Falter – Book Review

We don’t have to falter.

In his latest book Falter: Has the Human Game Begun to Play Itself Out? Bill McKibben is asking us to get real, get to work, and to have hope.

As soon as I spotted Falter on the bookshelf at a Barnes & Noble in downtown San Luis Obispo, CA, I grabbed two copies and headed to the checkout counter without even looking at the table of contents or reading the book jacket.

One copy was for me and the other one was destined to become a raffle prize at the SLO Climate Coalition event my spouse and I attended later that evening.

At the time, I was already reading two books in preparation for a post called Environmental Impact of Sugar, so when we got home I put Falter on a bookcase shelf in the living room.

Book Review

A few weeks ago, I took Falter off the shelf to read it.

After reading the book jacket, I thought “Hmm…This seems rather dismal.” Then I flipped to the table of contents and saw that the book begins with a prologue entitled “An Opening Note on Hope.” So, I read that part.

“A writer doesn’t owe a reader hope—the only obligation is honesty—but I want those who pick up this volume to know that its author lives in a state of engagement, not despair. If I didn’t, I wouldn’t have bothered writing what follows.”

Okay, now I was willing to dive in.

Falter Book Cover

Readers, in this book you will learn about and explore the climate crisis, genetic engineering, and artificial intelligence.

How do these three topics interconnect? Good question. Read the book.

Here are a few highlights.

Part One: The Size of the Board

This first section will give you a good sense of how the climate crisis is unfolding, not in some distant time, but now. You will also get a synopsis of how we got to this point.

“Climate change has become such a familiar term that we tend to read past it—it’s part of our mental furniture, like urban sprawl or gun violence. So, let’s remember exactly what we’ve been up to, because it should fill us with awe; it’s by far the biggest thing humans have ever done.”

On page 43-45, McKibben quotes parts of a poem by climate activists and poets Kathy Jetnil-Kijiner (Marshall Islands) and Aka Niviana (Greenland). I wanted to read the whole poem so I searched on the Internet and found this video. It is beautiful and heartrending speaking to the very essence of what is at stake.

Part Two: Leverage

Money and power provide leverage. This part of the book puts that maxim into the context of the climate crisis.

“The first thing to say is that current levels of inequality are almost beyond belief…The world’s eight richest men possess more wealth than the bottom half of humanity.”

McKibben devotes a fair amount of page real estate to Ayn Rand and her 1957 book Atlas Shrugged. He suggests that this book is required reading for the people who control the money and power in our country and around the world.

I was intrigued so I checked the book out of my local library. If you are interested in what I thought about that book, read the note at the end of the post.

Part Three: The Name of the Game

Genetic engineering and artificial intelligence enter the dialogue at this point. Here you will get a good overview of the topic as well as McKibben’s opinions.

“For our game, the real power of CRISPR comes with the ability to change people.” (CRISPR is a genetic engineering technology)

Part Four: An Outside Chance

Hope returns to the narrative in this section. McKibben points out that we already have the technologies and tools we need to address the climate crisis, like solar panels and nonviolent movements.

“Even in what seems like the very clinical world of environmentalism, mounds of research and data aren’t ultimately decisive: the fight over climate change is ultimately not an argument about infrared absorption in the atmosphere, but about power and money and justice. Given that industry has most of that money and hence most of that power, it usually wins—unless, of course, a movement arises, one capable of changing hearts as well as minds.”

The Bottom Line

Thirty years ago, Bill McKibben published The End of Nature which is often credited as being the first book about climate change intended for the general public. Since then, he has published 17 more books including Oil and Honey, Eaarth, and Radio Free Vermont (a delightful fiction book). McKibben is a prolific journalist, the co-founder of 350.org, and scholar in residence at Middlebury College in Vermont.

McKibben’s choice to frame the discussion in Falter using game language and concepts seemed kind of weird to me but somehow it works. He writes as if he is having a conversation with you and explains technical stuff in a way I think many people could understand. I like that. I think it makes his work accessible to a wide audience.

I recommend Falter to any human wanting to continue playing the human game and who wants to protect the game board for their children, grandchildren, and the people who come after them.

