Many pundits were caught off-guard by the transpartisan fury over America's trade policy rocking the presidential primary season. But it's no surprise to me. I grew up in a working class family in Kenosha, Wisconsin. So I know why Americans have had enough of shiny promises, job-killing trade deals and Wall Street bailouts that propel ordinary people into an economic nose dive.
Hard working Americans of all political stripes recognize when the rules have been rigged against them, because they live day-to-day with the results. No doubt revolutionary change is an appealing alternative.
Since the North American Free Trade (NAFTA) and World Trade Organization agreements in the mid-1990s, America has lost more than five million manufacturing jobs net. Millions of service sector jobs also have been offshored.
During the NAFTA era, my home state lost 68,000 manufacturing jobs—one out of seven in the state. Just one example: After Chrysler received billions in a 2009 bailout, it shut its Kenosha Engine facility, cut the last 800 jobs and moved operations to Mexico.
The damage extends beyond those who lose their jobs. They compete for non-offshorable service sector jobs, pushing down wages economy-wide, hurting communities coast to coast.
From Flint to El Paso and points beyond, Americans have been slammed by the trade double whammy: Firms and their well-paying jobs go away. Then just when assistance is most needed, tax bases shrivel so basic services get cut and infrastructure crumbles.
Bernie Sanders' primary victories have finally forced the mainstream media to mention the millions of middle class livelihoods destroyed by trade policies. Now it's time to face up to a second disastrous risk: These trade deals pose a direct frontal attack on a livable environment.
Pacts like the recently-signed Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP), currently sidelined without sufficient congressional support for passage, contain thousands of pages of enforceable rules that would fuel climate chaos and empower corporate polluters to challenge environmental laws across the globe.
And if the TPP were approved, the Department of Energy would be required to automatically approve all natural gas exports to the 11 other TPP countries, eliminating our government's ability to make decisions about our energy future and incentivizing a boom in dangerous fracking. The extreme secrecy of TPP negotiations allowed the Obama administration to claim it was the greenest deal ever. But when the TPP text was finally disclosed late last year, environmental groups that the White House claimed supported it, such as NRDC and Defenders of Wildlife, joined the Sierra Club, Greenpeace, 350.org and scores of others in opposition.
Consider just one feature that sounds like the plot of a disaster movie. The TPP would empower foreign investors to drag the U.S. government to private international arbitration tribunals whenever they claim that our environmental, energy or climate policies violate expansive new TPP foreign investor privileges. Corporations can demand unlimited taxpayer compensation based on future profits ostensibly thwarted by the policy. There is no outside appeal.
If approved, the TPP would double U.S. exposure to this “investor-state dispute settlement" (ISDS) regime. Overnight 9,500 Japanese manufacturing and Australian mining giants, among other firms, could skirt our courts and laws to attack critical public interest safeguards.
It's not hypothetical. Under similar NAFTA provisions, TransCanada is now demanding $15 billion in U.S. taxpayer compensation because our government (rightly) opposed construction of the Keystone XL pipeline.
More than half of past ISDS suits have concluded with the government losing or settling. Billions have been paid to foreign companies. Already half of the new ISDS cases filed in recent years seek to enforce corporate rights to mine, extract gas and oil and generate energy no matter the consequences to us and our environment.
Expanding this system through the TPP would block worldwide environmental and social progress while empowering corporations to undermine existing climate and environmental policies.
Remarkably, the TPP not only omits the word “climate" from its text, but does not require TPP signatories to comply with their United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change commitments. This despite all TPP countries being climate convention signatories.
The bottom line: Our failed trade policies imperil both Americans' livelihoods and the health of our planet—two reasons why the more people learn, the less they like them.
The bipartisan American trade revolt now underway demonstrates that we need to scrap these bad deals and demand real change. This is no time for half measures, bland reassurances or waiting games.
With both our economy and environment at risk, Americans can no longer remain silent. We must send a strong message to current policymakers and candidates alike that the people and the environment come first. Those who trade away our jobs, our economy and our environment to the highest bidder must be stopped.
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It started with the founding fathers. In America's very first election, in 1788, the government officially barred all women, all people of color and any man without land from voting.
This was American democracy in the 18th century.
