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A Little Missed Sunshine

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Posted on Sep 14, 2010
Wayne National Forest / Alex Snyder (CC-BY)

By Amy Goodman

BONN, Germany—When first lady Michelle Obama started an organic garden at the White House, she sparked a national discussion on food, obesity, health and sustainability. But the green action on the White House lawn hasn’t made it to the White House roof, unfortunately.

Back in 1979, President Jimmy Carter installed solar panels on the roof of the West Wing as part of a new solar strategy. “In the year 2000,” Carter said, “the solar water heater behind me, which is being dedicated today, will still be here, supplying cheap, efficient energy. A generation from now, this solar heater can either be a curiosity, a museum piece, an example of a road not taken, or it can be just a small part of one of the greatest and most exciting adventures ever undertaken by the American people.”

Sadly, after President Ronald Reagan came into office, he had the panels removed, and some of them did end up in museums. Environmental activist Bill McKibben, founder of the group, told me, “You know where one of these other panels is? It’s in the private museum of the Chinese entrepreneur who’s built the world’s largest solar thermal company on earth, Himin Solar. They’ve installed 60 million arrays like this across China.”

In 1990, the White House panels were retrieved from government storage and put back into use by Unity College in Maine. To make the case for solar, McKibben joined with a group of Unity College students and drove one of the panels from their campus to the White House, asking that it be put back on the roof. The White House declined the offer.

President Barack Obama campaigned on the pledge that he would create millions of new green jobs. He hired Van Jones as his White House green jobs czar—only to fire him shortly after Jones became the target of what he called a “vicious smear campaign,” which was promulgated by Fox News Channel. Now Obama faces a massive unemployment problem, jeopardizing not only the livelihoods of tens of millions, but the political prospects for the Democrats.


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Here in Bonn, the answer couldn’t be clearer: Use stimulus money and policy to jump-start a green job sector, to help create, for example, solar panel manufacturing, installation and servicing.

Germany, one of the most advanced economies in the world, did just that.

Now, as reported in the Financial Times, German photovoltaic cell installations last year amount to more than one-half of those in the world.

I’m here covering the 30th anniversary of the Right Livelihood Awards, an amazing gathering of scores of activists and thinkers from around the world. Among them is Hermann Scheer, a member of the German Parliament.

When he received his Right Livelihood Award, he said: “Solar energy is the energy of the people. To use this energy does not require big investments of only a few big corporations. It requires billions of investments by billions of people. They have the opportunity to switch from being a part of the problem to becoming a part of the global solution.”

And Germany is making this happen. Small-scale residential and commercial solar power installations are not only providing jobs, increased efficiency and cost savings—they actually are allowing the owners of the systems to sell excess power back to the power grid, running their meters in reverse, when conditions allow.

Here, too, are representatives of the Bangladeshi organization Grameen Shakti, which makes loans and offers technical assistance to allow poor, rural people to install solar power in their homes, often granting access to electricity for the first time in their family’s history. They have helped install more than 110,000 systems, often with a woman hired to maintain the system—creating jobs, empowering women and raising the standard of living.

Also in Bonn is the headquarters of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change, the sponsor of the failed Copenhagen climate talks last year. U.N. member countries and other stakeholders will meet again in December in Cancun, Mexico, with expectations for substantial progress declining almost daily.

The Obamas’ organic garden shows that when the most powerful, public couple takes a stand, people pay attention. Instead of just saying no, President Obama could make an important statement in restoring the White House solar panels to the roof: After the BP Gulf oil disaster, after the reckless invasion and profoundly costly occupation of Iraq (which many believe was based on our need for oil), after the massive, ongoing loss of jobs, we are changing. We will power a vital movement away from fossil fuels, to sustainable energy, to green jobs.

Denis Moynihan contributed research to this column.

Amy Goodman is the host of “Democracy Now!,” a daily international TV/radio news hour airing on more than 800 stations in North America. She is the author of “Breaking the Sound Barrier,” recently released in paperback and now a New York Times best-seller.

© 2010 Amy Goodman

Distributed by King Features Syndicate

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Night-Gaunt's avatar

By Night-Gaunt, September 20, 2010 at 11:47 am Link to this comment

Puns will be the least problem. It will be defeating CONG and their deep pockets and political clout.

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By sam, September 19, 2010 at 2:03 pm Link to this comment
(Unregistered commenter)

A Little Missed Sunshine - How about powering a vital movement away from awful puns?

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Night-Gaunt's avatar

By Night-Gaunt, September 17, 2010 at 8:08 pm Link to this comment

That’s the same line they have been using for 50 years. The costs would go down in mass production, improvements will increase use, cover every building with solar panels, wind generators especially in ares of maximum wind like in the area of tornado alley can meet the electric needs right now of the USA with all its wasteful technology. The same if you got 100 square miles in the deserts of the Mid West also can generate what we need now. We need to cut back, end the vampire aspect of our tech, and its wasteful use if energy. Any building not covered in solar panels, or the new nano-films, can be painted white to reflect more of the solar radiation back into space. If we took the money still lavished on the mature dirty GCC tech we rely on CONG, it could help pay for it. Put people to work. China is doing better than we are in this.

