US SOLAR INSTITUTE
November 19, 2012
Environmental protection, green technology, and solar energy. These are all incredibly important themes – ones that should inspire us and encourage us to collaborate in building a better future. But this election cycle? On the good days, "solar energy" receives only passing mention. A stump speech here. A tweet there. But on the bad days, it's actually turned into a dirty word. In fact, a sizeable portion of the country and its leaders believe that climate change is a hoax and solar projects like Solyndra represent what is wrong with America. •Forget the data. •Forget the erratic weather and droughts. •Forget the fact that solar energy represents one of the few industries adding new jobs at a time when America badly needs an economic boost. •Forget the National Academy of Sciences' assertion that, "Climate change is occurring, is caused largely by human activities, and poses significant risks for — and in many cases is already affecting — a broad range of human and natural systems." For many, the entire green movement is a solution looking for a problem.
Why Don’t More Americans Embrace Solar Energy and Green Principles?
How did we get here? And how can we create the urgency and awareness that America needs in order to make environmental protection, green technology, and solar energy central themes in our daily lives?
How we got here is easy enough to determine.
Many media outlets either play down or outright contradict what the established scientific community already knows about climate change. Over a 6-month analysis of Fox News’ media reporting, the Union of Concerned Scientists discovered that nearly 90% of the channel’s primetime coverage presented misleading views on climate change.
And in a study published in the International Journal of Press/Politics, researchers discovered that roughly 60% of Fox News viewers were “dismissive” of climate change.
CNN and MSNBC do offer slightly more objective coverage of environmental issues, but certainly not with the urgency or regularity that such topics deserve.
Against such a backdrop, it’s easy to understand how Governor Romney was able to get so much mileage at the Republican National Convention when he mocked the President’s promise to stop the rise of the oceans and begin healing the planet. When you add a few Solyndra-style failures to the mix (as Romney did once again during the first presidential debate), the hoax myth becomes very real.
So how do we get out of this mess?
How Do We Elevate Solar Energy to Its Rightful Place?
Resolving this challenge will probably require a mix of different factors – not all of which are ideal.
For example, much of the problem will take care of itself (although not in a positive way). Climate change is very real. Sooner or later, naysayers will be forced to admit otherwise. But by then, it may be too late.
But I think reversing public perception on climate change and encouraging greater action is more a matter of education and awareness – a perspective shared by former President, Bill Clinton.
At the most recent Solar Power International conference in Florida, President Clinton addressed his keynote speech to a room full of solar stakeholders and industry professionals.
I’m paraphrasing his words here, but the basic message was that most Americans misunderstand the industry. They assume solar technology is expensive, ineffective, and overly complicated. We need to work harder to correct these solar misconceptions.
At US Solar Institute, we’re in the business of correcting misconceptions. By offering advanced solar PV installation training, our mandate is to raise an army of qualified green professionals – environmental ambassadors – who then work with individual business and residential clients, educating them about the very real benefits of solar energy.
Coupling this with community initiatives (like the Go SOLAR Rooftop Challenge) represents just one approach. When I met with José María Figueres, President of the Carbon War Room, at the Green Aruba conference last week, I learned more about their inspiring work in the field.
Like US Solar Institute, the Carbon War Room places a lot of emphasis on education. But they link this training directly with best business practices to spur investment and economic growth in order to harness the “power of entrepreneurs to unlock gigaton-scale, market-driven solutions to climate change.” Their vision is a world where “over $1 trillion invested in climate change solutions is an annual occurrence, not a historic milestone.”
In many ways, our two approaches are complementary.
When you add community action (i.e. Go SOLAR Rooftop Challenge), government involvement, and new employment opportunities to the recipe, it becomes increasingly difficult for media to dismiss climate change as a hoax.
Education raises awareness and economic development raises investment interest. Over time, people will come to understand that solar energy isn’t a dirty word, whether you want to “green” the planet or “green” your bank account.
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