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Anishinaabe economist and writer Winona LaDuke identifies two types of economies, grounded in different ways of seeing. Speaking in Vancouver recently, she characterized one as an "extreme extractive economy" fed by exploitation of people and nature. The second is a "regenerative economy" based on an understanding of the land and our relationship to it.

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Last week, a Skagit County, Washington jury failed to reach a verdict in my trial on charges of burglary and sabotage for closing the TransMountain pipeline as part of the ShutItDown climate direct action, which disrupted all five pipelines carrying Canadian tar sands oil into the U.S. last October.

The trial itself was very short, barely two days long, because there was no disagreement on the facts of the case, because my proposed necessity defense was not allowed by order of the presiding judge (so our expert witnesses on climate science and energy policy did not take the stand) and because my own testimony was sharply limited in scope.

On the stand, I told the jury my own story, about working for decades on the staff of public interest and environmental organizations where we treated climate change as merely one among many policy issues and about the rude awakening I received after reading two seminal papers, Bill Hare's, 1997 Greenpeace International report The Carbon Logic and Dr. James Hansen's 2005 A Slippery Slope.

In my testimony and with a handful of charts and graphs, I aimed to show:

1. How quickly climate change is occurring and how far out of whack Earth systems are from historical norms ...

2. The potentially catastrophic impact of sea level rise on Skagit County ...

3. The culpable role of tar sands oil in contributing to disaster ...

4. The scale of change necessary to stave off the worse case, and ...

5. The powerful, effective and unique role that nonviolent climate direct action can play in forcing change in a deadlocked society.

I was not allowed to get all of that into the record, but in the end, the jury had these four pieces of tangible evidence to review in their deliberations.

Video of the Action. The prosecution chose to show the jury a short video of highlights of the action that we had prepared, drawing from my own live-streaming and video shot by independent documentarians, Lindsey Grayzell and Carl Davis.

Screen shot of video shown to Skagit County jury by the prosecution, prepared by the defense.

Historical CO2 level chart. There are, of course, a staggering number of data sets and charts to choose from in illustrating the climate problem. After much consideration, we choose to go with NASA's CO2 level chart combining 400,000+ years of ice core data and modern air samples, because it is unimpeachable and intuitive evidence of serious change in global conditions.

Historical Atmospheric CO2 Level chart, taken from NASA website shown to Skagit County jury.

Sea level rise in Skagit County map. I testified about the Eric Rignot, et. al. report concluding that the West Antarctic Ice Shelve is in "unstoppable" collapse and Khazendar, Rignot, et. al. on disintegration of buttressing ice shelves, but we wanted a way to make the threat understandable, so I prepared a chart using Climate Central's Surging Sea mapping tool, showing the impact of 5' possible sea level rise on Skagit County.

The 5' estimate came from former State Department Climate Envoy Jonathan Pershing's report to the Marrakesh Climate Change Conference, as reported by Daphne Wysham. Though much more conservative that former senior adviser to
the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), Margaret Davidson's report to the RIMS conference last year, of 9' sea level rise, we thought that the international setting and Pershing's higher rank would carry more weight with the jury.

Projected 5' sea level rise impact on Skagit County map show to the Skagit County jury.

Tar sands oil emissions graph. In arguing why this particular action was appropriate, we presented a Carnegie Institute Oil-Climate Index chart showing that Canadian tar sands oils have 40 percent higher lifecycle carbon emissions than the lowest North American oils. Unfortunately, I was not able to present conclusions of the Oil Change International report, The Sky's the Limit, showing that to have even a 50/50 chance of reaching the 1.5C limit on temperature increase, the world needs to halt all new fossil fuel exploration and reduce some current extractions.

Carnegie Institute Oil-Climate Index chart shown to the Skagit County Jury.

For some time, I have argued that emphasizing the complexity of climate science does us no service in a public debate where our opponents ridicule and warp scientific approaches and where even climate activists are befuddled by the complexity of the problem. In my defense, truncated as it was, I was able to present the barest minimum of information outlining and supporting the simplest and direst aspect of the climate emergency: catastrophic sea level rise and why my action can be considered appropriate in the circumstances.

For some number of the Skagit County jury, this limited data set on climate change impacts proved more persuasive that the graphic depiction of my actions. At the next trial, if the prosecution chooses to retry, we may expect that at least these exhibits will be introduced again.

Westend61 / Getty Images

Residential solar energy companies are helping more and more homeowners upgrade their properties to clean energy sources. Solar energy companies can equip you with the technology you need to harness the amazing power of the sun and reduce your need for fossil fuels. In this article, we'll review some of the most trustworthy providers and installers of solar power.