Stop sounding like the CONG who like their position and profit and hate the idea of losing both. Better to continue to pollute and damn the future as long as they continue to get theirs with our gov’ts help.

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By nemesis2010, September 17, 2010 at 11:11 am Link to this comment

Do any of these writers ever bother to check with engineers and scientists before writing this tripe?

Renewable energy (wind and solar) isn’t capable of meeting today’s energy requirements much less the increases in power demand as China and India continue to modernize.

The only way that solar can help and still remain somewhat green is to promote solar as a supplementary system on homes and businesses; even then the cost for a solar system far outweigh the benefits. And until it is FINANCIALLY beneficial it will never be anything but a pipedream.

What you can expect is an increase in carbon based energy, especially coal. The world’s growing energy crisis will never be conquered if it isn’t dealt with realistically; and part of that reality is that solar and wind technology isn’t there yet.

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By LetsGetPractical, September 16, 2010 at 8:29 am Link to this comment
(Unregistered commenter)

Best we can do is go on without this WH.  It is programmed for
“self interest”—issues and principles only rear their head when
tied to a vote or choreographed sell job—nothing to do with
real humans (like some of us) and values, ideas, creativity, the
joy of enterprize, and mutual personal support.  Throw some
money out the window to the masses and have a meaningless
“summit”.  That’s the end of it.  On a practical level, the WH is a
no-show (of course, unless a “sell job” is called for).  You want
solar—do it !  (then watch the WH come around to take the

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By vern2, September 15, 2010 at 4:48 pm Link to this comment

The white house roof is now being used for guards to protect the president.  We don’t need a dead president so keep on guarding.  Any reason we can’t use the NAWAPA plan and plant more trees.  Those trees seem to have been engineered to keep the carbon dioxide in balance.

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By ray keith, September 15, 2010 at 12:11 pm Link to this comment
(Unregistered commenter)

I campaigned & donated heavily for Obama on his platform of ‘change we can believe in’ beginning with withdrawal from the illegal war in Iraq.
Obama did not mention re-positioning the troops to Afghanistan & in that I cannot call him a liar, just a jive-ass ‘Uncle Tom’ still suffering the let-down of not making the grade as a ‘Playgirl playmate’. His refusal to help home-owners with toxic mortgages proves the “Wall Street Crowd’ has paid him to post pretty shit on that issue as they also own his ass.
His refusal to stop the BP mis-management in the gulf & take over the job with americans in the gulf who know what they are doing shows me he is a coward w/o true leadership quality.
His refusal to push ‘single-payer option’ on health-care shows his ass is also owned in that respect by the insuring conglomerates of health-care.
Regarding his promise to push renewable energy & refusing to reinstall Carters solar cells shows O’s ass is also owned in that respect by the ‘Energy Conglomerates’.
Obama could not participate at the 9/11 Ground Zero ceremonies due to the probability of assassination & the secret services inability to guarantee his safety.
Obama’s leadership, or lack thereof, proves americams are screwed another ‘2 years’ unless?
What would Biden do as president?

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By slvrenew, September 15, 2010 at 11:49 am Link to this comment

Thanks for this story Amy.  The feed-in tariffs and other policies that have allowed Germany to take the lead in renewable energy are being fought by industry every step of the way in the US.  Instead, we get corporate boondogles in the form of massive industrial solar and wind projects and unnecessary new high voltage transmission lines that destroy our intact ecosystems on private and public lands. These projects do more to line the coffers of Big Energy companies than they do to reduce CO2 emissions.  BP, Goldman Sachs, Chevron, et al. are now the biggest investors in “clean” energy in the US and they don’t want competition from homeowners, small business, communities or the white house sending the “wrong message”.  Another huge destructive energy scam is unfolding in this country that needs to be exposed. A new group, Solar Done Right is calling for a GAO investigation.  More at:

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By SteveL, September 15, 2010 at 10:46 am Link to this comment

Carter wanted to have 20% of the nation’s energy produced by solar.  With wind
power this could have been achieved and we would not be in bind with oil.  Reagan
could not stand this and rest is history.

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By Michael Goldstein, September 15, 2010 at 10:06 am Link to this comment
(Unregistered commenter)

Correction to Amy Goodman:  The White House Panels were not removed AFTER
Reagan became president, but DURING HIS INNAGURATION! I have searched in
vain for videotape of the news coverage showing workmen atop The White House
removing those panels during the Innagural Parade! I remember it vividly.
Whoever finds that footage should present it to you for further dissemenation.

