorance.” The motto suggests a failure to invest in education will lead to waves of ignorant high school graduates unable to fully contribute to a democratic society. Using that same logic, failure to educate our youth about climate change will lead to a populace cognitively unfit to address our very serious climate problem. In other words, our future graduates will struggle to make informed decisions on such things as supporting a carbon tax, believing climate change denying politicians, or proactively reducing their carbon footprints by driving less, eating lower on the food chain, etc. A 2015 survey showing 63% of Americans think global warming is happening is a clear indication we have a long way to go in educating our students about climate change (98% of scientists believe humans are causing our climate to heat up).Screen Shot 2014-09-20 at 8.52.01 AM

People do better when they know better, which is why our schools must educate our youth about climate change science. And not just the foundational elements of climate science (energy flow, atmospheric and oceanic composition and processes, anthropogenic factors, etc…), but also the interplay of climate change with politics, social science, and economics. Schools need to develop/use rigorous and relevant climate change curricula that embed the Next Generation Science Standards with literacy, math, social studies, and the arts. Persuasive essays to make a case for carbon taxation; statistical analyses of atmospheric carbon dioxide levels and temperature changes over time; artistic expressions of a futuristic renewable energy age or sustainable city; or phenological field studies exploring bud burst and insect hatch times.  The possibilities are endless.

Whether choosing the next U.S. President, voting on a carbon tax, or adopting carbon neutral lifestyle changes, our future high school graduates will need to know better the consequences of a climate-changed world. They will need to understand the difference between CFCs and CO2, between anthropogenic and natural sources of greenhouse gases, and between carbon taxation versus free market cap and trade systems. Otherwise, we are doomed to the follies of a fossil fuel industry committed to extracting every last bit of carbon in their vast underground holdings regardless of the long-term climatic implications. And that is a very high price for climate change ignorance.



Nature Deficit and Climate Change

I grew up five miles from Queens, New York City, a mere ten bus ride minutes away from the elaborate subway and rail system that interconnected all five New York City boroughs: Queens, Brooklyn, The Bronx, Manhattan, and Staten Island. Traveling through the city as a kid was an adventure for me and my friends. Yankees games, Mets games, Yonkers Raceway, pre-Guiliani 42nd Street, Madison Square Garden rock concerts, Little Italy, Chinatown, etc…  We had the world at our disposal for a modest half-dollar ticket fee, and we confidently forayed out to explore on many a weekend night a city busy, noisy, and mostly devoid of any flora or fauna.

We thought we were tough city kids, unafraid of the streets at night, but traveling in small groups, just in case. Above ground was by foot or bike, and by subway car beneath the vents that exhaled man and machinery out into the streets. We were in our element, in an oxymoronic way, in the concrete jungle.  But take us out of the city confines and into the country, unease and fear were revealed. Though we didn’t know it, we were victims of nature deficit syndrome, aliens disconnected from the natural environment.

Today I am truly blessed to live in the Adirondack Mountains where forests, streams, lakes, meadows, flora and fauna flourish. A place where you can get lost in nature’s peaceful beauty while drawing a kayak paddle through the still waters of a remote Adirondack pond or while gliding on snow along a cross-country ski trail in the quiet of winter. Living in such beauty regularly reminds me how much is at stake with climate change. How vulnerable the complex Adirondack ecosystems are to rapidly increasing temperatures, and how important it is for people to have time in nature to appreciate its holistic powers. We must understand that we are part of the natural system, in spite of our actions, and that climate change threatens all of nature, including us. Let’s not lose through climate change our connection to Mother Earth.


Feeling A Little Depressed? You May Have Solastalgia.

Depressed about climate change? You have solastalgia. Your favorite vacation spots (beaches, parks, campsites, lakes…) or places of your youth being environmentally ruined? You have solastalgia. A gnawing ache for the Earth’s future if we don’t act now to fight climate change? You have solastalgia. You are suffering solastalgia even if you deny or ignore the impacts of climate changes. As Albrecht and others (2007) explain,

As human impacts on the planet increase, it should come as no surprise that in addition to bio-physiological pathology induced by environmental pollution, there should be psychological illness linked to a negative relationship between humans and their support environment.

My first solastgiac experience was the 1989 Exxon Valdez oil spill which spewed 10 million gallons after striking a reef in Prince William Sound. The news videos of oil soaked waterfowl, sea otters and seals broke my heart, and being helpless to do anything about the problem only added to my sadness. The number of times I’ve suffered solastalgia have since increased as climate change’s impacts on extreme weather, drought, melting arctic ice, ocean acidification, etc occur ever more frequently.IMG_4147

Solastalgia is a real and pervasive experience that can numb and leave helpless an entire global society. In the face of climate change, we have two paths in front of us. One is to act aggressively and proactively as individuals and global communities to fight the sources of climate change: burning fossil fuels, rampant consumerism, unsustainable agricultural practices, forest mismanagement, misguided political leaders. The other is to wait and see what happens. Trust me, you will feel much better about yourself and our planet’s future if you choose action over inaction.  And if you need help on where to start, check out David Suzuki’s Top Ten List of Ways You Can Stop Climate Change.