Our picks for the best solar companies

The first step in the process is researching some of the top companies in the solar industry. Here are the ones that stood out in our research.

Each product featured here has been independently selected by the writer. If you make a purchase using the links included, we may earn commission.

How we chose the best solar energy companies

How did we determine which solar power companies to recommend?

To begin with, we took a deep dive into each company's offerings, assessing them for the following criteria:

  • Range of services offered
  • Pricing/affordability and financing options
  • Extent of service area
  • Solar panel efficiency
  • Warranty
  • Temperature coefficient (e.g., how much high temperatures affect efficiency)

Additionally, we weighed membership and certification by professional associations like the Solar Energy Industries Association (SEIA). Affiliation with these groups is a good indicator that a solar energy company is reputable, and that their work is up to the highest standards within the industry.

The best solar energy companies

schmidt-z / Getty Images

With these criteria in mind, consider our picks for the best solar panel providers and installers in the industry.

SunPower

If you're looking for a company that can walk you through the process of upgrading to solar power for an easy and convenient experience, look no further than to SunPower. The company offers:

  • A "design studio" app, allowing you to safely and seamlessly design your own solar power system so that you can see a visual of what the finished product will look like once installed.
  • Online calculators that make it easy for you to determine about how much electricity you will save once you upgrade to solar panels.
  • Virtual consultations, allowing you to chat one-on-one with a solar power expert and to ask any questions you might have.

SunPower offers leading solar panels and energy storage technology to homeowners across dozens of states. And, they are also the preferred solar partner of many major businesses, including Walmart, FedEx, and Lowes.

Why buy: SunPower is a reliable solar energy company with an impressive tech portfolio and an extremely easy, intuitive process.

SunRun

Upgrading to solar power can seem a little intimidating, but SunRun is out to bring simplicity. Their approach makes it extremely straightforward to select a custom solar energy plan for your household. Here's what to know about SunRun:

  • They offer virtual consultations with solar energy experts, making it simple to explore your options and determine which solar set-up is right for your home energy needs.
  • Each system they design is completely customized to address the customer's needs. SunRun doesn't do "one size fits all" solar equipment options.
  • Their guarantee, the best in the industry, offers extraordinary peace of mind that your solar system will prove durable and reliable.
  • SunRun also leads in terms of flexible financing options, making solar power accessible and affordable.

Why buy: With SunRun, the name of the game is customization. This is one of the best solar installation companies to turn to for solar power solutions that are truly made with you in mind.

Tesla

You probably associate Tesla with their electric vehicles, but did you know that the company also produces high-efficiency solar panels? Depending on your needs and your budget, Tesla can hook you up with an array of solar panels or even a solar roof, making it easy to cut electricity costs and power your home via the sun's vital energy.

Some fast facts about choosing solar power from Tesla:

  • They offer a price match guarantee and affordable financing options.
  • Their advanced solar panel technology offers a low profile, a sleek style, and long-term durability.
  • Home battery backups allow you to save solar power and then access it on demand, whenever you need it.

Why buy: Tesla offers sophisticated solar products for what the company claims is the lowest price of any national provider, which they back with a price-match guarantee. Plus, all of their solar panels come with a solid 25-year performance guarantee.

LG

LG is another well-known tech company that is also a leader in solar energy. Some of their solar panels use a bifacial solar module that captures energy from two directions to increase their efficiency. While they are a solar panel manufacturer, they can also help you with the installation process by finding an LG Pro installer in your area.

  • They offer an online "solar concierge" service that allows you to evaluate your home energy needs and to compare different options for going solar.
  • LG offers a 25-year warranty, not only on their technology but also on the work their of their solar installers.
  • They offer a range of solar panels and supporting products, and they supply you with plenty of information to make a fully informed choice.

Why buy: LG is a company that knows technological innovation. Their award-winning solar energy products are reliably efficient, well-priced, and designed for maximum efficiency.

Panasonic

Panasonic has one of the most impressive tech portfolios in the solar energy industry. Their products boast some of the highest conversion efficiency rates, along with the lowest degradation rates. And they back everything with a generous warranty.

Some additional reasons to choose Panasonic:

  • They offer a range of solar panels to choose from. With Panasonic, you'll find that you have plenty of options.
  • They also provide a lot of great online support and consumer education, ensuring you'll get the most out of your solar technology.

Why buy: Panasonic is a solar panel company with products that are tough to beat. Both their pricing and warranties are very appealing, and their HIT high-performance solar panels offer some of the best power conversion rates of any product.

