Monday, September 28, 2009

Environmentalists Protest Desert Solar Plant

There's just no pleasing some folks.

Certain environmentalists, whose cause is being championed by Sen. Diane Feinstein (D-California) are seeking to block the construction of a large solar power plant in the Mohave desert because of its potential environmental impact.

"It would destroy the entire Mojave Desert ecosystem," said David Myers, executive director of The Wildlands Conservancy.

It's difficult to think of any means of electrical generation that has less environmental impact than solar, even wind, and the only thing either wind or solar have going against them is that they are outrageously costly, inefficient means of generating small amounts of unreliable electricity; and that there isn't enough land in the United States to fit the solar panels it would take to generate the power that the denizens of California guzzle in any given month.

However, everything bears a cost, and there is simply no way to generate large amounts of electricity without some environmental impact. There is also no way for a population of 39 million people to conduct any other activity pursuant to maintaining their lives without environmental impact, and even were all the denizens of California (and the U.S.) to relinquish modern life in favor of a primitive hunter-gatherer lifestyle, there would be far-reaching environmental consequences. We can easily imagine the desertification of the entire state of CA as its denizens cut down every growing thing more than a foot tall for firewood for cooking and heat.

The exasperated Gov. Schwarzenegger asked "if we can't put a solar plant in the Mojave, where in the hell can we put it?"

The moral of the story is, of course, that that there is no way to eliminate environmental impact except to maybe lie down and die. Will any of the deep ecologists volunteer to do this? Strange how the human-hating Gaia-worshippers who gloatingly contemplate the die-off of 90% of the species as resource depletion collapses us socially and economically will not volunteer their own lives by way of reducing the human impact on the planet.

People like Feinstein and the people at the Wildlands Conservancy have cost the environmental movement whatever credibility it ever had, yet never has human life been so at risk from environmental degradation and its multiple threats to the basic necessities of human life, such as our water and food supply. The only way to overcome the overwhelming hostility of the public to the concerns of the movement is to make concern for the human being the movement's central focus, for that is really what this is all about- to provide a liveable cradle for human life and to assure that our children and their descendents will have the wherewithal to live lives with a tolerable level of comfort and technological amenity. The point is not to avoid all environmental costs, but to manage and minimalize impacts as much as possible and to manage our resources so that we can continue to live comfortably and with basic technological amenity. For that, we need the cleanest and most efficient means of power generation we can devise, not the means we will be stuck with if we foreclose every means of large-scale electrical generation on the grounds that it may someohow, sometime, have some sort of negative impact.


Moonglum said...

There isn't enough land in the United States to fit the solar panels it would take to generate the power that the denizens of California guzzle in any given month.

(Sarcasm:) Oh, now now. You know that it only takes 60,000 square miles of PV solar panels to provide enough energy to power the entire US, at current PV efficiencies.

(Illinois is only 57,000 square miles. And the total cumulative worldwide production of solar panels (12,400 MW in 2007) is only 47 square miles in modern efficiency equivalent PV cells.)

The North Coast said...

Now, Tom, it might only take 60,000 square miles to power the REST of the U.S., if only you could depend on the things for regular output.

But for Homo Californicus, the entire North American continent wouldn't be enough to keep them going. I'm being sarcastic, of course, but we are talking about a very special breed of cattle here. I could run my apartment for a whole year on what a typical CA denizen uses for his lawn sprinkler system and keep his garage air conditioned for a month.

With all their much-touted sensitivity to environmental issues, it's a wonder to me that no one out there has pitched a bitch about the Arnold's plans to build 76 more hydro dams. Where on Earth they will put the things, I can't figure, inasmuch as CA already has 400 hydro dams. I didn't know you could fit that many in the whole country until I did some research and found out that this country has 79,000 dams, over 5000 of which are large and hydro. Scary thought. Anyway, the California NIMBY Corps seems not to be noticing them-guess they figured out that there might be a reason for them in a state with 39 million folks who take their clean water for granted.

consultant said...

I've worked with nonprofits for many, many years and over time, you start to see patterns.

Some nonprofit groups are like cults. I don't mean that in a deeply sinister way, but in behavior and patterns.

As environmental groups started to emerge in the '70s you started to notice leadership tactics and how they organized. Long story short: many of the groups are like churches.

Beyond the science, which surprisingly, many environmental groups don't strongly hew toward, it's like religion. You either believe in what we do, or you don't.

Many of the groups are quite insular and protective of their members. They've developed their own vocabulary and use it to help define who is privileged and who isn't.

There is a split between the hard science types who are mostly housed in government or university programs and those who work in the independent nonprofit sector.

The latter is where you'll find the leaders and acolytes of this and that cause, the pursuit of which sometimes carries them to extreme positions. And like any maturing movement, it has its own factions, bureaucracy,idiocy, inertia and self-interests.

Environmental groups are usually going up against well funded, powerful entities that have opposing views. This accounts, I think, for much of the activist, unyielding behavior of members (sell out might be the worst thing you can be called if your an environmental activist).

