Schwarzenegger: “Asking whether large solar power plants are appropriate in the Mojave desert is like wondering whether subways makes sense in NY City.”

The headline is from the opening line of an article by former California governor Arnold Schwarzenegger in the Atlantic.  He is talking about Concentrated solar thermal power Solar Baseload “” a core climate solution.

In this piece, he “lays out the case for putting large solar farms in the Mojave desert as part of a serious energy policy based on improving public health, boosting the economy, and avoiding the risks of the fossil economy.” Here’s more:

During my seven years as California’s governor, we led the nation in protecting the environment at the same time that we were protecting and growing our economy. This was not just talk. We won a legal battle with the federal government that will make cars more fuel efficient in California and the rest of the nation. We enacted laws to reduce greenhouse gas emissions.

We established the 25 million-acre Sierra Nevada Conservancy and preserved hundreds of thousands of additional acres up and down our state. But as I said three years ago in a speech at Yale University, if we can’t put solar power plants in the Mojave Desert, I don’t know where we can put them. In other words, we need to worry less about a few dozen desert tortoises and more about the economic prosperity, security and health of our nation.

President Obama has correctly identified national goals for clean electricity and reduced dependence on foreign oil. Now we need the laws and policies to make them happen.

What we must have — finally — is a long-term, comprehensive energy policy that gets America off fossil fuels and makes us energy independent. A policy we stick with regardless of fluctuations in the price of oil or whatever type of energy is in favor at the moment.

But first we have to change the way we talk about and frame the issue.

For too long we have been fighting about greenhouse gases and global warming, about whether the oceans are rising and whether the science can be trusted. All that’s gotten us is stuck and polarized. Let’s face it, if we haven’t convinced the skeptics by now, we aren’t going to.

Very disappointing to see Arnold keep saying this (last paragraph).  Maybe he doesn’t know we tried the don’t-talk-about-it approach for the last 2 years (see Can you solve global warming without talking about global warming?)  I can’t imagine he’d say the same thing about cigarette smoking and cancer.  If you don’t talk about the problem, you won’t embrace the necessary solutions in time.

Is he suggesting that we never talk about the problem?  The goal isn’t to convince the skeptics — it is to inform the public as to what they face.  Again, very disappointing.

So it is time to move past areas Democrats and Republicans disagree on and focus on issues they see eye to eye on. Issues like economic prosperity, national security and the health and welfare of our people.

For most Americans, the biggest problem facing our nation right now is the economy and jobs. People are worried about the future. About whether their children will live in a nation that falls behind China and other rapidly growing economies.

From my experience in California, it is absolutely clear that a green economy is the way to keep Americans competitive abroad while providing economic growth and jobs at home.

Green jobs are the largest source of employment growth in California, with green tech jobs growing 10 times faster than other sectors over the last five years.

In California, we are building the world’s biggest solar plants, the biggest wind farm. That will boost our economy with green jobs and it will protect our environment with clean energy. Democrats and Republicans can all support that kind of progress.

More than a third of the world’s clean-tech venture capital flows into our state because investors know California is committed to a clean-energy future. Nations like China and Brazil are just two of the countries making big commitments to green tech. It’s time America got into the game.

National security is another area where there is common ground. Democrats and Republicans agree our safety should not be compromised by oil. Turmoil in the Middle East saw a spike in oil prices. When Americans pay more at the pump, that’s a tax — weakening our economy and making our entire nation more vulnerable.

Most Americans agree it’s not smart for us to send billions of dollars to hostile nations when we know some of that money winds up with terrorists plotting to attack us.

When President Eisenhower warned about too much dependence on foreign oil more than 50 years ago, our petroleum imports were at 20 percent. Every president since has voiced similar warnings, yet imports now account for more than 60 percent of our oil.

All because America has never had an energy policy or a clear vision of its energy future.

We need a firm policy that spells out our commitment to renewable energy and how to get there. We need policies like those in California that have made our state 40 percent more energy efficient than the rest of the nation. We need a strong policy to reduce our dependence on fossil fuels, like California’s low carbon fuel standard and our law to limit greenhouse gas emissions.