Vivint

Vivint is a company that offers a full spectrum of services, including solar power consultation, design, and installation. A few reasons why homeowners trust their solar power needs to the Vivint team:

  • Everything Vivint does is customized. They tailor everything to fit your roof and to help you achieve your home energy goals.
  • They make the entire process simple, handling all of the little details for you. This includes securing permits, filing the right paperwork, etc.
  • They emphasize safety, using only the highest caliber of solar panels and backing everything with a world-class warranty.

Why buy: Vivint is noteworthy for their focus on customization, their commitment to safety, and their one-stop-shop solar power solutions. In addition to solar panel installation, they also offer other specialized technology, including solar-powered electric vehicle chargers.

Enphase

Enphase is another company that stands out, both for their robust technology as well as for their commitment to customization. Their microinverter technology makes their solar system safer by reducing the likelihood of arc fault fires.

  • They design their solar technology with safety in mind, including fire safeguards that other companies can't match.
  • Their solar panels are built for durability and can hold up even through the most extreme kinds of weather.
  • Enphase uses smart technology to update itself; all you need to do is connect it to your home Internet.
  • They also have one of the best apps in the solar industry, making it simple to monitor your home energy use.

Why buy: Enphase is a company of innovators, and their solar portfolio has a lot to offer. Their system is also modular, meaning you can easily add more panels to your system as you need them.

Canadian Solar

This solar power provider has won recognition not just for their excellent technology, but also for their sincere commitment to sustainability and to ecological stewardship. And don't let the name throw you off: Though Canadian Solar is based in Canada, they provide solar power solutions in the U.S. and other countries.

Some additional facts about Canadian Solar:

  • They offer a wide range of products, from energy converters to storage solutions.
  • Their solar panels boast exceedingly high energy efficiency rates.
  • Canadian Solar has won a number of awards for its first-class innovations, and one of their products even set a world record for conversion efficiency in 2020.

Why buy: This company has a proven track record of technological excellence, plus a real commitment to ecological stewardship. They also closely monitor their supply chain to ensure that no goods or materials used in their products come from prohibited forms of labor.

First Solar

First Solar boasts an impressive track record of advocacy for solar power and for renewable energy sources. And, thankfully, they back their advocacy with some excellent solar technologies.

A few reasons to choose First Solar solar panels:

  • Their technology offers an outstanding temperature coefficient, meaning they won't lose performance during high temperatures.
  • Their solar cells are among the most reliable and most efficient in the clean energy sector.
  • First Solar also offers a lot of post-purchase, post-installation help, as needed.

Why buy: First Solar is a great option for anyone who's serious about renewable energy, and who wants the best performance from their solar panels.

Go Solar

The biggest drawback to Go Solar is that, right now, their work is limited to just a few states. But if you happen to live in that part of the country, you're in luck. Go Solar's panels are uniquely calibrated to take advantage of the western region's abundant sunlight. Some additional reasons to pick Go Solar include:

  • They offer free home solar assessments.
  • They custom-design solar systems to meet the needs of your home.
  • They have some of the most trusted installers in the solar power industry.

Why buy: For solar solutions that are tailored to the climate of the American West, definitely consider Go Solar. Plus, with their Give Solar International partnership, they give an equivalent solar panel system to a family in Uganda for each system sold.

How does a solar energy system work?

schmidt-z / Getty Images

As you explore the different options for embracing solar power, it may be helpful to have a baseline understanding of how solar energy systems actually function.

Generally speaking, solar energy systems involve solar panels installed on your roof. These panels absorb the sun's energy, storing it in what are known as photovoltaic cells. These cells convert the solar energy into direct current (DC) energy, then use an inverter to convert that DC energy into alternate current (AC) electricity. AC electricity is what you need to power all your home appliances.

It's important to note that, before you purchase solar panels, it's worthwhile to meet with a solar energy consultant who can tell you more about how many panels your home will require, and also to let you know how those panels should be ideally positioned on the roof.

One more note: If you're concerned about the affordability of solar power, it's important to remember that most solar energy companies provide a host of options, including flexible financing and solar lease options for a system rather than purchase it outright. As you talk with different solar energy companies, don't hesitate to inquire about these leasing and financing options.

Benefits of solar energy

Installing solar panels on your home can yield a number of benefits. Here are just a few examples.

Cleaner energy

One of the main reasons why homeowners choose to install solar cells is that it allows them to truly embrace clean energy sources. Rather than depend on fossil fuels and power plants, you can power your home with renewable energy that comes straight from the sun. This can be a highly effective way to minimize your environmental footprint.