Almost 90 years later, the 15th amendment officially removed “race, color or history of servitude" as a barrier to the vote, but women remained wholly disenfranchised.
This was American democracy in the 19th century.
Then, 50 years after that, the 19th amendment gave women the right to vote, but poll taxes, literacy tests and other calculated means kept the unofficially disenfranchised from exercising their rights as citizens.
This was American democracy in the 20th century.
And now, what is American democracy in the 21st century?
2016 will be the first American presidential election since 1965 with major new voting restrictions—photo identification requirements, cuts to early voting and the elimination of same day voting registration are just a few of the roadblocks thrown up by special interests in 15 states. Not only that, but once voters overcome these obstacles to actually vote, the candidates they have to choose from will be largely self-selected from the economic elites, looking out for banks like Goldman Sachs instead of everyday people. Rather than a government of the people, by the people and for the people, we have a government of super-PACs and dark money, by the 1% and for corporate interests.
From the Flint water crisis to inaction on climate change, from gun control to massive student loan debt, we see the will of the people distorted by a government that does not represent us. And in a year when so many Americans—especially people of color, the LGBTQ community, immigrants and women—face urgent issues that need governmental action, it's shockingly even harder to vote for some groups than it was 50 years ago.
This is not progress. This is not democracy. It's no wonder that Princeton scholars who studied more than 1,800 different policy initiatives from 1981 to 2002 found that the United States can no longer plausibly be called a democracy. “Elites prevail." Oligarchy.
But once again in American history, an incredible movement is rising across the country to overcome this corruption, to demand a fair and just system for everyone. We have in 2016 a chance to begin building a truly representative government. But it's going to take commitment.
We know what democracy looks like—residents rising up in Flint to demand accountability, kayaktivists in the Pacific Northwest saying no to fossil fuels, moms and dads and cousins and brothers standing up across the country to say black lives matter. We can see the future of democracy. Now, we just have to work together to make it happen.
Next month, thousands of people and more than 170 organizations will join together in Washington, DC, to demand that our lawmakers and political leaders take action to fix our democracy. Called the Democracy Awakening, this event reflects an unprecedented movement to demand a democracy that works for all Americans, one in which everyone has an equal voice and elected officials are accountable to the people, not corporate interests or the wealthy.
The Democracy Awakening will use the tools of nonviolent direct action that so many who have fought for social, economic and environmental justice have used before us from Civil Rights leaders to the women's suffrage movement to the fight for marriage equality.
The challenge to build a better democracy has always been there. This isn't hearkening back to some better age; this is a new beginning, and your voice is crucial. Now is the time to claim our democracy from the 1% and corporate power, and finally make American democracy in the 21st century a reality.
This op-ed was originally published in TIME.
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Solar panels allow you to harness the sun's clean, renewable energy, potentially cutting your electric bills as well as your environmental footprint. But do solar panels work on cloudy days, or during seasons of less-than-optimal sun exposure? For homeowners who live outside of the Sun Belt, this is a critical question to consider before moving ahead with solar panel installation.
In this article, we'll go over how solar panels work on cloudy days, whether solar panels work at night, and how to ensure you always have accessible power — even when your panels aren't producing solar energy.
How Solar Panels Work on Cloudy Days
Photovoltaic (PV) solar panels can use both direct and indirect sunlight to generate electrical power. This means they can still be productive even when there is cloud coverage. With that said, solar panels are most efficient and productive when they are soaking up direct sunlight on sunny days.
While solar panels still work even when the light is reflected or partially obstructed by clouds, their energy production capacity will be diminished. On average, solar panels will generate 10 to 25% of their normal power output on days with heavy cloud coverage.
With clouds usually comes rain, and here's a fact that might surprise you: Rain actually helps solar panels work more effectively. That's because rain washes away any dirt or dust that has gathered on your panels so that they can more efficiently absorb sunlight.
Do Solar Panels Work at Night?
While solar panels can still function on cloudy days, they cannot work at night. The reason for this is simple: Solar panels work because of a scientific principle called the photovoltaic effect, wherein solar cells are activated by sunlight, generating electrical current. Without light, the photovoltaic effect cannot be triggered, and no electric power can be generated.