A Note about Atlas Shrugged

I wanted to read Atlas Shrugged because I feel it is important to try to understand where people are coming from, especially people with different perspectives and beliefs than me. I also enjoy debate (as long it is friendly).

In short Atlas Shrugged is a fiction book written as a sort of treatise on libertarianism taken to the nth degree.

I slogged away until I got to page 291 (of more than 1,200 pages) and then I took the book back to the library. The subject matter was not a problem for me but the book is so poorly written I just could not go on.

Featured Image at Top: A hand flipping wooden cubes from the word “change” to “chance – photo credit iStock/marchmeena29.

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5 Reasons to Buy Rooftop Solar Panels in 2019

Don’t wait for another year.

Have you been putting off installing rooftop solar panels on your home? If so, 2019 is a good year to take action and actually do it. Why this year? Read on.

The American media seems to take pleasure in portraying us as a bunch of money-grubbing consumers who are only out for ourselves, but I am not buying it. We do not have to listen to them.

I believe that we can use our purchasing power to benefit the greater good and ourselves.

Sometimes it might be a small purchase like buying socks at a locally owned store instead online and having them shipped to you via an airplane. Or opting to buy organic spinach grown by a local farmer instead of spinach that comes in a sealed plastic bag from somewhere out of state.

A rooftop solar system is a big purchase that meets the above criteria.

In this post, we will talk about how purchasing rooftop solar panels for your home is a long-term investment that will pay for itself and more, add renewable energy capacity to your community, and support local jobs.

March 8, 2019, marked the beginning of the seventh year that our rooftop solar system has been silently generating clean renewable energy from the sun. Our system is tied to the electric grid so we share electricity back and forth with PG&E the investor-owned utility currently providing service to our county.

Let’s deal with the financial stuff first.

Save Money on Electricity

The net cost of our 22-panel 5.34 kW rooftop solar system was $14,767 including tax credits that we will discuss later. Solar prices have been decreasing so now our system would cost less.

Purchasing rooftop solar panels requires a significant investment upfront. Beware of sticker shock that may cause you to waver and lose sight of the long-term benefits.

I propose a little exercise to help you think about a large amount of money in a different way and this one never pays for itself or provides free electricity.

Many people, perhaps including you, have a habit of buying a cafe latte, specialty juice drink, or another treat each day during the workweek.

Let’s say you do that 48 out of 52 weeks a year. To make it simple we will use $5.00 as the cost of the treat. Below is an example of how much money you will spend over a ten-year period on just that one item.

Rows of Green Dollar Signs

5 items a week x 48 weeks a year = 240
items per year x 10 years = 2,400 items x $5.00 each = $12,000.

You may think this is a silly example, but it does demonstrate how you, I, and everyone else can easily spend a large amount of money without really thinking about it.

Payback Period

Your tangible electricity savings will begin at the end of your payback period, which is however long it takes your electricity savings to equal the total net cost of your rooftop solar system.

Last May, I decided to attempt to calculate the payback period for our solar panel system.

I had the data. However, I soon discovered the complexity of the task. It would mean calculating electricity costs on an hourly basis 24/7/365 for 5 years. This was beyond the time I could allow to figuring it out.

Not willing to do nothing, I came up with a method to estimate our payback period, which turned out to be about 7 years. Even though it is likely that there are flaws in my approach, I think that I am well within the ballpark.

At this time next year, our rooftop solar system will have paid for itself and from then on electricity will be virtually free for the next two or three decades, except for PG&E fees. Solar panels decrease in efficiency over time, but after the 25-year warranty period ends, they will not suddenly stop working.

If you are interested in how I calculated our payback period, you can read about it in the post Rooftop Solar Panels are Worth It and this is Why.

Increase Your Home’s Value

In recent years, especially here in California, several things have occurred making it even more financially attractive to purchase rooftop solar panels for your home.