Solar tax credits and rebates

There are a number of ways in which choosing renewable energy can save you money, starting with the fact that there are so many rebates and tax credits available. Essentially, both the federal government and many state governments want to encourage people to "go green" as much as possible, and they will make it worth your while by allowing you to claim these important tax incentives. Some utility companies also offer rebates that can help pay for the upfront costs of solar projects.

Lower electricity bills

Of course, embracing solar power will also help you save money by slashing your electricity bills. Most solar energy companies offer online calculators that allow you to see for yourself how much money you'll save over time, simply by changing to a renewable energy source. There is also an option called a power purchase agreement (PPA) that can allow you to host a solar or renewable energy system from a utility provider in exchange for lowered energy rates. If your solar panel system generates excess energy, the utility will then purchase that energy from you in the form of a net metering credit on your bill.

Make a smart choice about solar power

There are obviously a lot of perks to choosing solar energy for your home. And yet, it can also be a rather daunting process, simply because there are so many solar energy companies to choose from.

Using our guidelines and rankings, start doing your due diligence, seeking the solar power company that's right for you. Remember to look for a company that's well-regarded within the industry and get a consultation before you buy. Always be sure to ask some direct questions about the financing options that are available to you.

Josh Hurst is a journalist, critic, and essayist. He lives in Knoxville, TN, with his wife and three sons. His writing on natural health, nutrition, and supplements has appeared in Health, Shape, and Remedy Review.

By Emily Johnston

I've been thinking a lot about risk lately—what we're willing to risk and why. I was one of five activists who turned off the major tar sands pipelines coming into the U.S. on Oct. 11, 2016. As a result, I'm risking prison time, ostensibly for property damage (we cut a few chains to access the valves), but really for being disobedient to business as usual. It's also possible they'll file a restitution suit, for temporarily disrupting a pipeline that's highly profitable for some, at the expense of all others.

I took part in the action in full awareness of these risks—in dread of them, to some degree—because of the risk that Enbridge and the other companies engaged in the extraction, transport and sale of tar sands are taking, which is the unimaginably huge risk that if the world's scientists are correct, what really flows through those pipelines is the end of human history.

Does this seem like crazy talk to you? Does it seem obvious that we can't possibly move past fossil fuels, no matter what the risks? What are you risking in order not to try, in order to preserve your belief that the world—or at least your world—is basically okay and you don't need to pay attention to the dire warnings scientists have been giving us?

Last December in Paris, nearly early every nation in the world, including petro-states like Russia and Saudi Arabia, agreed to an aspirational goal of no more than 1.5 C of warming. But it's very aspirational—right now, even if every nation adheres scrupulously to the Paris agreement (and Donald Trump promises that the U.S. won't), scientists say that will only "limit" us to 3.5 C.

That's one of the better scenarios available to us right now—and it risks human extinction. It would make food systems and most other current ecosystems collapse. The reliable seasons that allow human civilization would disappear.

The Paris agreement has 1.5 C of warming as its goal because above that, we can expect worldwide catastrophe: droughts, famines, terrifying sea level rise. A recent report tallied how much fossil fuel we can burn and preserve even a 50/50 chance of staying below that threshold: 353 gigatons of carbon. So even if you're willing to accept odds worse than you'd have in Russian roulette, you can still only burn well under half of the 942 gigatons in existing mines and wells. To limit ourselves to that and still be able to use fossil fuels for a few essential purposes in coming decades, we have to shut down the dirtiest fuels immediately—including tar sands, which means confronting companies like Enbridge and Exxon.

They're certainly managing their risks. After Exxon's senior scientists started raising internal alarms about climate change in the 1970s, Exxon also raised its ocean-based drilling platforms, because it knew sea levels would rise. Meanwhile, its executives lied to the public and funded disinformation campaigns.

In 1978, a senior scientist told the company, "present thinking holds that man has a time window of 5-10 years before the need for hard decisions regarding changes in energy." Forty years later, thanks to their lies, we're still refusing to make those hard decisions. We're not even close to accepting a 353-gigaton limit. No one in power is even talking about it.

Yet if we don't radically reduce our fossil fuel use in the next few years, one day soon—no one knows precisely when—we may pass the point where we lose all hope of a stable world. Antarctica is almost certainly in a state of collapse, as is Greenland, bizarre weather caused by climate change is already affecting millions, the Great Barrier Reef has been devastated and on and on. The tipping point of Antarctic melt has likely already been reached, but the tipping point of Arctic methane may not have been. Scientists have been warning of these dangers for many years and with real urgency for the last few. This does not come easily to them; their training predisposes them to understatement. But between understated scientists, arrogant executives, beholden politicians and an anxious population going about its daily business, we're running devastating risks.

