Funny how a couple of slabs of silicon can become a national symbol.
In 1979, in the midst of an oil crisis, then-president Jimmy Carter tried to lead the nation to a brighter future powered by alternative energy via a symbolic gesture: installing solar panels on the roof of the White House. But instead of being inspired, the American people were freaked by Carter’s proposed program of conservation, carpooling, and cardigans, and promptly kicked him out the of Oval Office. Ronald Reagan shelved most of Carter’s ambitious energy plans, and in 1986 removed the solar panels from the roof.
Then this week, environmental activists made a bold pitch to the Obama administration in an effort to get those panels back on the president’s house.
For decades, the abandoned solar panels have been in the custody of Maine’s Unity College, which used them to heat water for a dining hall. This week, activist Bill McKibben and a handful of students took a road trip to DC in a biodiesel-fueled van. The mission, which went by the name Put Solar on the White House, succeeded in scoring an interview this morning with White House staffers.
That may be the end of this heart-warming (and water-warming?) story; following the meeting, the New York Times reports that the activists were politely rebuffed by the government staffers. President Obama won’t be clambering onto his roof to install the panels anytime soon, the staffers said, but they listed the many initiatives his administration has undertaken to increase energy efficiency in the federal government and to promote renewable energy across the country. However, McKibben told the New York Times that he was somewhat unimpressed by their rhetoric:
“They refused to take the Carter-era panel that we brought with us and said they would continue their deliberative process to figure out what is appropriate for the White House someday. I told them it would be nice to deliberate as fast as possible, since that is the rate at which the planet’s climate is deteriorating.”
DISCOVER: Introducing the Most Efficient Solar Power in the World
80beats: Self-Assembling, Self-Repairing Solar Cells Pass Endurance Test
80beats: California Pushes Ahead With Massive Solar Thermal Projects
Discoblog: A New Strategy for Cheap Solar Power in Africa: Pokeberries
Discoblog: Color-Changing Solar Tiles Will Blow Your Mind, Heat Your House