Monthly Archives: May 2010

Soullessness

Doctor Science kindly reposted one of my articles over at Daily Kos, and there are more sympathetic and interested commenters there than I would have guessed, or hoped. It seems the campaign to inspire people to preserve desert wildlands has made some headway in the last couple of years.

And yet there are still the expected people who insist on holding to the notion that deserts are worthless by definition:

Deserts are called deserts for a reason -their ecosystems are marginal.

Or even better:

Last summer, I drove across the country[.]

After I got west of the Mississippi River, I found myself for much of the time driving through wasteland. An occasional ranch here and there, but not much else for miles and miles and miles and miles.

The land didn’t appear to be “usable” for anything -not even recreation. It was, frankly, quite ugly.

… There’s a whole lotta empty out there. Until you drive it, you don’t have an appreciation for just how much land is unused and unusable.

That last, of course, brought to mind Ed Abbey’s fabled quote from Desert Solitaire:

In the first place you can’t see anything from a car; you’ve got to get out of the goddamned contraption and walk, better yet crawl, on hands and knees, over the sandstone and through the thornbush and cactus. When traces of blood begin to mark your trail you’ll see something, maybe.

… as well as a line from Terry Tempest Williams’ Red: Passion and Patience in the Desert, that I had coincidentally found and posted as a Facebook status update just yesterday:

These wildlands are alive. When one of us says, ‘Look, there’s nothing out there,’ what we are really saying is ‘I cannot see.’

But really, I think the most appropriate response — if I’m to sling quotes rather than write my own words — is this passage of Williams’ from a few pages later in Red. The words — as well as the epigram above — come originally from testimony Williams gave to Congress on a bill affecting wilderness in Southern Utah.

Mr. Chairman, if you know wilderness in the way you know love, you would be unwilling to let it go. We are talking about the body of the beloved, not real estate. We must ask ourselves as Americans, “Can we really survive the worship of our own destructiveness?” We do not exist in isolation. Our sense of community and compassionate intelligence must be extended to all life-forms, plants, animals, rocks, rivers, and human beings. This is the story of our past and it will be the story of our future.

Senate Bill 884 falls desperately short of these ideals.

Who can say how much nature can be destroyed without consequence? Who can say how much land can be used for extractive purposes until it is rendered barren forever? And who can say what the human spirit will be crying out for one hundred years from now? Two hundred years from now?

We fool ourselves if we can gauge the worth of a piece of land by driving past it — or by discussing it via internet from the comfort of our desk chairs. We fool ourselves if we think our welfare is not irrevocably tied to that of the tortoise, the bighorn, the Mojave milkweed.

But beyond that, even if we could live without the desert wildernesses we’d so blithely pave to generate the power to run our blowdryers, there are those of us who would fight the destruction of that desert. It is the body of our beloved. You could live without your sweetheart, your mother, your sons and daughters. The world would go on were they to be tortured, held captive or enslaved. But would you? Would you engage in cost-benefit calculations over the commercial value of your loved ones’ skin and sinew, tell yourself that there were plenty of people left in the world to love?

A very generous review

Elizabeth Eslami has written an extraordinarily generous review of Walking With Zeke.

Just the one line about Ed Abbey, Rick Bass and Barry Lopez will I think keep me grinning for the next week or so:

He’s a less prickly Ed Abbey, a tougher Rick Bass, a Barry Lopez with humor.

I am also a Mary Austin with back hair, but Liz wisely left that part out.

The only problem is, I’m currently reading Liz’s Bone Worship and now any review I write, which will necessarily be raving because I’m enjoying it so much, may seem to the more cynical like it’s some sort of quid pro quo. Oh, well, fuck ‘em if they can’t handle sincere admiration.

Systems Analysis (a sonnet)

There is no natural taxonomy
that is internally consistent, no
consistent organizing scheme that fits
the world that is. All of your clever rules,
all of the frameworks on which you hang
your understanding of this fractal world
fall short, and do so unpredictably.
Set down a rule and life will counter it.
Some snakes have legs. Mushrooms are animals.
Heat makes the desert cold. As soon as you
pin down a thing, it moves, resists the box
you’ve placed it in, and all your bright theories
regarding the inevitable shape
of this bright universe break into shards.

Coyote Crossing cross news

Looks like someone didn’t get the memo about the Mojave Cross being a non-sectarian, secular, Supreme-Court-says-it’s-constitutional-cause-it’s-not-religious war memorial:

Why all the fuss over a war memorial cross?

Why would those who choose not to believe in Jesus Christ, the Bible, the Gospel of Christ, and the message of the Cross be so hostile towards those who do believe?

Why does the existence of a cross at a war memorial, which had been there for 75? years, bother them so much that they have to fight tooth and nail to get it down?

The Bible tells us why:

1Cr 1:18 For the message of the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God.

When a person wants to reject the power of God, it is only fitting for them, in their unrepentant mindset, to also reject the message of the cross. Those who think that the cross of Christ is ‘foolishness’ still must have the agonizing feeling within their hearts, minds, and souls that they are perishing -both physically and spiritually. It is as though they have a void in their lives that can’t be filled in any other way. It is the vacuum of the soul that can only be filled through the Gospel message of salvation through Jesus Christ.

