Living in California as the drought stretches on and on, you don’t have to look far to see what a future powered by fossil fuels could easily look like. There are the big, slow-moving disasters that fill the headlines. The farming towns in the San Joaquin Valley whose lifeblood is drying up with their lands. The mountain communities waiting all year for skiers to fill up their resorts, restaurants, and hotels that have to wait another year while the bills on the table aren’t quite so patient.
But then there are the smaller ways the drought touches us daily here. The slight anxiety that inflects everyday conversations about summer plans. The nagging sense that we should snap up those grapes and strawberries on the shelves today, because next month, who knows? The curious nostalgia for the days when a trip to the Sierra Nevada mountains promised snow. None of them rise to the level of tragedy or pass the muster of national news, of course, but they all add up to an unshakeable sense our lives are changing in ways we’re only beginning to appreciate.
Thinking of a future where droughts like this one become normal isn’t exactly an inspiring experience, but there’s no reason to dwell on such a bleak picture. Because the truth is, you also don’t have to look far to see how we get out of this. In fact, you really only have to look up.
It’s no secret that carbon pollution from fossil fuels is contributing to the severity of the drought we’re seeing in California and changes all around the world. But while oil, coal, and gas might have gotten us to where we are today, there’s no reason they have to take us into tomorrow. Especially when we can power our economy and our lives with solar energy—without all the carbon pollution and climate change.
To say that solar power is growing quickly is kind of like saying Mount Everest is tall. Last year, solar providers in the U.S. installed 4,751 megawatts of photovoltaic capacity. To put that number into perspective, that’s over 40 percent more than in 2012 and almost 15 times more than in 2008. Right now, there’s a new solar system installed in this country every four minutes, and if current growth rates continue, that number could hit one every 80 seconds as soon as 2016. New kinds of concentrating solar plants are also scheduled to come online in the next few years, turning desert sunlight into energy to power cities.
At the same time, solar is becoming more and more affordable with the cost of a system falling by about half in the past three years alone. Because of this, more and more businesses and families are able to generate a significant part of their energy needs themselves, instead of relying on huge corporations and utilities. Plus, because the peak times for solar generation tend to coincide with peak demand for electricity, it means that ordinary Americans can feed the extra power back into the grid and help the system as a whole. What this means is that solar power keeps getting cheaper and will soon be on par with or even cheaper than power from coal or gas.
So with solar growing and helping us move toward a future economy powered by clean energy, what’s holding us back? The fossil fuel industry and its friends in Congress ensuring that the real cost of coal, oil, and gas remain artificially low and preventing solar from competing on a truly level playing field. That’s because the price we pay to generate electricity from coal, for example, doesn’t take into consideration all the big-picture costs the carbon pollution it generates lead to.
Think of it like this: you live next door to a busy restaurant where the line is always around the block and the owner drives to work in a Mercedes. The thing is, every night, the same restaurant throws its trash into your yard. Pretty soon, the leftovers are rotting, spoiling the beauty of your yard, attracting pests, and making your kids sick. You’ve spoken to the owner many times, but every night workers just keep throwing more trash onto your property. Pretty soon you’re stuck having to pay for the cleanup along with hospital bills to take care of your kids. Doesn’t seem fair, does it?
But this is the same situation we’re stuck in with fossil fuel energy where we’re paying to clean up their carbon pollution trash. And until they pay the true cost of their business, clean energies like solar are at an inherent disadvantage.
This is where the EPA’s proposed guidelines on new power plants come in. These guidelines limit how much carbon pollution new facilities can produce, effectively forcing them to recognize and begin to bear the real cost of their operations. And by doing so, it creates a more competitive and open market for clean energy sources like solar that can power our economy for the long term.
At my company Mosaic, we are offering millions of people rewarding solar investment opportunities. With more investment, solar keeps growing and we can look forward to a future where regular extreme weather events are fading into the rearview mirror. We can have a say in the kind of future we want, and it starts with speaking up and supporting the EPA. If you haven’t already, please add your voice. It’ll only take a minute, but you’ll be helping make a real difference for generations to come.