Alumnus Leads Trip To Return Solar Panel to White House

Armed with a biodiesel van, a 31-year-old solar panel, and a historic mission, Harvard affiliates and eco-friendly enthusiasts gathered at the Park Street School in Beacon Hill yesterday morning as part of a four-day road trip to the White House.

Their objective: to return a solar panel that once sat atop the presidential building to its home.

The campaign, called “Put Solar on It,” was founded by William E. McKibben ’82, a former president of The Crimson, and launched with 350.org, an international campaign to reduce carbon dioxide emissions to 350 parts per million—the benchmark to cure the climate crisis.

President Jimmy Carter had installed solar panels on the White House in 1979, but they were removed to Unity College in Maine by President Ronald Reagan seven years later.

This road trip, which started on Sept. 7 at Unity College, will deliver one of the solar panels back to its home on 1600 Pennsylvania Ave.

The goal of yesterday’s press conference in Boston was to “focus publication attention for the need to immediate and bold solutions to the climate crisis,” said Craig S. Altemose, who graduated from Harvard Kennedy School and Harvard Law School graduate in 2010 and has been involved with the 350.org campaign. “We have the technology. We just need to get to work and make it happen.”

Yesterday’s stop used the Park Street School in Boston as an example of innovative eco-friendly reform.

The school, founded by John Zvara 10 years ago, underwent a green renovation five years ago, when two thermal solar panels were installed on its rooftop.

The installation process and hardware cost $15,000, according to Zvara, who is now seeking a major grant that would fund the installation of electric solar panels.

“It’s wonderful what the Park Street School is doing,” said Samuel B. Novey ’11, a member of the 350.org initiative. “If an elementary school can do it, why can’t the president?”

The press conference at Park Street was also attended by Mac D’Alessandro, a Massachusetts Democratic candidate for U.S. Congress. D’Alessandro echoed the need for the U.S. government to play a leadership role in this green initiative.

“It’s great to see Park Street School do this, but we need to do this on a larger scale,” D’Alessandro said.

The van is now headed toward New York City before bringing the solar panel back to its home in Washington, D.C. and is set to arrive tomorrow, exactly one month before October 10, 2010—the day of the Global Work Party co-sponsored by 350.org where the world will spend the day working on climate solutions.

“The science says that political reality needs to follow physical reality,” Altemose said. “There’s no ‘ctrl-z’ button for climate.”

—Staff writer Xi Yu can be reached at xyu@college.harvard.edu.

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