In my last year of office alone, the state of California approved applications for nearly 6,000 megawatts of solar power, the equivalent of six new coal plants. Construction began on the world’s largest wind energy plant. Those projects produce thousands of jobs, hundreds of millions of dollars in new investment and renewable energy we don’t have to import from hostile oil regimes or burn coal for. Democrats and Republicans can embrace results like that.

Public health is another part of the energy picture where there is common ground. You don’t hear much about it in Washington, but we highlighted the issue last fall when we put together a bipartisan coalition to defeat the big oil companies trying to weaken our environmental laws. Uniting environmentalists, venture capitalists, health groups, big and small businesses, unions, farmers, Democrats and Republicans, our campaign won by 22 points.

We have about 100,000 premature deaths in the U.S. each year from petroleum-related air pollution and 6.5 million annual hospital visits by people with respiratory illnesses caused by the same thing.

These deaths are far greater in number than the combined deaths from car accidents, drunk drivers, gang wars, suicides or the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. We need to talk about this when we are debating where to put clean energy plants and the transmission lines needed to move that energy to our cities, homes and businesses.

I know we must be vigilant when it comes to protecting our environment. But I also look forward to the day when our solar and wind plants in the Mojave and elsewhere are up and running, providing clean, renewable energy to a safer, stronger and more prosperous America.

19 Responses to Schwarzenegger: “Asking whether large solar power plants are appropriate in the Mojave desert is like wondering whether subways makes sense in NY City.”

  1. Prokaryotes says:

    And the MSM is reporting today that he is now a comic superhero …

  2. Mimikatz says:

    Considering Arnold famously had a tent in which he smoked cigars with legislators, who knows what he thinks about cancer and smoking.

    But he does make sense here. How else can one talk to GOP deniers and the public generally except from points where there is common ground, like jobs, national security and public health? He is not perfect, but is trying to be a bridge to the right. And he himself does clearly accept the science.

  3. Obama should give him some position in the Federal government, where he can help promote clean energy and provide some balance to the Republican deniers.

  4. Michael Tucker says:


    Just talk about it Arnold. You do not have to reframe the issue. The world is heating up. The oceans are becoming more acidic. Climate is changing and sea life is suffering now! Just f#%king talk about it!

    For God sakes please do not run from the issue. Are you planning to run for another public office? No? Then don’t worry about the ideological deniers! They are propagandists and you should not let their agenda frame your agenda. Please do not turn your back on your well deserved reputation of speaking the truth!

  5. Prokaryotes says:

    A 2008 lecture about methane feedbacks.

    Methane Hydrates: Natural Hazard or Natural Resource?

  6. malcreado says:

    He is just framing it in a way that conservatives can embrace and get traction on. He is a Republican keep in mind.
    Like it or not many conservatives shut down at the first mention of AGW and the environment. If you talk about the economic benefits and China kicking our butt. Then you can get them onboard with fixing some of the issues.

  7. Francis says:

    Please remember that there’s a big tub of (absolutely filthy) water in south eastern California called the Salton Sea.

  8. Jay Alt says:

    One of the Mojave solar thermal projects (w/ stirling engines) was recently sold to a firm that does large scale solar pv. There is speculation that the sharp drop in panel prices may induce them to build the project as PV rather than solar thermal.

  9. Robert In New Orleans says:

    How about a new movie: Conan the Carbon Terminator! ;)

    Actual dialog from the movie:

    Conan: Crom, the CO2 is dulling my sword and making my horse wheeze!

    Crom: Conan, you must learn the riddle of green energy technology.

  10. Merrelyn Emery says:

    Surely it’s more important to get some action and reduction in emissions than utter a couple of words? When people are happily living in their clean energy homes and and driving their clean cars, you can explain to them that they have been saved from the worst of a horrible future.

