Can Solar Calm the Coming Storm?

Can Solar Calm the Coming Storm?
Tom Cotter
Tom Cotter

By Tom Cotter

Going solar is a part of solving the climate disruption we are experiencing.

Though climate change failed to emerge as a topic during the 2012 presidential debates, New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg did raise it in the final days before the election and in the wake of Hurricane Sandy’s devastation, citing President Barack Obama’s leadership on the issue as his reason for endorsing the president for a second term.

“Our climate is changing,” Bloomberg wrote for Bloomberg View ( “And while the increase in extreme weather we have experienced in New York City and around the world may or may not be the result of it, the risk that it might be—given this week’s devastation—should compel all elected leaders to take immediate action.”

If the issue is indeed now on the table, the next question is what can we do to slow or reverse the effects of climate change?

Clean energy is a key part of the equation. Clean energy creates electricity by tapping into natural cycles and systems, turning the ever-present energy around us into usable forms while producing little or no pollution, including avoiding greenhouse gas emissions.

Out of the variety of clean energy sources—solar power, geothermal, ocean currents, wind, hydroelectric and biomass—solar is an obvious strong option, especially in California, where we typically have lots of sun.

According to the Union of Concerned Scientists, solar energy from the sun is a vast and inexhaustible resource around the globe. Just 20 days of sunshine contains more energy than the world’s entire supply of coal, oil, and natural gas (

In Fresno County, which suffers, even in good times, from more enduring high unemployment than the rest of the state and nation, solar is an even brighter spot.

Solar is helping Central Valley middle-class and lower-income Fresno County residents save on their electricity bills. Data from the California Solar Initiative (CSI) shows that solar growth over the past several years has primarily come from lower- and middle-income zip codes. With an average median zip code income of $43,000, Fresno County saw a 122% increase in CSI applications from 2007 to 2011.

In looking at what is going on across the country with solar jobs, the solar industry in the United States increased its workforce by 6.8% from August 2010 to August 2011, according to the Solar Energy Industry of America. That is growth nearly 10 times faster than the overall economy.

More good news for Californians is the passing of Prop 39, which is estimated to create 20,000–30,000 jobs for disadvantaged youth, veterans and others in clean energy projects and building efficiency retrofits. In closing a tax loophole that gave out-of-state corporations an unfair advantage over those based in-state, this change will increase annual state revenues by roughly $1 billion, with half—capped at $550 million—going to a new state Clean Energy Job Creation Fund for the first five years and the remainder going into the state’s general fund, according to the Yes on Prop 39 Web site. It accomplishes this without raising taxes on Californians.

Those are the kinds of positive economic forces the Valley can use. Jobs, lower energy costs and efficient buildings that are cheaper to operate are not only a win for residents but also for our environment.

Scientists tell us that by continually dumping 90 million tons of global warming pollution into the atmosphere every single day, we are altering the environment in which all storms develop. As the oceans and atmosphere continue to warm, storms are becoming more energetic and powerful. We are beginning to see the effects on humans from this atmospheric experiment.

The impacts of climate change can be daunting, even frightening. But we are not helpless. It is wise and prudent to increase our use of available and affordable clean forms of energy. These choices will reduce global warming pollution and help turn things around both now and for the future.

As this planet is the only home we have for now, we have an obligation to ourselves and to future generations to be responsible stewards.


Tom Cotter is a clean energy evangelist, social entrepreneur, creation care activist and ordained minister. Professionally, he is regional sales manager at Real Goods Solar (


  • Community Alliance

    The Community Alliance is a monthly newspaper that has been published in Fresno, California, since 1996. The purpose of the newspaper is to help build a progressive movement for social and economic justice.

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