  1. In January 2017, the California Regional Multiple Listing Service recognized that a rooftop solar system is a positive selling point for many home buyers so they added standardized fields that enable realtors to enter energy production for their listings.
  2. The California legislature upped the ante on renewable energy in 2018 by enacting a law requiring solar panels on all new homes.
  3. I do not have a crystal ball, but I doubt you will disagree with me when I suggest that electricity prices will only continue to increase. Where I live the average price of a kWh of electricity has steadily increased by 22.4% in the past 6 years, which is substantially higher than the national inflation rate.

When you decide to sell your home, savvy prospective home buyers are likely to appreciate that they can instantly save on their electricity bills without doing a thing.

You can learn more about this topic by reading the post You Can Increase Your Home’s Value with Owned Solar Panels.

Receive a Solar Investment Tax Credit

Mostly free electricity in the future and adding to your home’s value are two sound financial reasons to purchase a rooftop solar system. A compelling reason to do it in 2019 it that this is last year can receive the full 30% federal tax credit.

Solar-Electric Property
  • 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.
The 30% tax credit we received for our initial rooftop solar installation resulted in a refund from the federal government. This photo shows 3 of the 6 additional solar panels we bought with the money.

Visit the DSIRE website to learn more about federal tax credits and state incentive programs.

I hope you can see that owning a rooftop solar system makes financial sense. Now, let’s look at how going solar contributes to the greater good.

Build Renewable Energy Capacity in Your Community

Extracting, transporting, refining, storing, and burning fossil fuels (coal, oil, and natural gas) is a dirty and dangerous business that is jeopardizing the health and well-being of people everywhere, especially the people who live near fossil fuel extraction sites, rail lines, refineries, pipelines, and power plants.

Major Sources of U.S. Electricity Generation 1949-2018 Line Graph
Electricity generation from renewable energy is increasing and coal is decreasing. Unfortunately, natural gas is on the rise. Image credit – U.S. Energy Information Administration.

Each one of us can choose to help our country get off fossil fuels by taking a variety of actions from running our dishwashers after peak electricity demand time to installing solar panels on our roofs.

Using the existing real estate available on top of our homes and other buildings to generate clean renewable energy just makes sense to me. The roof is already there so why not use it. If I were an investor-owned utility executive, I would be renting every rooftop I could get my hands on and installing solar panels.

Keep Your Money in Your Community

I am a fan of locally owned businesses, including solar companies, for a number of reasons. First and most importantly, I know that my money is supporting jobs in my own community versus lining the pockets of far distant shareholders who have never heard of my town or me.

Local companies are embedded in the communities they serve providing jobs, spending money, and contributing to causes important to their employees and the community.

We selected A.M. Sun Solar for our home rooftop solar project. I think they embody what is wonderful about locally owned companies. Here are a few examples.

A.M. Sun Solar Team in 2017
This is the A.M. Sun Solar team shown outside of their office in Paso Robles, CA in 2017. Photo courtesy of A.M. Sun Solar.

The people at A.M. Sun Solar treat me like a person, not a number.

Years after our installation, Glen, Cory, and now Brian, are always willing to answer questions or provide information for a post I am writing.

The company gives back to the community by donating time and money to local organizations like Jack’s Helping Hand and the Paso Robles Children’s Museum.

Of course, just like any other company that you give your business to a locally owned company needs to provide quality products and services at a reasonable price. I chronicled this aspect of our relationship with A.M. Sun Solar in the posts Go Solar with Home Rooftop Photovoltaics – We Did and Rooftop Solar Costs Less than You Think.

Be Part of the Solution

Okay, so now I have shown you the money and presented you with an opportunity to help build the renewable energy capacity of your community while supporting local jobs. What could be better?

If you call a local solar company tomorrow, you could have solar panels on your roof before the arrival of the hot summer weather. This time next year you could be claiming the 30% tax credit on your federal income tax return.

Better yet, you will be taking a significant step to live more lightly on Earth.

Our Rooftop Solar Environmental Benefits March 2013-March 2019
This image shows the energy production and carbon offset for our rooftop solar panel system from March 2013 to March 2019.

Featured Image at Top: 12 of the 16 solar panels that were installed on our roof during our initial installation in 2013.

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