    People respond very differently to positive and negative expectations. They will respond more positively to the picture of a bright, clean future than a highly probable disaster, particularly when they are already jittery from the economic situation. Look how the USA responded to the Y2K scare, ME

  11. Michael Tucker says:

    “I also look forward to the day when our solar and wind plants in the Mojave and elsewhere are up and running, providing clean, renewable energy to a safer, stronger and more prosperous America.”

    But electricity generated in the Mojave will not be available to America. Only to the local grid it is connected to. If the east coast wants solar they have to build their own.

    I wonder how long it will take to construct a grid that would allow electricity from the Mojave to be sent to say Georgia? 10 years? I wonder when we might get around to doing that? In another 5 to 10 years?

    I do not believe that Mojave solar has any chance of benefitting anyone else in the nation for a very long time. All the new construction of wind and solar in California is for California (and a few close neighbors who share our local grid) BECAUSE of California’s new policies.

    As Arnold said:
    “We need a firm policy that spells out our commitment to renewable energy and how to get there [And how to transmit it to the rest of the country]. We need policies like those in California that have made our state 40 percent more energy efficient than the rest of the nation. We need a strong policy to reduce our dependence on fossil fuels, like California’s low carbon fuel standard and our law to limit greenhouse gas emissions.”

  12. Joy Hughes says:

    If projects are switched to PV, we need to consider the cost of buffering the variability. This decreases as the plants are spread around a wider area. See John Farrell’s report “Solving Solar’s Variability with More Solar.” There is an optimal size, since most economies of scale are realized at 200 kilowatts.

    As batteries and PV get cheaper, faster than CSP, we can expect the break even point for battery storage vs. molten salt to rise – right now that’s about four hours.

    “In other words, we need to worry less about a few dozen desert tortoises and more about the economic prosperity, security and health of our nation.” – Schwarzenegger

    “I mean, if you’ve looked at a hundred thousand acres or so of trees, you know, a tree is a tree, how many more do you need to look at?” – Reagan

    It’s going to take a LOT of solar to solve the climate crisis – tens of thousands of square miles in the U.S. We have rooftops, we have parking lots, we have demand management and out-of-stream (or underground) pumped hydro storage. I just spoke with EPA yesterday – we have over 15 million acres of brownfield sites, which solar can improve by diverting water rainfall. We do NOT need to take over new land.

    Habitat loss is the main cause of extinctions- putting a price on Carbon without considering any other impact will lead to tragedies like rainforests cut down for biofuels, deserts converted to big solar, and various social and cultural impacts.

    Big solar companies are often big oil companies – and the plans they make have the impact of dividing the green movement and further delaying unified action. And still the rooftops sit empty.

  13. paulm says:

    Is he the only R- that has any brains?

    How can, basically, the entire GOP not get Global Warming?

    It is just a bizarre set of circumstances.

  14. John Mashey says:

    re: #13
    George Shultz was a leader in the fight against {Koch, Tesoro, Valero}-funded CA Prop 23. He is clearly a conservative of the old style, of which not many are seen these days.

    Sherwood Boehlert (R-NY, retired, sadly was a great defender of science, as for example in the Barton/Whitfield attempt to harass climate scientists, attack the hockey stick.

  15. swv says:

    This is exactly the attitude needed to get onto a solution Joe. Why are you criticizing him?

    [JR: I reposted his whole piece! But I disagree with a couple of sentences. He is wrong.]

    Look, you have to grasp the concept of not cornering your enemy. Republicans and conservatives who are on the record as deniers or have already made up their minds privately are not going to change or admit they were wrong in the time frame nature has allotted us to act.

    For that reason, to get buy in from them, we need a policy that they can sign on to that saves face for them. This is extremely important to a lot of humanity, even more important than living.

    What you’re accidentally positing is a theory of human psychology that makes statements regarding what is required for people to take action on this issue.

    With all due respect, and there’s a a lot that’s due, you don’t know your folk theory of what motivates people is accurate.

    [JR: Actually, I do. I spent a lot of time looking at polling and messaging studies — and talking to leading experts in those areas. More than Arnold does.]