I support environmental causes, and I also see your point about nuclear power and where we stand regarding viable options for power in the near future.

Moonglum said...

North Coast: Agree agree. But did you just mistake me for Tom Westgard? Ouch.

The North Coast said...

No, but I remember you be called "Tom" somewhere.

The North Coast said...

Consultant, we are stuck with a lot of difficult choices now, all dictated by population overshoot. There are simply too many of us, and I'm no more ready to accept a sharp die back of our population than anyone else is, nor am I anymore willing to accept a reversion to 19th century lifestyles- which would entail a really sharp die back of the human species.

If we want to survive and retain a reasonable level of comfort and amenity- things like reliable electricity, heat, and decent tap water, we're going to have to make many difficult choices, and we're going to have to pursue every available energy option, emphasizing the ones that offer the most efficient power production while doing whatever is possible to mitigate environmental impacts.

Solar and wind are poor choices because they are so expensive, inefficient, and unreliable, and as the Wildland NIMBYs point out, they are not without impact, the worst one being that they need the support of fossil fuels like coal and gas to be workable- which means, of course, that they don't really work.

But I would like for these people to come up with a reasonable alternative to solar, wind, nuclear, hydro, coal, and gas. Those are our choices. As for conservation, we will all be forced to conserve whether we want to or not, as the supplies of fossil fuels that make it all possible dwindle.

The core problem is our burgeoning population,which renders all attempts at innovation, mitigation, and conservation pretty moot. We can see that even if we each reduced ourselves to the lifestyle similar to that lived in 3rd world favelas, that there wouldn't be enough fuel, food, or water to go around. I was twaddling about online one night, at one of the many sites that offer a little quiz where you imput the particulars of your lifestyle. I imput mine: no car, no plane travel, two long distance rail trips a year, daily two-mile trips on trains and buses, use less than $25 a month in electricity, no Central air,gas boiler heat, 800 sq ft apartment, buy many used goods. Guess what- it would take 3.7 Earths to support everyone in my lifestyle. This is because we have three times as many people as we can support.

Now, many people advocate government force to enforce a one-child-per family reproduction cap. I don't, for this would be a violation of our most fundamental rights. More, though, it was governmental force and incentives that overpopulated the world to begin with. Most governments have for centuries walked and worked with repressive patriarchal religion to force people to reproduce well beyond their ability to care for their children, which is why the majority of the populations of most societies in history have been poor and brutalized.

Rather, I believe that societal changes start with a change of the underlying ethic, with PHILOSOPHY, which cannot be forced on people but only taught. Witness the changes, some for the better, and some for the worse, in our own society due to the widespread adaption of new ideas. The promotion of an ethic of prudence, moderation, and conservation in all things- reproduction, consumption, and finance, will do more to mitigate the effects of the contraction of our resource supply and our impact on the environment than government mandates.

consultant said...

Your population point is right on.

I thought I was the only one who went a little nuts when we skipped past 300 million people without blinking an eye.

Native born Americans have reduced their family size. The unprecedented increase in immigration is where most of our population increase has occurred. For that and other reasons (stop slave labor, etc.), I support reducing illegal and legal immigration to this country.

This is not about racism or nativeness, it's about survival.

By the way, most of our business leaders have shown they don't give a damn about over population, except to exploit it.

The North Coast said...

I completely agree with you on the matter of reducing immigration, and so do most of the legal immigrants in this country who had to jump through many hoops to become citizens.

Race is not the issue here. We are full up, that's all. And 300 million seems to be the "tipping point" past which the problems of environmental degradation and resource depletion resulting from over population become uncontrollable.

And it's not just fossil fuels. It's the water, the metals, the fertile land, the air quality. For example, the overcrowding of the arid southwest is making the water problems there,and the environmental degradation from prolonged drought, much worse as the area leaves an anamolously wet period in history and again enters the drought that is the usual state for the area. Now, thanks to the efforts of the Bureau of Reclamation in conjunction with the Federal government's ability to tax and misallocate the wealth of the population, we have managed to lure a massive proportion of our population to places like Arizona, Nevada, California, New Mexico, and other arid places and build massive cities that simply WILL NOT MAKE IT as liquid fuels deplete and water becomes more critical. We will not be able to continue to maintain the massive Colorado River plumbing system with its chain of large hydro dams, nor the hundreds of dams and water diversion structures in CA. Without imported water, places like Phoenix and Las Vegas are over- these places couldn't sustain more than 50,000 people max without this stuff. We will barely be able to maintain enough of it to sustain indispensable California agriculture, which produces the largest variety of agricultural products of any state.

Many farmers are now worried about the depletion of phosphorus, which is essential to agriculture. Worse, our population is dependent upon the huge yields made possible only by fossil-fuel based fertilizers for cheap food.

And we're stuck with the population situation. Worse, many of our people were raised in cultures and religious traditions that make them pretty refractory to birth control, so we have a lot of work to do changing their mentality.