Glenn Albrecht , Gina-Maree Sartore , Linda Connor , Nick Higginbotham , Sonia Freeman , Brian Kelly , Helen Stain , Anne Tonna , Georgia Pollard (2007). Solastalgia: The distress caused by environmental change. Australasian Psychiatry, 15(1), pp. 95-98.

Living Frugally With A Negative Carbon Footprint?

Can a person’s carbon footprint be negative, reducing rather than increasing atmospheric carbon dioxide levels during their lifetimes? Maybe Johnny Appleseed would fall into that category, but being carbon negative in today’s world of cars and plastics, electronics and air-conditioned homes is not remotely possible–even if you roamed the countryside planting apple seeds. But some people are more carbon neutral than others, including one such person I’ve known and loved for five decades. My dad defines the word “frugality”. So much so my brother and sisters regretfully used to call him “cheap” for his extraordinary measures to save money and resources.IMG_0151

We didn’t realize it at the time, but dad was living in harmony with nature long before it was cool or urgent to do so. I remember going to Bar Beach in Hempstead Harbor as a Long Island kid. We’d drive up to the beach parking lot and the six of us would empty out of the dodge station wagon and scramble to the sandy beach with white pails and metal spoons in hand. In the distance smokestacks from the garbage burn plant belched out remains of incinerated household waste. We drew more than our fair share of looks by kids from neighboring beach blankets as they eyed the unusual white beach pails with which we built equally unusual sand castles. You see, my dad threw nothing, and I mean nothing, away. Everything could be reused or repurposed, including Clorox bottles (think cloth diapers) and metal hangers. Dad would cut the tops off the bottles, punch holes on both sides, and then fasten a coat hanger into each hole to make a makeshift handle. And voila, you have a beach pail. It wasn’t pink or green, yellow or blue, but it did hold sand and water and make the most unique sand castles. I think the beach neighbors were actually jealous.

There are many, many more actions dad took to save energy, money, or materials. Food vacuum sealer units using a straw and zip log baggie. Multiple patches on blown tire tubes. Pancakes with yesterday’s cheeses and eggs with leftover veggies (not kidding). Dandelion salad greens (not kidding) from the yard. Watered down juice and syrups. Homemade popcorn popped in a giant turkey roasting pan and split into several paper shopping bags before heading to the drive-in theater. Used paper bags in garbage pail. Tearing napkins and paper towels into smaller use sizes. Cutting open toothpaste tubes to scrape out remains (not kidding). Water rinsing tomato sauce cans to get all contents out. Chicken bone inspection on our plates to be sure all meat was eaten before we could leave the kitchen table. Folding our “dirty” laundry and telling us it was washed because he said we would change many times in a day and not really dirty our clothes (not kidding). Plastic milk jugs for blueberry picking and use as funnels for changing oil. Disregarding expiration dates on all food packages (not kidding). Setting thermostat down to 50 at night and 60 during the day. Increasing miles per gallon by coasting the car to red lights, cutting corners diagonally to take the shortest line (not kidding), and shifting to neutral when going down hills.

What would happen if we all adopted a more frugal, Earth-harmonious lifestyle? If we cut down our consumerism, reused items, and threw nothing away? If we car pooled and shared larger items such as mowers or snowblowers with a neighbor? If we thought of the resources, time, and social capital that went into a store product before purchasing it? If we bought only Fair trade products, cut down our meat consumption, and started a small vegetable garden? Let’s give frugality a try and see what happens!




Two Trillion Reasons A Carbon Tax Makes Sense

$2.4 trillion is the bill for climate change disasters from 1970-2012 according to the World Meteorological Organization.  And that bill is paid by you and me. Fossil fuel companies’ costs?  $0. Nada. Nothing. We buy their carbon-based products to power our appliances, heat our homes, fuel our cars, and manufacture the many things we love to consume. The problem is costs for carbon are external to the fossil fuel companies’ bottom line, hidden in the $2.4 trillion of damage ultimately done to the environment. Damage costs paid for through our taxes and charitable contributions. The fossil fuel industry pays not one cent for climate change destruction. In fact, they receive subsidies for their exploration and extraction costs. There’s a better way.Screen Shot 2014-09-30 at 3.27.13 PM

What if we could calculate a climate change cost (carbon tax) per fossil fuel unit used? A fee on the carbon dioxide emissions released by the fossil fuel burned? And what if that cost was paid for by the fossil fuel companies? A coal producer would sell X tons of coal and be taxed Y dollars. The more coal sold, the bigger the tax. The same applies to oil and gas companies. Every BTU of energy used to power/heat our homes or manufacture a product would have an associated carbon tax representing the carbon dioxide emissions released. Now imagine collecting all those different sources of taxes and keeping them in a special climate change adaptation and mitigation fund. When the next Hurricane Katrina rolls into town, funds from the carbon tax account would be used to cover the damage costs. And when the next extreme drought causes crop damage, carbon tax monies would support farmers. Etc…   Some monies would be used to mitigate climate change impacts, and others would pay or subsidize renewable energy incentives.