One way to tell if your panels are still producing energy is to look at public lights. As a general rule of thumb, if street lamps or other lights are turned off — whether on cloudy days or in the evening — your solar panels will be producing energy. If they're illuminated, it's likely too dark out for your solar panel system to work.
Storing Solar Energy to Use on Cloudy Days and at Night
During hours of peak sunlight, your solar panels may actually generate more power than you need. This surplus power can be used to provide extra electricity on cloudy days or at night.
But how do you store this energy for future use? There are a couple of options to consider:
You can store surplus energy in a solar battery.
When you add a solar battery to your residential solar installation, any excess electricity can be collected and used during hours of suboptimal sun exposure, including nighttime hours and during exceptionally cloudy weather.
Batteries may allow you to run your solar PV system all day long, though there are some drawbacks of battery storage to be aware of:
- It's one more thing you need to install.
- It adds to the total cost of your solar system.
- Batteries will take up a bit of space.
- You will likely need multiple batteries if you want electricity for more than a handful of hours. For example, Tesla solar installations require two Powerwall batteries if your system is over 13 kilowatts.
You can use a net metering program.
Net metering programs enable you to transmit any excess power your system produces into your municipal electric grid, receiving credits from your utility company. Those credits can be cashed in to offset any electrical costs you incur on overcast days or at night when you cannot power your home with solar energy alone.
Net metering can ultimately be a cost-effective option and can significantly lower your electricity bills, but there are a few drawbacks to consider, including:
- You may not always break even.
- In some cases, you may still owe some money to your utility provider.
- Net metering programs are not offered in all areas and by all utility companies.
Is Residential Solar Right for You?
Now that you know solar panels can work even when the sun isn't directly shining and that there are ways to store your energy for times your panels aren't producing electricity, you may be more interested in installing your own system.
You can get started with a free, no-obligation quote from a top solar company in your area by filling out the 30-second form below.
FAQ: Do Solar Panels Work on Cloudy Days?
How efficient are solar panels on cloudy days?
It depends on the panels, but as a rule of thumb, you can expect your solar panels to work at 10 to 25% efficiency on cloudy days.
How do solar panels work when there is no sun?
If there is literally no sunlight (e.g., at night), then solar panels do not work. This is because the photovoltaic effect, which is the process through which panels convert sunlight into energy, requires there to be some light available to convert.
However, you can potentially use surplus solar power that you've stored in a battery. Also note that solar panels can work with indirect light, meaning they can function even when the sun is obscured by cloud coverage.
Do solar panels work on snowy days?
If there is cloud coverage and diminished sunlight, then solar panels will not work at their maximum efficiency level on snowy days. With that said, the snow itself is usually not a problem, particularly because a dusting of snow is easily whisked away by the wind.
Snow will only impede your solar panels if the snowfall is so extreme that the panels become completely buried, or if the weight of the snow compromises the integrity of your solar panel structures.
Will my solar panels generate electricity during cloudy, rainy or snowy days?
Cloudy days may limit your solar panel's efficiency, but you'll still be able to generate some electricity. Rainy days can actually help clean your panels, making them even more effective. And snowy days are only a problem if the snow is so extreme that the panels are totally submerged, without any part of them exposed to the sun.
This weekend I have the pleasure and honor of coming to London for the British Academy of Film and Television Arts awards for Spotlight, a film honoring the victims of a terrible injustice and celebrating exceptional journalism that brought the story to light.
I'm also taking this opportunity to lend my voice to residents of Lancashire who are fighting to prevent another kind of injustice, drilling and fracking in their neighborhoods. Fracking is an extreme form of oil and gas extraction that leads to water contamination, air pollution, earthquakes, illness, exacerbates climate change and turns communities upside down.
I've seen it firsthand in the state of Pennsylvania, where hundreds and of families have had their water turn brown and toxic. Nosebleeds are common. So are persistent rashes, trouble breathing, headaches, vomiting, hair loss and much more.
At first in 2008 and 2009 when I first visited affected residents these symptoms were anecdotal; now more than five-hundred scientific studies confirm the harms of drilling and fracking.