"The need for hard decisions regarding energy." What are we willing to risk to avoid that, to convince ourselves the world is basically okay, so we can continue business as usual? Are we really willing to risk our kids? Everyone else's kids? The millions of blameless people already struggling with droughts and floods? Half the species of the world? It seems that we are.

It seems utterly crazy to me, and to all of the smart, reasonable scientists and policy wonks I've spoken with, to take such risks. As Bill McKibben has said for years, the real radicals are running the fossil fuel companies—apparently they think it's okay to play dice with every life on the planet.

If we don't agree, we have to move to clean renewables and we have to do it more ambitiously than we've ever done anything. We have to pressure the political system now, in every peaceful and inspiring way that we can, because we are coming to this fight very, very late. We have to start acting like people who have everything to lose. Because we do.

Reposted with permission from our media associate AlterNet.

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The five climate activists that shut down tar sands pipelines today include: (L-R) Emily Johnson, Annette Klapstein, Leonard Higgins, Michael Foster and Ken Ward. / Shut It Down

Activists successfully shut down five pipelines today across the U.S. that deliver tar sands oil from Alberta, Canada. The pipelines targeted were Enbridge line 4 and 67 in Leonard, Minnesota; TransCanada's Keystone pipeline in Walhalla, North Dakota; Spectra Energy's Express pipeline at Coal Banks Landing, Montana; and Kinder-Morgan's Trans-Mountain pipeline in Anacortes, Washington. "We did this in response to Standing Rock's call to action for escalated actions," a spokesperson for #ShutItDown told EcoWatch.

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350.org

By Aaron Packard

Bill McKibben is a kind of big deal here in Australia. Big enough that yesterday, we woke up to find him cartooned in the Canberra Times.

Here are two pieces of context you might like with the cartoon: 

1. The student sitting at the desk is the Premier of Queensland State, Campbell Newman, who is pushing coal extraction like crazy.

2. The Gonski reference is to the Gonski report, which the Australian government commissioned to review the education system in Australia.

The Do the Math tour of Australia is now well underway and with Sydney under our belts, we're part way through our stop in the nation’s capital, Canberra. It really is hard to keep up with things, but here's a bit of what has gone on.

Within hours of touching down in Sydney, McKibben underwent an Australian baptism by fire, being a panelist on the live TV show Q & A. Despite being dropped straight in the middle of a foreign culture and a few unsavory characters, McKibben easily stood his ground and impressed the audience, both in studio and watching from home, with his depth of knowledge and clear message about climate challenge. In essence, he mopped the floor with them.

The next day, McKibben found himself on another panel, but this time talking to more than 100 financiers from Sydney and Melbourne. After presenting the "math," a lively debate ensued about the possibilities for and limits to divestment and what the carbon bubble means for investors. Changing tack completely, the next stop was to meet with the head of the Uniting Church of New South Wales and Australian Capital Territory, to say a big thank you for being "the first church in the world" to divest their portfolio of fossil fuel holdings. After a quick prayer it was time to move on to the main event of the day, the presentation at the Seymour Center, University of Sydney—which, as you can see in the photograph below, was packed.

Here is a take on the evening from audience member Georgia Bamber:

If ticket sales, packed seats and a rapt audience are anything to go by, Bill McKibben’s first show in Australia was a roaring success. The Seymour Center was abuzz with anticipation at 6 p.m., amazing in light of the fact that we were all there to essentially hear a math lesson.

Despite claims of jetlag, Bill was fantastic. Relaxed and personal, he immediately won the audience over with his charm, intelligence and above all, his passion.

His message to the audience was clear and simple: If the Australian mining industry is allowed to proceed with the massive expansion of coal mining and export that they have planned, the planet will be pushed to warming beyond the point of no return. End of story, no wiggle room. The laws of physics say it is so.

However, gloom and doom about the plight we are in was quickly dispelled as Bill invited young members from Lock the Campus and the Australian Youth Climate Coalition onto the stage to demonstrate his math—using beer. After giggles from the audience and a few sips of beer by Bill and the Lord Mayor of Sydney, everyone was ready to hear the plan of action. Divestment, direct action and perhaps even a little jail time for a few. 

The way Bill connected with the audience was incredible. He not only educated the audience but he fired them up and made them feel empowered. I know I walked away from the evening ready to fight the good fight, and I am pretty sure most everybody else did too.

Thank you Bill, for saying what needs to be said.

Visit EcoWatch’s CLIMATE CHANGE and RENEWABLES page for more related news on this topic.

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Click here to tell Congress to Expedite Renewable Energy

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