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Environmentalist Bill McKibben's quest to bring solar panel to White House


President Jimmy Carter speaks against a backdrop of solar panels at the White House, Wednesday, June 21, 1979. (AP Photo/Harvey Georges)

Esteemed environmentalist launches PR stunt to get President Obama's attention? Yep, we're officially back from summer break. Goodbye flip-flops, hello political theater.

Bill McKibben, author of best-selling "The End of Nature" and an expert on global warming, is heading to Washington with one of the solar panels originally installed at the White House in 1979. His goal: to present it to Obama on Friday and urge him to reinstall it on the roof, therefore inspiring millions of like-minded citizens to go greener.

"When Michelle Obama put the garden in the White House, it was one of the things that caused seed sales to jump 30 percent," McKibben told us. "We'd rather have a climate bill than solar panels on the roof, but we're not going to get it this year. This is a way to help build visibility for the steps we need to take. In a way, it's a reboot of 1979."

To tout clean energy bona fides, President Jimmy Carter had 32 panels installed -- which the Reagan administration took down and stowed away in a government warehouse. A professor at Maine's Unity College later sought out the panels, which were installed on the school's cafeteria roof. Now one of the 6-by-3-foot plates (they're old but still work) is on its way to D.C.


Environmentalist and writer Bill McKibben signs a solar panel, 2010. (AP Photo/Peter Dejong)

McKibben, who's organizing a huge environmental rally next month on 10/10/10, left Maine on Tuesday with stops in Boston, New York and Washington. He scored an appearance on David Letterman's show last week -- much wonkier than your typical late-night fare. Now he's angling for a splashy photo op at the White House, although nothing is set yet. "We keep hearing, 'We'll see' and 'It's complicated,'" he said. "Compared with the other things Obama has to do, it seems relatively easy. They can't filibuster the roof."

A bit of good news: No Obama, but "a White House representative will hold a meeting with the group to discuss support for renewable energy," Christine Glunz from the White House Council on Environmental Quality told us Wednesday. And no promises about the solar panel itself. But McKibben is optimistic: "I think we'll leave it in Washington. This thing wants to go home."


By The Reliable Source  |  September 9, 2010; 1:05 AM ET
 
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Comments

Considering all the broad rooftops in DC, I'd like to see more with solar panels on them, and rainwater collection, and green roofs, and...

Posted by: Fabrisse | September 9, 2010 10:20 AM | Report abuse

Reagan was an idiot. The state with the largest collection of solar panels? California.

Lets not forget the fact that the panels were sitting in storage and not being used. A waste of taxpayer dollars that could have been recouped had they stayed on the roof.

Since the panels of that time had a lower wattage per square foot, the best thing to do would be to buy newer, more power-dense panels and use those to cut expenses.

Posted by: MichelleKinPA | September 9, 2010 10:39 AM | Report abuse

Reagan WAS an idiot!! Absolutely...a MEGA IDIOT.

Posted by: celested91 | September 9, 2010 11:05 AM | Report abuse

I'm excited to see the panel and hear McKibben and others speak tonight at the All Souls Church at 6:30 pm in Columbia Heights!

Posted by: anazdin | September 9, 2010 11:18 AM | Report abuse

A good idea is a good idea. I hope the stunt works and solar panels become more common.

Posted by: sarahabc | September 9, 2010 11:39 AM | Report abuse

The solar panels installed on the West Wing roof by Georgia Tech and GSA during the Carter Administration, never did work well. The older technology and the lack of strong sunshine kept them from being fully effective. They were a symbolic gesture, rather than a practical one.

Posted by: seastar2004msncom | September 9, 2010 12:38 PM | Report abuse

"Bill McKibben, author of best-selling "The End of Nature" and an expert on global warming"

------------------------------------------
Expert? Umm, what kind of science degree did Bill get in college? Oh, he didn't.

So, he's is an expert nothing in the science arena. I started designing solar system when the Carter tax credits were in effect. Solar is pretty much useless at this point in time when it comes to replacing our current electrical power plants. Other than that, well, I guess not much else to say...

Posted by: illogicbuster | September 9, 2010 12:54 PM | Report abuse

"Lets not forget the fact that the panels were sitting in storage and not being used. A waste of taxpayer dollars that could have been recouped had they stayed on the roof.

Since the panels of that time had a lower wattage per square foot, the best thing to do would be to buy newer, more power-dense panels and use those to cut expenses."

It would be inefficient to not use them at all, though. Just as it was to stick them in a warehouse.

Posted by: tokenwhitemale | September 9, 2010 1:32 PM | Report abuse

illogicbuster: Colleges don't make experts; further self-study, experience and practice make experts. In many cases, colleges simply inflate egos.

Posted by: CalmTruth | September 9, 2010 2:09 PM | Report abuse

Maybe McKibben can talk Unity College into fixing the solar system that uses these collectors. They have been off line since 2003.

Lead by example instead of doing some cheesy PR stunt.

Posted by: sunguy | September 9, 2010 7:29 PM | Report abuse

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