The United Kingdom has only tried fracking once—in Lancashire back in April 2011. That one well suffered structural failures—a common problem that leads to water contamination—and caused two earthquakes.
Lancashire County Council has since rejected two fracking applications, through long democratic processes that included many public consultations and expert testimony. As is common, the more people learn about fracking, the more they're against it, and now the people of Lancashire decisively oppose fracking.
Unfortunately prime minister, David Cameron, supports fracking. Yet he vowed that “local people would not be cut out or ignored" and that fracking “decisions must be made by local authorities in the proper way." In June 2015, Lancashire County did just that and decided: No fracking!
Then in November, Cameron indicated he would break his promise, announcing that the central UK government would make the final decision about whether fracking should go ahead in Lancashire. Instead of listening to local voices as promised, his ministers in London will have the final say, and will likely make a decision about Lancashire in the next month or two.
When this was announced, more than 30,000 people quickly signed Friends of the Earth's petition calling on Cameron not to overturn Lancashire's decision to reject fracking.
This week, I joined them, issuing a short video calling on him to respect Lancashire's decision, and saying that supporting fracking is an enormous mistake.
The British people agree. Polls show significant opposition to fracking and once again find that the more people know about fracking, the more they are against it.
That held true in my home state of New York, where the Department of Health performed the first public health review of fracking, along with an environmental study, and concluded that fracking poses serious public health and environmental risks. New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo rightly banned fracking, and has turned the state into a national leader on clean energy solutions that will create long-term jobs and prosperity.
Today we are at the precipice of a renewable energy revolution, the cusp of a new economy that not only promises wealth and jobs but is also crucial to addressing climate change. The time for the UK to seize the clean energy future is now, not to develop dirty fossil fuels.
Along with New York and the states of Maryland and Vermont, France, Bulgaria, Germany, Netherlands, Ireland, and parts of Canada, Spain and Switzerland, Scotland and Wales have all banned or suspended fracking while the risks are examined.
The only way fracking could go forward in Lancashire now is against the wishes of the people who live there, a terrible injustice. I urge Cameron to keep his word and let their decision to reject fracking stand. And I invite you, prime minister, to join the anti-fracking majority and join us in building the renewable energy future.
This op-ed originally appeared in The Guardian.
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For the past two years, the 100,000 residents of Flint, Michigan, drank, cooked and bathed with lead-contaminated water. Rates of lead poisoning—which can impair brain development and cause other serious health ailments—among the area's children have skyrocketed, from 5 percent before the water turned bad to 16 percent today.
Residents have long reported brown, bad-tasting and foul-smelling water and unexplained sicknesses. Almost a year ago, water tests showed dangerous levels of lead. Yet state, local and federal officials did nothing. Worse, they assured residents that the water was safe. In recently released emails, state officials demonstrated indifference and even contempt toward the complaints that came mostly from poor, black residents. Furthermore, according to some witnesses and media reports, state officials diluted water samples or took incomplete “slow drip water samples" to game results and claim that the water was safe.
Flint's man-made water disaster is an outrageous tragedy and a human health crisis. And unfortunately, it's not an isolated case. It's one instance in a pattern of government failures to take water testing seriously and respond to evidence of water pollution.
In 2009, federal data revealed that water being delivered to tens of millions of Americans contained illegal concentrations of dangerous chemicals. That contamination has led to widespread ill-effects such as rashes and elevated risk of various diseases and hundreds of thousands of Clean Water Act violations. At congressional hearings that year, Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) officials pointed to failed political leadership under the Bush administration. President Obama promised to turn a new leaf.
Sadly, there have since been numerous high-profile cases of contamination, such as in Toledo, Ohio, in 2014, where agricultural runoff and crumbling infrastructure led to an algal bloom in Lake Erie that made the city's drinking water unsafe. Also in 2014, in West Virginia, a chemical spill contaminated the Elk River, the tap water supply for hundreds of thousands of people. This past August, 3 million gallons of contaminated water were released into the Animas River in Colorado, resulting in lead levels 3,500 times normal and arsenic levels 300 times normal, affecting many communities and farms.
