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As White House Reverses Rejection of Solar Panels, 350.org to Hold 10.10.10 Day of Action on Global Warming

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Climate change activists are gearing up for a major day of action this Sunday with the 10.10.10 global work party organized by the group 350.org. More than 7,000 events are being held in 188 countries to urge people across the globe to do something in their city or community that will help deal with global warming. Meanwhile, the Obama administration has announced plans to install solar panels atop the White House’s living quarters, one month after the White House rejected a proposal by Bill McKibben of 350.org and students from Unity College to reinstall the White House solar panels used by President Carter in the 1970s. [includes rush transcript]

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This is a rush transcript. Copy may not be in its final form.

AMY GOODMAN: That music and video comes from 350.org. It’s also interesting to be talking about climate change and solar panels now, as Ohio has just approved what will be the largest solar farm in the country. It will be built on a former strip mine.

I’m Amy Goodman, here with Juan Gonzalez. Juan?

JUAN GONZALEZ: Well, climate change activists are gearing up for a major day of action this Sunday, October 10th. It is the 10.10.10 global work party organized by the group 350.org. More than 7,000 events are being held in 188 countries. Organizers say the goal of the day is to urge people across the globe to do something in their city or community that will help deal with global warming. The day of action comes less than two months before the next round of international climate talks begin in Cancún, Mexico.

AMY GOODMAN: Meanwhile, the Obama administration has announced plans to install solar panels on the White House living quarters. The panels will heat water for the first family and supply some electricity. Energy Secretary [Steven] Chu unveiled the project Tuesday.

ENERGY SECRETARY STEVEN CHU: Today, we’re taking another important step. As we move towards a clean energy economy, the White House will lead by example. I’m pleased to announce that by the end of this spring there will be solar panels that convert sunlight into electricity and a solar hot water heater on the roof of the White House. It’s been a long time since we’ve had them up there. These two solar installations will be part of a Department of Energy demonstration project. The project will show that American solar technology is available, reliable and ready to install in homes throughout the country. Around the world, the White House is a symbol of freedom and democracy. It should also be a symbol of America’s commitment to a clean energy future.

AMY GOODMAN: That’s Energy Secretary Steven Chu.

JUAN GONZALEZ: Well, the move to install the solar panels comes one month after the White House rejected a proposal by Bill McKibben of 350.org and students from Unity College to reinstall the White House solar panels used by President Carter in the 1970s. The panels were later taken down by President Reagan.

Joining us now in Washington is Jamie Henn, co-founder of 350.org.

Welcome to Democracy Now!

JAMIE HENN: Thank you very much.

JUAN GONZALEZ: Well, Jamie, were surprised by the White House announcement?

JAMIE HENN: We were a bit surprised, you know, and we were very pleased, because when we came down in Washington before, the White House really played this with a poker face. They said that they were in a deliberative process to discuss putting solar panels back up on the roof. And so, it’s good to see that, a mere month later and just before this big global day of action this weekend, that deliberative process seems to have come to an end, and we’ve really taken a step forward in promoting solar power and renewable energy all across the country with this move.

AMY GOODMAN: So, Jamie Henn, we had in our studio Bill McKibben and the students from Unity College in Maine, who had done something very interesting. Someone at Unity College had been doing some research and saw that, you know, Jimmy Carter had put the solar panels on the White House, and then Ronald Reagan took them off the White House roof. And they saw that they were just in storage. They requested the solar panels, and they’ve been providing energy at Unity College for a long time. So the students took one of those solar panels to bring them back to the White House. And though the White House rejected the Carter panels, they are putting up these. Now, this move comes just as, Jamie, 350.org is coordinating these hundreds and hundreds of actions. Describe what’s happening on Sunday, 10/10/10.

JAMIE HENN: Well, it’s really amazing, Amy. And I’ve actually spent most of my time stuck behind a laptop just watching these actions flow in from around the world. You know, in the last twenty-four hours, more than 500 new work party around the planet have signed up. That’s about a new event every four minutes. So the pace and the momentum leading up to this big day is amazing. There are events from New Zealand, where they’ll be celebrating the sunrise there and kicking it off with a big tree planting ceremony, all the way through places like Iraq, where students at the University of Babylon will be working to put up a solar panel, and then thousands of events, more than 2,000 events across the United States, as well. So this is really going to be a spectacular day, and I think it shows that there’s new momentum out there for this building movement around climate solutions.

