4th of July – What Does it Mean to be an American?

Heritage unites us. Diversity is our strength.

Sometime during the 4th of July long weekend, take a break from your festivities to reflect on what it means to you to be an American.

I am all for whipping up a batch of your famous potato salad, or competing in a sack race with your kid, or dipping your toes in the ocean to celebrate the 4th of July. I am also for spending a few minutes contemplating what it means to be an American, which entails both rights and responsibilities.

In previous years, for 4th of July posts, I have railed against the American consumer label, suggested we declare our independence from harmful corporations, and proposed the right to a habitable planet as a new addition to the Bill of Rights. This year, I found myself drawn to the Statue of Liberty and thinking about what it means to be an American, today, as a member of a global society.

First, let’s remind ourselves of some of the salient facts about the Statue of Liberty and then contemplate being an American.

Statue of Liberty Brief History

Liberty Enlightening the World Poster 1884
Liberty Enlightening the World Poster, 1884

“The Statue of Liberty Enlightening the World” was a gift from the French people to the people of the United States to strengthen ties between the two countries and promote democracy.

Imagine the difficulties the French people had to overcome to finance, build, and then ship the 151’1” tall bronze statue in parts across the ocean in the nineteenth century. The United States encountered its own problems raising money and then constructing the enormous base that supports the 156-ton statue.

Originally, the intent was to unveil the Statue of Liberty in 1876 to commemorate the centennial of the Declaration of Independence but only her torch-bearing arm made it to the U.S. in time. The completed Statue of Liberty was dedicated ten years later on October 28, 1886.

The Statue of Liberty gained federal protections in 1924 when President Calvin Coolidge exercised his authority under the Antiquities Act of 1906 by designating the statue and its site, called Fort Wood at the time, as a national monument.

During the 1930s, President Franklin Roosevelt ordered the War Department to turn over control of the Statue of Liberty National Monument and the rest of the island, known as Bedloe’s Island, to the National Park Service.

Bedloe’s Island was renamed Liberty Island by an Act of Congress in 1956 and nearby Ellis Island was added to the Statue of Liberty National Monument by President Lyndon Johnson in 1965.

The Statue of Liberty underwent a massive restoration project in the 1980s and she was rededicated on her centennial in 1986.

To this day, people around the world recognize the Statue of Liberty as a symbol, perhaps the symbol, of freedom and democracy.

Statue of Liberty Sonnet

As part of a fundraising effort for the statue’s pedestal in 1883, Emma Lazarus penned the now famous sonnet below. In 1903, her words were inscribed on a plaque and placed on the wall of the Statue of Liberty’s pedestal.

The New Colossus

Not like the brazen giant of Greek fame,
With conquering limbs astride from land to land;
Here at our sea-washed, sunset gates shall stand
A mighty woman with a torch, whose flame
Is the imprisoned lightning, and her name
Mother of Exiles. From her beacon-hand
Glows world-wide welcome; her mild eyes command
The air-bridged harbor that twin cities frame.
“Keep ancient lands, your storied pomp!” cries she
With silent lips. “Give me your tired, your poor,
Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free,
The wretched refuse of your teeming shore.
Send these, the homeless, tempest-tost to me,
I lift my lamp beside the golden door!”

This beautiful and powerful poem speaks to the essence of what it means to be an American.

What it Means to be an American

We are all immigrants. Either you are from another land or your ancestors were. If you are a Native American, even your ancestors started out somewhere else, although it was a long, long time ago.

Today, the United States of America is home to a wondrous mix of people all seeking freedom, opportunity, equality, liberty, independence, democracy, and a chance for happiness. This is our heritage. Our diversity is our strength.

The healthiest ecosystems are the ones with a myriad of different species of plants and animals living together. Sometimes they compete with one another and sometimes they cooperate, but somehow they manage to find a balance for the good of the overall community.

It is going to take the kaleidoscope of American people all working together with other people around the world to grapple with global warming and to learn how to live sustainably on Earth. There is no Planet B.

We have our American heritage to guide us, but at the moment, we seem to be out of balance with an excess of competing against one another and not enough cooperating.

I wish I could wave a magic wand that would help Americans remember who we are and what we can accomplish when we work together, but alas, I do not have one. Yet, I am an American and I can do something.

This may sound silly or even ridiculous but I believe our country could use an influx of kindness, especially towards people who have dissimilar opinions, hold different beliefs, or disagree with us. I know that I could be more kind and I want to be. The good news is that neither you nor I need to wait even a moment to be kind to another person.

“A single act of kindness throws out roots in all directions, and the roots spring up and make new trees.” —Amelia Earhart

This 4th of July, let’s celebrate being Americans and make a pledge to never miss an opportunity to be kind. We are the United States of America (the key word being united) so let’s act like it.

Related Posts

Resources

You Can Increase Your Home’s Value with Owned Solar Panels

Join the rooftop solar revolution!

Make an investment in your home and a clean renewable energy future for your children by installing rooftop solar panels, now.

If you are a homeowner, there is no better time to join the rooftop solar revolution and begin generating your own power. Besides helping to build the country’s clean renewable energy infrastructure, you will be increasing your home’s value.

Below are five reasons to consider joining the ranks of homeowners who have purchased a rooftop solar power system.

Home Sales Price Premium for Owned Solar Panels

Owned solar power systems can increase the value of your home and give you an edge over non-solar home sellers in your area.

Home rooftop solar panels are a relatively new home selling feature that will likely gain in importance as electricity prices continue rising and people become more concerned about getting their power from clean renewable sources. Fortunately, the real estate industry is embracing rooftop solar, incorporating it as part of the selling and buying process.