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By prosefights, September 15, 2010 at 8:56 am Link to this comment

From: “Jason Marks, PRC” .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)
To: .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address), “David King, PRC” .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address), “Jerome D Block, PRC” .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)>, .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address), “Sandy Jones, PRC” .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)
Cc: .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address), .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address), .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address), “Staci Matlock” .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)>, .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)
Sent: Monday, September 13, 2010 9:12:09 AM
Subject: Re: Large-scale solar generation of electricity fraud in New mexico?
Mr Payne:

I don’t understand your concerns. There are two basic solar electric technologies: photovoltaic panels (PV) and thermal concentrating solar power (CSP). The development and deployment in NM is focused on PV. Hundreds of homeowners with installed PV systems can tell you that their systems produce electricity in line with specifications, as proved by meters.

You (either an individual or a utility) buy a solar system for a certain price, you install it, and it generates electricity for 20 or 30 years or so, with minimal operating and maintenance costs. There are no fuel requirements (and thus no “heat rate”). When you spread the upfront costs over the system’s lifetime electric production and adjust for tax credits and REC incentives, you arrive at the cost per kwh. You get to decide if you think that cost per kwh is reasonable before you make the investment. There is no fraud.

Jason Marks

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By ray keith, September 15, 2010 at 7:59 am Link to this comment
(Unregistered commenter)

Regardless of Obama running his campaign for presidency on instituting a REAL GREEN MOVEMENT, Obama signs his death warrant if he installs solar panels on the whitehouse roof.
His refusal ‘makes clear’ he is bought & paid for by the energy sector conglomerates.
I have to ask myself at this juncture- would Biden install solar panels if O was taken out?
O is a 1 term-er bought & paid for & he is going to continue selling the american public down the disastrous road to collapse we are fast heading towards.
Get used to getting the short end of the stick with Obama at the helm & I deflate my ego daily for heavily donating to his cause & campaigning for that jive ass hip slick coward.

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By richard, September 15, 2010 at 6:49 am Link to this comment
(Unregistered commenter)

While the English speaking world has been screwing around with the Conservative Revolution, the rest of the world has moved on. We are irretrievably behind both Europe and Asia now, and no attempt to catch up is on the horizon. At the beginning of the Reagan/Thatcher era the US led the world in clean energy research. This was seven years after the beginning of “the Energy Crisis” of the seventies, but neither empending environmental degradation or energy independence overode greed in Reagan’s corporatist outlook. He shut it all down, immediately.
The 30 year attempt to return to feudalism has set us back a generation, so far, but is still ongoing.
The English speaking people must pull together to resist this wholesale takover of rights and freedoms. Nothing less than the survival of democracy depends on it.

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By ofersince72, September 14, 2010 at 11:19 pm Link to this comment

By Kali..

“Lets stop pretending that we don’t know that powerful
companies and industries own this country and the world.”

But they don’t care to poke a hole in their fantasy world.
and AMY isn’t helping in the manner that is at her
disposal to do.

The pending, right around the corner, ecological
collapse, food collapse, power grid collapse, water
shortages is the only wake up call to this misinformed,
wantingly ignorant populace is going to understand.

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By jean gerard, September 14, 2010 at 9:15 pm Link to this comment
(Unregistered commenter)

It appears unlikely now that Obama will make any important statement about any significant change in the selfish and reactionary way America does business both at home and in the world. The administration appears to be hollowed out by the desire to please Wall Street, bankers and corporate marauders at the expense of the common people who are almost completely disempowered by misinformation and petty contentions.
  If the Republicans win the primaries it will make little difference in crucial policies regarding war or peace, financial sanity or unregulated pollution and exploitation.  It is as if the management of the country has become no more important than a game of Monopoly, right down to the phoney money.
  Sanity has taken a holiday and the “greatest country in the world” is mired in wars and debts and lies and the vacuous entertainment of imbeciles.
  Time to wake up, splash some cold water on our faces and join some group that is at least trying to resist and do something constructive.

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By Kali, September 14, 2010 at 6:24 pm Link to this comment
(Unregistered commenter)

But Obama is a puppet, as well as any prez that takes the position, any
party (political parties are fake anyway!). The post is owned by
industries. Presidents just can’t just go on doing things like that, Amy! Le’ts
stop pretending that we don’t know that powerful companies and industries
own this country and the world.

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Night-Gaunt's avatar

By Night-Gaunt, September 14, 2010 at 5:58 pm Link to this comment

It would be a powerful gesture that could anger and upset the (Coal-Oil-Nuclear-natural Gas)CONG constituents that lavished so much money to him. He could do it if he isn’t running again. But to step on toes of the old guard is dangerous. So I want him to do that and to help alternatives to CONG while stopping all subsidies to CONG which should have been ended decades of not 100 years ago.

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