Must-read piece by Michael Moore on #FlintWaterCrisis https://t.co/dIOlmBI8sj @mmflint @ErinBrockovich @MarkRuffalo https://t.co/TYQGI5nsFM— EcoWatch (@EcoWatch)1454162960.0
Then there are the horrific, under-reported cases of water contaminated by drilling and fracking for natural gas and oil, another ongoing man-made disaster where politics has trumped providing safe drinking water.
In spite of concrete evidence of water contamination, Obama's politics—support for natural gas and fracking, particularly around his 2012 reelection—have dictated the EPA's actions. Case in point: Three EPA investigations into drinking water contamination since 2010, in Dimock, Pennsylvania; Pavillion, Wyoming and Parker County, Texas.
In Parker County, the EPA issued an emergency order—much like one they just issued in Flint—compelling fracking company Range Resources to provide drinking water to affected families. Then, in 2012, the EPA cut a deal with the fracking company to shut down the investigation and withdraw the emergency order in exchange for participating in the EPA's national fracking study. Affected residents were left with nothing but polluted water.
My piece in @washingtonpost: #Flint isn’t an anomaly. We’re heading toward a national water crisis. https://t.co/cZwVgRovlR #fracking @potus— Mark Ruffalo (@Mark Ruffalo)1454701523.0
The other cases are equally disturbing. Despite evidence of dangerous water contamination, the EPA dropped investigations and issued rosy news releases that everything was okay. Residents report being told by regional EPA officials, off the record, not to drink their water.
This past year, the EPA released a draft of its national fracking drinking water study with a headline that they did not find evidence of widespread, systemic contamination. Scientists and advocates cried foul, as the substance of the report contradicts that claim and in fact shows many instances and mechanisms of contamination. Now the EPA's independent science advisory body has forcefully echoed that criticism and called for detailed accounting and inclusion of the three investigations.
These cases, along with Flint and many others, demonstrate an epidemic of credibility and trust that is putting people at greater and greater risk.
It's time to acknowledge the national water pollution crisis we face, which will only get worse with climate change wrought by fossil fuels extraction and consumption responsible for fouling so much of our precious water in the first place. Obama should direct his EPA to do its job to help people across the country with water contaminated by drilling and fracking.
Flint must be a clarion call for a new era of routine water testing, full transparency and a commitment to ensuring that all citizens have safe drinking water. Renewed federal investment in our crumbling, lead-ridden drinking water systems is also necessary to help ensure that the tragedy taking place in Flint isn't replicated elsewhere. Residents there and all Americans deserve nothing less.
This op-ed originally appeared in The Washington Post.
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The climate agreement reached in Paris is provoking a flurry of caveats, criticisms and cautions. Many of those criticisms are warranted and there’s a lot of work ahead to make sure countries live up to their promises. But we should not miss a chance to celebrate a historic turning point.
World leaders finally made commitments to clean, renewable energy that will help to ensure a safer, healthier and more prosperous future for us all. The agreement signals that the age of fossil fuels is coming to a close and the age of renewable energy is dawning.
In many ways, the Paris deal is the mother of all market signals. To deliver on the promises world leaders made, we will need to leave coal and oil in the ground and move toward a complete reliance on clean energy. Let’s not miss the writing on the wall: fossil fuels are a losing bet, while renewables offer economic opportunity.
This is true for all segments of society—from energy investors to individual households that can save money on their energy bills by switching to rooftop solar power.
The Paris pact ratifies an ongoing renewable energy revolution spreading across the globe. Each year since 2013, the world has added more power-generating capacity fueled by renewable sources than from coal, natural gas and oil combined. Global investment in renewable energy hit $310bn last year, according to Bloomberg New Energy Finance. And major companies are pledging to go 100 percent renewable, too.
Much of that growth in clean, renewable energy has come from the subnational movement, in which cities, states and regions are banding together and leading even if their national governments are lagging. This bottom-up approach—one that so many people around the world are already part of—is what was most alive about Paris.
It is what drove so many people to COP21 this year and is the driving force that makes so many hopeful. In my home state of New York, for example, we have a robust movement to ban fracking, courageously embraced by Gov. Andrew Cuomo and we support his leadership on renewable energy. We have found a new way of approaching this problem. Whole towns, communities and cities are racing to a full reliance on renewable energy, despite the gridlock in Washington, DC. This is where so many sense real hope coming out of Paris.