    It’s an egghead’s (sorry! I am most definitely such an egghead myself) position to take that we all have to have a rational and conscious understanding of the problem before we can be counted on to act appropriately.

    As a counter to that argument, consider that the same irrational people who are deniers will be convinced of the seriousness of global warming when it gets hotter and hotter much longer where they live than they remember. Nature will, in the end, convince them without the aid of “scientific evidence”. But by then it may be too late.

    The future buy in by deniers, and therefore the enduring efforts by society to turn back global warming, is assured. We don’t have to worry that society will just give up once we start.

    What we need is to start. Now. Yesterday.

    We can’t sit on our hands while we try to convince people to lose face or stature within their affinity group. I am not arguing we should not persist in telling the truth about what’s happening; I want the government to amplify their efforts in a completely uncompromising way. We (non-deniers) are all eye-to-eye on this.

    But we need to act now. That is what Arnold is saying. The way to act now is to find agreement where you can and herd them into action through face saving statements. That’s what a good politician does.

    Arnold is a surprisingly good politician on this matter. Maybe being in government made him aware of political realities that people who stay outside government never grasp. Who knows? Point is, Arnold gets politics and you’re coming up short on this one, with all due respect.

    The universal agreement that nature is going to force upon us presently is going to come too late. We need to act now. A face saving re-framing of the problem is just what we need. Give it to them and let’s get going.

    [JR: What you apparently don’t realize since you don’t read this blog — nor does Arnold — is that we TRIED this reframing over the past two years. It failed, broadly speaking. More on that Sunday.]

  16. swv says:

    @charles Siegal re: Arnold in Obama admin- good idea! damn good idea!

  17. swv says:

    I appreciate everything you do here. I don’t read the blog everyday, but you’re a go-to resource for me in online discussions and I am continually pointing people to your blog and articles. I respect your opinion on this issue and acknowledge your earned authority on climate change generally.

    Point taken- you did post his whole piece.

    If you will share what you learned by looking at the polling and messaging studies you mention of course that has some pedagogical power.

    I will hold my comments until your post on Sunday. If you can show me the truth of the “we tried and failed” statement, then I’ll retract my criticism.

    I have to wonder in your last sentence how you define fail except the the obvious, ultimate sense of “we’ve failed to get the US to take action.”

    Even if there’s polling that says “while we were re-framing the argument, we lost ground” you know and I know that that’s not a definitive study in any sense of the word because of course in that time, the opposition had their own PR campaign. The enemy gets a vote. But let’s see how the studies or polls were constructed before we (I) form a judgment.

    I encourage you -of course- to take the path you believe from your experience, knowledge and intuition to be the correct one. My mind is not closed to anything.

    Honestly, I think we have access to very little certainty with respect to what changes individual minds. It seems likely the answer to that looks like “some people respond to positive messages, but some people respond to terrifying pictures of the future.”
    Something like this.

    Maybe a two pronged approach is best. Certainly I’m not adverse to painting horrifying but scientifically realistic pictures of the societal consequences of climate change.

    I’ll look forward to your Sunday post.

    Thank you for dedicating your life to this.

  18. ToddInNorway says:

    Hi Joy@12, a leading researcher on solar PV, Ken Zweibel (George Washington Solar Institute), estimates that it will take about 26 thousand square miles of current-technology PV to meet all current needs of electricity for the USA. This is a very conservative estimate if you want to check the assumptions, go to

    The whole of USA needs a square of PV panels, configured in a realistic way, of 160 miles on a side to meet all its current electricity needs. IMO space is not a limiting factor.

  19. ToddInNorway says:

    Hi Joy@12, Ken Zweibel of the George Washington Solar Institute estimates that all of the USA electricity needs can be met with PV panels configured in a realistic way (with working space around them, minimum of shadows) on a square of 160 miles on a side (about 26 thousand square miles in area). Check their web site for more details on the assumptions made. IMO the assumptions are very conservative. This is a very doable project.