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Going Solar

[caption id="attachment_76035" align="alignleft" width="550" caption="My son, Jack, eager for the installation to begin!"][/caption]

A couple months ago, I received a postcard in the mail advertising a new solar company based here in California called Sungevity. I usually toss such things straight into the trash bin, but I really liked the branding and design on the postcard so I sat down and read the offer. They lease you the panels at no money down and within a few years, you're saving money on your electric bill. Though you're never off the grid, the solar energy supplements the power you get from your local provider and, in some cases, depending on how much sun you're capturing, you can even get credit from your local energy supplier if you're giving back more AC to the grid than you're taking.

I was pretty certain at that point that it was time to give it a whirl. When I saw that they were offering a free iPad as incentive to the first 100 people who signed up, it became a no brainer because I was about to buy one anyway. Now, before everyone starts screaming "Shill, shill!" let me say that I don't care if you want to use Sungevity to power your home or not. I don't care if you take advantage of the $500 cash in your pocket I can get them to give you through our "Friends of the _floss" code or not. (Wait for it...) I'm really just writing this post because working with these guys has been one of the most pleasurable experiences I've ever had dealing with a power company, contracting company, building contractor, etc. In fact, they're right up there with the Apple care team in terms of friendliness, politeness and efficacy. I guess what I'm saying is, if Sungevity sold refrigerators, I'd buy them. Cars, I'd buy them... heck, if they sold and serviced nuclear energy solutions, I'd probably buy it! (Well, maybe not... but you get my drift.)

What follows is a photo essay of the installation process for those who are curious as to how this works and what's involved. From start to finish, the process takes about 3 months. First you have to go to their Web site and see if they service your area. Then you see if your house is solar-able (if your southern exposure is blocked by trees or a taller structure, you can't do it). After that, they send someone out to the house to check the structure from an engineering point of view. If that goes smoothly, they pull permits from the city and contact your local power company to get approval. Soon, they are pulling up to your house with the gear!

The next thing they do is unpack everything and install casings on the roof where the panel tracks will attach.

Meantime, the electrician arrives and is busy installing the converter that takes the DC and turns it into AC.

By now, the panel tracks are being installed on the roof. These will hold the panels steady and are suspended about 6" off the roof.

Meantime, the electrician is installing the meter on the back of the house.

And now, the panels are connected to the tracks!

More...

And the money shot!

And voila! She is all done!

Oh, and the free iPad... guess who commandeered that a week after we got it?

Again, it's worth repeating: Through the whole process, these guys really, er, shone brightly. So if you're interested, don't hesitate to get in touch with me at david 'at' mentalfloss.com and I'll forward you my special "Friends of the _floss" $500 cash in your pocket code. Shine on!

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Vivien Killilea/Getty Images for Caruso Affiliated
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History
A Founder of Earth Day Looks Back on How It Began
Vivien Killilea/Getty Images for Caruso Affiliated
Vivien Killilea/Getty Images for Caruso Affiliated

On the very first Earth Day in 1970, Denis Hayes stood on a stage in Central Park, stunned by the number of people who'd come to honor the planet. Now in his 70s, Hayes remembers it was like looking at the ocean—“you couldn’t see where the sea of people ended.” Crowd estimates reached more than a million people.

For Hayes, who is now board chair of the international Earth Day Network, it was the culmination of a year’s worth of work. As an urban ecology graduate student at Harvard University, he’d volunteered to help organize a small initiative by Wisconsin senator Gaylord Nelson. Nelson was horrified by the 1969 oil spill in Santa Barbara, California, and wanted to raise awareness about environmental issues by holding teaching events similar to those being held by civil rights and anti-war activists.

Senator Nelson saw a growing disconnect between the concept of progress and the idea of American well-being, Hayes tells Mental Floss. “There was a sense that America was prosperous and getting better, but at the same time, the air in the country was similar to the air today in China, Mexico City, or New Delhi," Hayes says. "Rivers were catching on fire. Lakes were unswimmable.”

Nelson's plan for these environmental teach-ins was for speakers to educate college students about environmental issues. But he had no one to organize them. So Hayes, Nelson’s sole volunteer, took control on a national level, organizing teach-ins at Harvard first and then across the U.S. Initially, the response was tepid at best. “Rather rapidly it became clear that this wasn’t a hot issue at colleges and universities in 1969,” Hayes says. “We had a war raging, and civil rights were getting very emotional after the Nixon election.”