Meanwhile, cities from London to Los Angeles, from Jakarta to Rotterdam, are pioneering innovative approaches to cutting their own carbon footprints. Momentum is growing, too: following the meeting, Republicans and Democrats in San Diego, America’s eighth largest city, unanimously agreed to transition to 100 percent clean energy.
What cities are doing, countries can do, too. As my co-founder at The Solutions Project, Stanford professor, Mark Jacobson, told the U.S. Congress last month, transitioning to 100 percent clean energy is not only good for the environment, human health and the economy, it is doable. His team has developed roadmaps showing exactly how 139 countries can each completely transition to renewable energy by 2050 using technology we have right now.
The Paris climate agreement brings that vision—of a world where all people have access to 100 percent clean energy—closer to reality. Much more has to go right if nations are to fulfill their promises over the coming years. But finally, the wind is at our backs.
The voices of people gathered in Paris—from big-city mayors intent on making urban life better, to indigenous people and small island countries fighting for their right to live in some of Earth’s most unspoiled places—echoed hundreds of millions of voices, all around the world, demanding action.
In response to those demands, world leaders have finally agreed to steer us away from a climate disaster. This is a moment of real hope. It is a recognition, at long last, that we’re all in this together.
And as negotiators in Paris acknowledged, some countries will need financial help to move to renewable energy. But the payoff for investing in them—through mechanisms such as the UN’s Green Climate Fund—will be tremendous. Just as poorer nations skipped landline phones for mobile telephones, they can skip generations of coal-fired power plants for clean, renewable power.
In wealthy nations we benefit from the switch to renewables, too. The U.S. has tripled wind and solar capacity since 2008 and last year, we installed as much solar-generating capacity every three weeks as we did in all of 2008. That translates into job growth—the solar industry already employs more people than the coal industry, by some measures—as well as cleaner and healthier air.
Critics of the Paris deal are right to point out that it cannot “solve” climate change on its own. Countries will have to work hard to fulfill the promises they made last week and set even more ambitious targets in the future. And the people of the world must stay engaged, doing their part to tackle climate change while holding political and economic leaders accountable.
There is much to be done. But after years of walking in circles, Paris was a giant step in the right direction. Now the renewable energy race is on and we need to run—not walk—to the finish line.
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Fast Track would railroad the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) through Congress. Thanks to leaks, we know that the TPP includes provisions that would harm the environment and accelerate climate change. A provision was even added to the Fast Track legislation forbidding climate issues from being included in U.S. trade pacts for the next six years.
After six years, TPP negotiations are almost completed but the text remains secret from the public and press and Congress only has limited access. But 500 official U.S. trade advisors mainly representing corporate interests have had special access to the negotiations and text and now want to use Fast Track to impose through the TPP an anti-environmental agenda that could not withstand open public debate.
Thanks to leaks, we know that the TPP would empower foreign corporations to challenge our sovereign laws that protect the environment and our citizens by dragging the U.S. government to tribunals where corporate lawyers serve as “judges.” These tribunals would be empowered to order the U.S. government to pay corporation that claim our laws violate their new TPP rights unlimited taxpayer compensation for their lost future profits.
In my own state of New York, where hundreds of thousands of people worked together to get a ban on fracking, we could be sued for billions of dollars for protecting our communities. This is not a hypothetical threat: already under a narrower version of these rules, the Lone Pine Corporation sued Canada demanding hundreds of millions in compensation for a moratorium on fracking under the St. Lawrence Seaway.
If the TPP is Fast Tracked into place, overnight 9,000 additional foreign firms would have the rights to attack U.S. environmental policies. The European pact now being negotiated would quadruple our liability to these attacks—almost 40,000 new firms could newly use the tribunals to attack U.S. laws passed by Congress and state legislatures that our domestic courts have said were just fine.
Even more insidious, Representative Paul Ryan, a climate science denier, added language to the Fast Track Authority that would block any action on climate change in trade agreements.
We cannot allow a trade deal that will put corporate profits above our climate, clean air and water protections. I'm calling on our leaders to remember: We all share the same Earth and breath the same air. Vote no on Fast Track Authority.
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