Every week seems to bring a new development that underscores the incoherence of the environmental movement, which believes global warming is the world’s most pressing problem yet is often the biggest roadblock to efforts to address the problem by developing cleaner sources of energy.
The latest example: Sen. Dianne Feinstein’s push to protect 1 million acres of the Mojave Desert, which inevitably will kill 13 major solar power and wind power projects planned for the area.
I have been quite critical of the senior Senator from California for favoring protecting deserts over protecting a livable climate for humans (see “Does Sen. Feinstein get global warming, desertification, and California’s looming demise?“).
Newsweek reports the Senator has proposed a “wilderness designation bill intended to rope off more than half a million acres of Southern California land between Joshua Tree National Park and the Mojave National Preserve, restricting the area to both solar developers and off-road vehicles. Such prime desert land shouldn’t be touched, she has argued, and the accentuated effects of global warming will make that territory increasingly valuable to desert wildlife.”
She apparently likes deserts so much that she wants them to stretch from Oklahoma to California and cover one third the planet.
The excerpt that starts this post is from an editorial in the San Diego Union-Tribune, “Green talk vs. green action / Feinstein’s scuttling of solar, wind projects a baffling mistake.” The piece is significant because, as Wikipedia notes, the paper is “reliably conservative.” I lived in the greater San Diego area (La Jolla) for more than two years when I was doing my thesis work at the Scripps Institution of Oceanography, so I can attest to that description. I can also attest to the fact that while the climate of Southern California is unparalleled in the United States, it won’t be by the second half of this century if we don’t dramatically reverse emissions trends.
Deserts are certainly fragile, inhospitable eco-systems “” a key reason that nobody should want them spreading for hundreds of years. Three years ago, Science (subs. req’d) published research that “predicted a permanent drought by 2050 throughout the Southwest” on our current emissions path “” levels of aridity comparable to the 1930s Dust Bowl would stretch from Kansas to California. The Bush Administration itself reaffirmed this conclusion in December (see US Geological Survey stunner: SW faces “permanent drying” by 2050.)
And a major study led by NOAA found that if we don’t act to reverse emissions soon, these global Dust Bowls will be irreversible for a long, long time (see NOAA stunner: Climate change “largely irreversible for 1000 years,” with permanent Dust Bowls in Southwest and around the globe). Certainly, Californian, Nobelist, and Energy Secretary Steven Chu gets this (see Chu: “Wake up,” America, “we’re looking at a scenario where there’s no more agriculture in California”).
I have little doubt that the solar resource can be tapped in a way that can preserve endangered species, but I have no doubt whatsoever that failing to take advantage of the massive solar resource in the California desert “” and in deserts around the country and around the planet “” will wipe out a large fraction of the species on this planet.
So while I am sympathetic to “conservationists,” that extends mostly to those who are trying to conserve what matters most, a livable climate. The solar resource is the only one capable of sustaining the nation’s and world’s population, even if we all become far, far more efficient (see “The Solution“).
The good news is that concentrated solar thermal power (CSP aka solar baseload aka “The technology that will save humanity“) is such an efficient converter of the sun’s energy that we could generate half the country’s power with a 65 mile by 65 mile square grid in the southwest. The “bad” news is that the obvious place to put much of California’s CSP is the Mojave Desert.
Speaking at Yale in 2008, Gov. Schwarzenegger said bluntly: “They say that we want renewable energy, but we don’t want you to put it anywhere. I mean, if we cannot put solar power plants in the Mojave Desert, I don’t know where the hell we can put them.”
As the San Diego Union-Tribune explains:
Feinstein offered some plausible explanations for her stand, starting with the fact that a quarter of the acreage was donated to the federal government with the expectation it would be preserved. She also noted the availability of other areas for the solar and wind projects and introduced a bill with a tax credit meant to encourage solar plants on private land.
Nevertheless, any veneer of reasonableness disappears when one takes into account that California’s utilities face hard deadlines to provide one-third of electricity from renewable sources by 2020. Feinstein has unilaterally complicated efforts to comply with this deadline by scuttling projects with completed development plans and billions of dollars in established financing. She also may have set a disastrous precedent under which individual lawmakers, if the land were in their districts, would have de facto veto power over solar and wind power projects on prime sites among the 1 million square miles of land owned by the federal government.
President George W. Bush in 2005 ordered efforts to make it easier to develop renewable energy projects on this land, an effort supported by his successor, Barack Obama.
Yet the Obama administration also seems more open to letting environmentalists block projects – even as it seeks a federal law mandating much higher use of renewable energy, as California has done. This doesn’t add up.
This president already has had one Nixon-goes-to-China moment on a major public policy issue, telling a key Democratic constituency – teacher unions – that weeding out poor teachers is crucial to improving schools.
Now he needs to have another such moment. Obama should tell environmentalists that they need to reconcile their macro view – we must save the world by shifting to cleaner energy – with their micro record of making this shift much more difficult. It’s time for green action to match green talk.
This certainly holds true for California’s senior senator. Incoherent is not normally an adjective applied to Dianne Feinstein, but in this case, it fits.
Today, the country is not even serious about global warming, and I don’t meet even 2 people in 100 who “get” global warming “” the Hell and High Water that is coming on our current emissions path and the staggering amount of clean energy that must be deployed to avert that. This allows people the “luxury” of balancing seemingly competing interests.
Over the next decade or so, I do think the country and the world will get serious “” and global warming will rise to a truly first-tier issue for most. By 2030, “When the global Ponzi scheme collapses,” though, the country and the world will be desperate “” and global warming mitigation (and “adaptation”) will dwarf all other issues. Then things like Feinstein efforts to fence of prime land for renewables will be a thing of the distant past, and humanity will rightfully start ignoring many if not most other concerns.
- Absolute must read: Australia today offers horrific glimpse of U.S. Southwest, much of planet, post-2040, if we don’t slash emissions soon