Being a democrat in Texas - a historically red state - can sometimes result in tense family gatherings around the holidays.
It's why many of us agree to simply "not talk politics." But this approach is exactly what's gotten us where we are today: a divided nation in which neither side understands the other. If we want to heal this divide, we have to start talking about our conflicting points of view - even if it's uncomfortable.
One way to do this in a respectful, level-headed way (besides having this conversation before the second or third glass of wine) is to bring some facts to family gatherings. Allow the facts - instead of emotional arguments - to speak for themselves.
We still don't know exactly what a Trump administration could mean for clean energy and the solar or wind industries. But the president-elect has promised to roll back the Clean Power Plan - the nation's first-ever limits on carbon pollution - and "bring back coal," both of which could slow our transition to a clean energy economy.
This isn't just unfortunate for the future health of our kids and grandkids; it's flat out not what most people want. Over 80 percent of Americans favor expanding renewable sources like wind and solar to provide electricity. Here are a few reasons why that you can bring to family gatherings this holiday season. If you're going to have a ten-gallon mouth, you may as well fill it with facts.
1. Clean energy is more affordable than ever. The price of solar panels has fallen nearly 80 percent in the last five years, and getting electricity from wind is already cheaper than getting it from coal and gas in many places. Market forces and technology - not government regulation - are increasingly making old, dirty power plants uneconomical.
2. Clean energy creates quality, local jobs. There are now more jobs in solar energy than in coal mining, and the number of solar jobs has grown more than 20 percent in each of the last three years. These are well-paying jobs that can't be shipped overseas. In other words, they're exactly the kind of jobs financially struggling Americans need.
3. Clean energy makes good business sense. Just this month, Walmart pledged to power half its operations with wind, solar, and other renewables by 2025, and Microsoft made its biggest investment in wind energy yet: 237 megawatts to power its energy-intensive data centers. Corporate America is willing to bet the farm on clean energy for good reason. Renewables offer shelter from the price volatility of fossil fuels, saving companies money and giving them a competitive edge in the long run.
4. Clean energy generation is pollution-free. Fossil-fueled power plants accounts for nearly 40 percent of U.S carbon emissions - causing health problems such as asthma attacks, heart attacks, and a staggering number of premature deaths every year. On the other hand, when we use wind and solar to generate electricity, these clean energy resources produce no carbon emissions.
5. Clean energy requires little to no water to produce. Fossil fuels require an excessive amount of water to convert to energy. For example, to produce enough electricity to power 1,000 homes for an hour, coal requires 687 gallons of water and natural gas requires 198 gallons. On the other hand, solar energy only requires 26 gallons and wind requires zero water! With water stress becoming a growing issue across the U.S., conserving this resource is more important than ever.
6. Clean energy is renewable. The great thing about energy from the wind and sun is that it's renewable and infinite. Fossil fuels, on the other hand, were formed from the buried remains of plants and animals that lived millions of years ago - meaning that our wallets (if they haven't already) will one day begin to feel the squeeze from their nonrenewable, dwindling supply. By investing in renewables now, we can help shield ourselves from the volatility of a world dependent on a finite amount of fossil fuels.
7. Clean energy improves our national security. A coalition of twenty-five U.S. military and national security experts this month warned that warming temperatures and rising seas - a direct result of climate change - will increasingly inundate military bases, fuel international conflict, and spur mass migration, leading to "significant and direct risks to U.S. military readiness, operations and strategy." By increasing our use of clean energy technologies, we can improve our military-readiness by reducing carbon emissions - the greatest contributor to climate change.
8. Clean energy is reliable. Power outages related to extreme weather are on the rise, with annual weather-related blackouts nearly doubling from 2003 to 2012. Clean energy solutions like demand response - which pays people to conserve or shift their energy use when the grid is stressed - help prevent blackouts. So does rooftop solar paired with batteries, which allows homes and businesses to "island" from the main grid if it goes down. These and other smart grid policies are making our electricity system more resilient and reliable.
9. Clean energy is bipartisan. There is now more wind and solar energy in republican districts than in democrat districts. Reliable, low-carbon energy and local job creation are a few things that transcend political divides. For this reason, clean energy enjoys bipartisan support in some of the nation's most conservative states, such as Texas, Louisiana, and Tennessee.
10. Clean energy is equitable. A disproportionate number of low-income communities and people of color live within 30 miles of a coal-fired power plant, and nearly 40 percent of communities of color breathe unhealthy, polluted air. This means higher rates of asthma and heart disease, not to mention their associated healthcare costs. Clean energy solutions can help displace dirty power plants and make our energy system more equitable.
When we come together this holiday season, let's share with each other the issues we care about most. For me, I care about the future health of our children, the economic prosperity of our country, and the health of our planet. The good news is, I know many of my friends and family value these things too.