JUAN GONZALEZ: And could you talk about what Maldives is doing? We’ve had — we’ve reported on their efforts on behalf of climate change in the past. Could you talk about what they’ve been doing?

JAMIE HENN: Definitely. Well, President Nasheed of the Maldives had made an announcement a little while ago, before we had got in the news about the Obama White House, that he would be getting up on the roof of his official presidential residence in the Maldives and putting up the solar panels himself, not just making an announcement. So, just the other day, President Nasheed was up on the roof. He’s a former carpenter, actually, so he knew his way around. And he put the finishing touches on a new set of solar panels that was donated by a California company, Sungevity. So we’ll have to wait and see until the spring to see if President Obama will get up on the roof and help out with his installation, as well. But the amazing thing is that these types of moves from notable world leaders really does help push this discussion forward. It is a symbolic act, but it’s also a really important one that helps build momentum for people all across the planet who are getting to work on solutions and looking for, finally, some real leadership from our political leaders on moving this discussion forward.

AMY GOODMAN: Jamie, I also wanted to ask you about the upcoming climate talks in Cancún. There’s an article in today’s New York Times titled “Poor Prospects for New Climate Meeting.” The article states, “There is no chance of completing a binding global treaty to reduce emissions of climate-altering gases, few if any heads of state are planning to attend, and there are no major new initiatives on the agenda. Copenhagen was crippled by an excess of expectation. Cancún is suffering from the opposite.” Jamie Henn, your response? And will you be in Cancún?

JAMIE HENN: I will be going to Cancún. And I think that you’re right. There has been a real lowering of expectations before Cancún. Part of that is healthy. I think that the fact that so many heads of state showed up in Copenhagen helped slow down the process, because effectively negotiators stopped doing their work the second week and started preparing for dignitaries like President Obama to come. So a little less pressure on the process, in a political sense, from the top down is important.

What we do need is more political pressure on the process from the bottom up. The one thing that’s really been missing from this process and finally got going around Copenhagen, and is only building, is a real public attention to what’s happening in these talks. I was just talking with colleagues who were in China and was having a dialogue with Christiana Figueres, the new head of the UN climate process. She was actually saying that this is one of the most important factors in making progress, is a renewed sense of public expectation and a renewed sense of public focus on the process itself.

Look, we’re not going to get a complete binding treaty out of Cancún. The key is that we really help strengthen the process, that we rebuild the damage that was done in Copenhagen, and we start really laying out some key elements that can move it forward. Throughout that process, the key voices on this issue, the most vulnerable countries, the places that are feeling the impacts of climate change, those continue to be the voices we need to be listening to and the voices, that as activists around the world, we need to be supporting.

So our hope is that this global work party on Sunday will really show that the public is ready for solutions, that we’re getting to work, and that we certainly expect our politicians at meetings like Cancún, and also here in Washington, DC, to do their job, as well, and really make some progress on this issue.

JUAN GONZALEZ: Well, and is there any sense on your part that any of the developed countries — the standoff between the developed countries and the developing countries, that any of the developed countries are ready to actually institute not only the kinds of changes in their own emissions, but also the kind of assistance that the developing countries are asking for, that there’s any movement in that direction?

JAMIE HENN: Well, you’re right. There’s a standoff definitely between developed countries — the big emitters — and the developing countries. In a sense, there isn’t a standoff from the developing countries’ point of view. Many of them are racing ahead with solutions already. The most recent round of talks took place in China, and I think that a lot of people who were there were stunned to really see the work that’s happening there on the ground, from the student level, where we have over 300 events this weekend, to the government level, where they’re really pushing clean energy.

In terms of the need for the US to really step up and show some leadership, and other developed countries, that’s what this weekend is about. We do need much more public pressure, not only for domestic change here in the US and building a clean energy economy here, but really ratcheting up the case for an aggressive investment worldwide and the US stepping up to its responsibilities, as the largest historic emitter, to really promote a clean energy economy that’s fair and just around the world.

AMY GOODMAN: Jamie, just ten seconds.

JAMIE HENN: We’re beginning to see some promising signs of that.

AMY GOODMAN: Explain 350.org. What does 350 mean? Ten seconds.

JAMIE HENN: Exactly. So, 350 is the safe upper limit of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere. We’re now at 390 parts per million. So it’s a bit of work to get back to 350. And people can find out more at 350.org and find an event that’s happening this weekend near them. So we hope they’ll join us.

AMY GOODMAN: Jamie Henn, thanks for joining us, speaking for 350.org.

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