A November 2015 Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory study shows that energy efficiency-minded homebuyers are willing to pay a premium for homes that have owned solar power systems, even up to the cost of the system (less any rebates and tax incentives).1

The California Regional Multiple Listing Service, the largest in the country, added power production fields in January 2017 so now realtors can enter solar power system information for their listings in a standardized format.2, 3 Other multiple listing services will likely follow California’s example.

Now visualize yourself as a home seller who had the foresight to purchase and install solar panels on your rooftop.

First of all, a rooftop solar power system is a long-term investment that you benefit from as long as you own your home. For warranty purposes, the lifespan of most rooftop solar equipment is considered to be 20-30 years; however, at that point, although solar panels may be less efficient they do not stop working.

Second, depending on how soon you put your house on the market after purchasing your system, it may have already paid for itself.

Lastly, savvy potential homebuyers will realize the benefit of buying a home that already has an operational rooftop solar power system and they may be willing to pay you a premium for the ability to generate free electricity from the day they move in, especially in a sunny and hot climate. If you replaced an aging roof before installing solar panels, even better.

Federal Renewable Energy Tax Incentive

Homeowners considering purchasing solar panels rejoice. The legalese buried on page 2,005 of the Consolidated Appropriations Act of 2016 4 can save you a pile of money via a 30% tax credit for your rooftop solar purchase.

Here is the gist of the tax credit. When Congress passed the far-reaching Energy Policy Act of 2005, it included a tax credit provision to encourage both business and residential renewable energy projects. Originally, the tax credit was set to expire at the end of 2007, but Congress has approved a series of extensions that pushed the end date back to December 31, 2021.

Here are some of the specifics related to the solar tax credit from the DSIRE (Database of State Incentives for Renewable Energy) website.

  • 30% for systems placed in service by 12/31/2019.
  • 26% for systems placed in service after 12/31/2019 and before 01/01/2021.
  • 22% for systems placed in service after 12/31/2020 and before 01/01/2022.
  • There is no maximum credit for systems placed in service after 2008.
  • Systems must be placed in service on or after January 1, 2006, and on or before December 31, 2021.
  • The home served by the system does not have to be the taxpayer’s principal residence.

For example, if you purchase, install, and begin operating a solar power system costing $15,000 by December 31, 2019, you will be eligible for a 30% tax credit of $4,500. Depending on your tax situation, you could end up with a refund equal to part or all or your tax credit.

Rising Utility Electricity Rates

Have your electric rates ever actually gone down? I suppose it is possible, but it seems unlikely.

U.S. Residential Electricity Average Price Per Kilowatt-Hour - EIA June 2017

The U.S. Energy Information Administration seems to think that residential electricity prices will continue to rise. Data on their website shows that the average cost for a kilowatt-hour (kWh) of residential electricity increased by 53% from 8.0 cents to 12.22 cents between January 2003 and January 2017, and the agency is forecasting a kWh will reach 13.48 cents in 2018.5

Electric prices vary hugely by state and utility provider so your rates may be lower or higher than the U.S. average. For instance, where I live on the Central California Coast, we passed the 13.48 cents mark in 2006 and have now reached 23.0 cents in 2017.6

To put things in perspective, the California Public Utilities Commission reports that from 2012 to 2016 average electricity rates increased at an annual average of approximately 3.4%, which is well above the average inflation rate of 1.3% over the same time period.7

Low Solar Panel Prices

Through technological advances and competition, solar panel prices have come down over 50% since 2009.8 In fact, there is a global oversupply problem now, which is keeping prices low.

Support Your Local Economy

A 2017 U.S. Energy and Employment Report shows that 374,000 Americans are working full or part time in the solar industry, a workforce increase of 25% in 2016. American veterans hold 9% of the 260,077 full-time solar jobs.9

Many of the jobs in the solar industry are performed by women and men working for solar installation companies in your community. They might even be your neighbors. Solar companies employ people working in the field delivering and installing solar panels as well as people in sales, marketing, system design, project management, accounting, customer service, and leadership positions.

Homeowners We Have a Choice

Either we can stand on the sidelines watching as fossil fuel extraction and pollution-belching power plants destroy more land and contaminate more neighborhoods or we can do something about it by generating our own clean renewable energy and sharing it with the interconnected electric grids in our communities.

Group of Kids Playing at a Park

There is no better time than right now to go solar! Purchasing solar panels for your home is a sound financial investment and even more importantly, it pushes the ball forward in creating a clean renewable future for all our children.

We joined the rooftop solar revolution in 2013 and you can, too.

For homeowners interested in the pros and cons of leasing solar panels versus buying them, there are some articles in the resources section below.

If you have a rooftop solar success story you would like to share with other readers, please use the comment section below.

Featured Image at Top: Rooftop Solar Panels on the Home of the Unlikely Environmentalist – Danny from A.M. Sun Solar Finishing the Installation

Related Posts

References

  1. Appraising Into The Sun: Six-State Solar Home Paired-Sale Analysis, by Sandra Adomatis and Ben Hoen, Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory, 11/12/15
  2. EERE Success Story—Real Estate Professionals Embrace Solar Power, U.S. Department of Energy Office of Energy Efficiency & Renewable Energy, 06/09/17
  3. Matrix Updates January 31, 2017, California Regional Multiple Listing Service
  4. Consolidated Appropriations Act of 2016, United States Congress, 12/14/15
  5. Short-Term Energy Outlook, U.S. Energy Information Administration, 06/06/17
  6. PG&E Residential Rates Effective March 1, 2017
  7. California Electric and Gas Utility Cost Report, California Public Utilities Commission, April 2017
  8. NREL Report Shows U.S. Solar Photovoltaic Costs Continuing to Fall in 2016, National Renewable Energy Laboratory, 09/28/16
  9. U.S. Energy and Employment Report and the Annual Energy Outlook 2017 with projections to 2050, U.S. Department of Energy, January 2017

Resources