Under a carbon tax, what you and I pay for fossil fuel-powered energy and consumer products would inevitably go up, accelerating the shift to cleaner, more economical sources of energy (solar, wind, tidal…). A carbon tax fund would do so much good for the environment and the global economy. People would be more aware of the carbon costs in all products, and carbon tax monies would support mitigation and adaptation efforts as we swiftly transition to a clean energy society. Carbon tax dollars would fund new job opportunities, critical climate change research, and relocation and support for environmental refugees.

Climate change is too often looked at through a painful lens of doom and gloom when actually there are tremendous opportunities for proactively addressing the problem. A carbon tax is one wonderful way to take a genuine problem (climate change) and do something good for society (employment, environmental restoration, support for the poor and victims of climate change disasters….).


Two 5-Minute Climate Change Mitigation Action Item for the Week:

If you want to change the world by making a difference in the climate change battle, check out The Climate Mobilization and consider taking the pledge.


Want to support renewable energy, then push divestment of fossil fuels.  Go to Fossil Free to learn what you can do.

Judas Iscariot For U.S. President?

Judas Iscariot betrayed Jesus to the Romans for 30 silver pieces. Though Jesus’ message was one of love, his close disciple turned him in for cold hard coin. Such betrayal and infidelity to a holy figure may indeed occur again as top Republican Presidential hopefuls choose between fossil fuels and Pope Francis’ Encyclical. Already Catholic Republicans holding high office are distancing themselves from the Pope’s urgent message of climate change. Rather than embrace the Pope’s call for action to protect God’s creation, particularly the poor, from the ravages of climate change, our leaders and potential future presidents myopically march on with a climate change denial mindset.Screen Shot 2014-12-17 at 1.11.24 PM

It’s really not so surprising considering the IPCC and 99% of climate scientists have warned global leaders to no avail for decades about the growing threats of a human-induced warmer world. Warnings have fallen on deaf ears. Hurricane Sandy, Typhoon Haiyan, floods in Texas, torrential rains in Pakistan, sinking Miami, acidified oceans, arctic ice disappearance, etc… are ignored. It’s more convenient to deny than to act. To say “I’m not a scientist”, or “Climate changes all the time”.  Sadly, a person’s mindset is not an easy thing to change.

A look at the Republican Presidential candidates shows there are a few Judas among the climate change denying mix ready to disavow Pope Francis’s urgent climate change message and pursue agendas driven by an unsustainable and insatiable fossil fuel industry. The fossil fuel era will eventually end, and most climate denying individuals will “see the light”, but by then things may have turned out very badly. Say your prayers.


Making Time for Climate Change

Time to fight climate change has not been at my side these past few weeks. In spite of all the excitement over the Pope’s Encyclical, I haven’t had a moment to delve deeply into any of it. Oh, I read Bill McKibben’s piece, and Rocky Montpelier did a nice summary of key points, but that was the extent of it. I’ve just been out straight. No downtime. Just one event after another. Graduations, weddings, out of town conferences, presentations, in town conferences, family responsibilities. Too much red meat. Too many miles driven in my car. Too much time contributing to, rather than fighting, the climate change problem. All in a very busy five week period. Needless to say, like our climate, I’m totally out of balance.IMG_3755

I remember seeing a 1982 movie a long, long time ago called Koyaanisqatsi. Godfrey Reggio directed it, and Philip Glass did the soundtrack. It was an unsettling look at the dizzying speed of 20th century life as people  frantically destroyed planet Earth to “progress”.  In the process, their lives were falling out of balance. And that was before the Internet and smartphones and twitter and Facebook and…. Interestingly, this morning I saw what could be considered a 21st Century Koyaanisqatsi-themed YouTube video, What is Wrong With Our Culture.

Enough of these Koyaanisqatsi moments! I don’t like them. I don’t like how they distract from life’s priorities: family, friends, wellness, and stewardship. And I don’t like knowing too many others are having their own Koyaanisqatsis, rushing from one thing to the next and not taking time for themselves, their families, their friends, and their roles in protecting the climate. I’m turning a corner on this busy period and posting my blog entry today. It’s not perfect, but it’s something. Let’s all do something now about fighting climate change. And that something doesn’t have to be perfect.