Still, both Hayes and Nelson noticed an influx of mail to the senator's office from women with young families worried about the environment. So instead of focusing on colleges, the two decided to take a different tactic, creating events with community-based organizations across the country, Hayes says. They also decided that rather than a series of teach-ins, they'd hold a single, nationwide teach-in on the same day. They called it Earth Day, and set a date: April 22.

Hayes now had a team of young adults working for the cause, and he himself had dropped out of school to tackle it full time. Long before social media, the project began to spread virally. “It just resonated,” he says. Women and smaller environmental-advocacy groups really hooked onto the idea, and word spread by mouth and by information passing between members of the groups.

Courtesy of Denis Hayes

With the cooperation and participation of grassroots groups and volunteers across the country, and a few lawmakers who supported the initiative, Hayes’ efforts culminated in the event on April 22, 1970.

Hayes started the day in Washington, D.C., where he and the staff were based. There was a rally and protest on the National Mall, though by that point Hayes had flown to New York, where Mayor John Lindsay provided a stage in Central Park. Parts of Fifth Avenue were shut down for the events, which included Earth-oriented celebrations, protests, and speeches by celebrities. Some of those attending the event even attacked nearby cars for causing pollution. After the rally, Hayes flew to Chicago for a smaller event.

“We had a sense that it was going to be big, but when the day actually dawned, the crowds were so much bigger than anyone had experienced before,” Hayes said. The event drew grassroots activists working on a variety of issues—Agent Orange, lead paint in poor urban neighborhoods, saving the whales—and fostered a sense of unity among them.

“There were people worrying about these [environmental] issues before Earth Day, but they didn’t think they had anything in common with one another," Hayes says. "We took all those individual strands and wove them together into the fabric of modern environmentalism.”

Hayes and his team spent the summer getting tear-gassed at protests against the American invasion of Cambodia, which President Nixon authorized just six days after Earth Day. But by fall, the team refocused on environmental issues—and elections. They targeted a “dirty dozen” members of Congress up for re-election who had terrible environmental records, and campaigned for candidates who championed environmental causes to run against them. They defeated seven out of 12.

“It was a very poorly funded but high-energy campaign,” Hayes says. “That sent the message to Congress that it wasn’t just a bunch of people out frolicking in the sunshine planting daisies and picking up litter. This actually had political chops.”

The early '70s became a golden age for environmental issues; momentum from the Earth Day movement spawned the creation of the Clean Air Act, the Clean Water Act, the Safe Drinking Water Act, the Endangered Species Act, the Marine Mammal Protection Act, the Environmental Education Act (which was initially passed in 1970 and revived in 1990), and the Environmental Protection Agency.

“We completely changed the framework within which America does business, more than any other period in history with the possible exception of the New Deal,” Hayes says. “But our little revolution was brought entirely from the grassroots up.”

In 1990, Hayes was at it again. He organized the first international Earth Day, with about 200 million participants across more than 140 countries. Since then it’s become a global phenomenon.

Despite its popularity, though, we still have a long way to go, even if the improvements Hayes fought for have made these issues feel more remote. Hayes noted that everything they were fighting in the '70s was something tangible—something you could see, taste, smell, or touch. Climate change can seem much less real—and harder to combat—to the average person who isn’t yet faced with its effects.

Hayes also notes that people have become more skeptical of science. “Historically, that has not been a problem in the United States. But today science is under attack.”

He warns, “This [anti-science sentiment] is something that could impoverish the next 50 generations and create really long-term devastation—that harms not only American health, but also American business, American labor, and American prospects.”

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Live Smarter
All National Parks Are Offering Free Admission on April 21
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Looking for something to do this weekend that's both outdoorsy and free? To kick off National Park Week, you can visit any one of the National Park Service's more than 400 parks on April 21, 2018 for free.

While the majority of the NPS's parks are free year-round, they'll be waiving admission fees to the more than 100 parks that normally require an entrance fee. Which means that you can pay a visit to the Grand Canyon, Death Valley, Yosemite, or Yellowstone National Parks without reaching for your wallet. The timing couldn't be better, as many of the country's most popular parks will be increasing their entrance fees beginning in June.

The National Park Service, which celebrated its 100th birthday in 2016, maintains 417 designated NPS areas that span more than 84 million acres across every state, plus Washington, D.C., American Samoa, Guam, Puerto Rico, and the Virgin Islands.

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