I just did a routine autodiagnostic, checking my heart, mind and soul for agonizing feelings, voids and vacuums. I got a “not found” error for my soul that I’ll have to explore further, but the only thing I found was a certain exasperation at the fact that some goddamn Jesus-humping yahoos drilled yet another set of holes into Sunrise Rock in order to put up an illegal replacement cross. 

The stigmata-related irony does provoke a reluctant smirk from me, I have to admit. Still, it’s pretty much what I’d feared: the Christians are set to avenge this imagined slight to their imagined god, and a place I love pays the price for their deluded anger.

Coyote Crossing admin news

1) I’ve snagged a new domain for use in short URL type twittery things. It’s http://coyot.es. I like it a lot. In fact, I like it so much I might at some point in coming weeks decide to phase out faultline.org as the offishul URL of this blog and keep it as a backdoor kind of thing so that legacy links to my older, important and intelligent social commentary and opinion still work. Also, Ron’s blog would look weird at http://toad.coyot.es. Still, faultline.org is a bit of a holdover from a project a decade ago, and while it’s euphonious it isn’t all that relevant to what I’m doing now.

I wonder if euphonio.us is available.

B) Did you know Coyote Crossing has a discussion forum? Coyote Crossing has a discussion forum. No one’s used it for a couple years since I turned comments on on the blog — I don’t remember why I had them off in the first place — but it’s still there. I just stuck my head in there and the coffee’s still warm and there are no cobwebs. One Spyder, but no cobwebs. Anyway, it’s paid for, so if you have an idea or a question or some other thing that doesn’t quite fit in the comment threads here, have at it. I’ll get a notification when you post, and at the very least I’ll talk to you.

Desert Solar FAQ

The more I dig into desert solar power issues, the more I get asked certain kinds of questions. I figured it was time to try to answer a few of them here so that I could just point people at a page to save time.

I’ll add more supporting links over the next days, as well as potential additional Questions, but I wanted to get this out.

Aren’t you just a bunch of NIMBYs?

Many of us who oppose giant, remote industrial solar development are advocating, as an alternative, distributed generation from many sources including rooftop photovoltaic (PV) panels on businesses and homes. That pretty much makes us the exact opposite of NIMBYs. We want the stuff in our backyards.

Are you saying climate change isn’t a problem?

There are a couple of people working against desert solar who have been swayed by the overwhelming climate change denialism campaign. Most of the people I’ve met in the cause, though, are worried about climate change. In fact, as an environmental journalist since 1989 or so, I’ve been studying and getting the word out about climate change since before most people heard of it. Chances are I’m scareder of it than you are. It’s much of the reason I don’t have kids.

It’s just that destroying the planet’s habitats in order to save them makes little sense. Besides, the current mass extinction, set in motion primarily by loss of habitat, arguably dwarfs climate change as an issue (though they’re certainly interrelated). Why make one problem worse to try to lessen the other? Lastly, the thing about these big industrial desert projects is that they probably won’t do all that much to slow down the rate at which the climate changes.

Isn’t it all renewable energy?

No. Here’s a long but hopefully fascinating article that explains why not.

What do you mean when you say the big projects won’t help climate change much?

They may help, but they’re definitely being oversold and the issues oversimplified.

First off, solar plants are routinely described as having projected output many times higher than the likely actual figure. Take for example the Ivanpah Solar Energy Generating System, billed as a 392 megawatt (MW) generating plant. That figure is accurate, in a sense: the plant probably will generate 392 megawatts of power around noon on a cloudless day in mid-summer, when the sun is as close to directly overhead as possible. When the sunshine striking the plant is less energetic, for instance during winter, on cloudy days, during night, early morning and late afternoon hours, the plant’s output will be significantly less. During high winds, which happen frequently in the Ivanpah Valley, the mirrors will need to be secured, rendering the plant inoperative. The plant will likely need frequent maintenance, which reduces output during times when the plant’s offline. Utility experts refer to this kind of adjustment as a plant’s capacity factor. Coal and nuke plants commonly have capacity factors in the 60-90% range: they can run non-stop near peak output for weeks on end. Solar plants’ capacity factor run closer to about 25-30% at best.

Incidentally, for this very reason the figures you sometimes see in news articles referring to solar plants’ output with the phrase “enough to supply 400,000 homes” are almost always misleading if not completely incorrect. To determine how much generating capacity you need to power a certain number of homes the important unit isn’t megawatts, but megawatt-hours. A 100 MW solar plant with a capacity factor of 30% will produce only a third the megawatt-hours output by a 100 MW coal plant with a 90% capacity factor. To make it even more confusing, most homes don’t only use electricity when the sun shines. To say a large solar plant powers a certain number of homes is to use meaningless statistics. (Conversely, since rooftop PV systems are often used in conjunction with batteries to store energy, you can say each rooftop produces enough electricity to power a home.)

Secondly, building of remote solar and wind and other industrial “renewable” projects involves a large “greenhouse cost” that must then be amortized over the productive life of the project to get a true accounting of the project’s actual benefit to the climate. Construction involves intense energy use and greenhouse gas release, in everything from concrete to steel and other metals to the power needed for construction tools and equipment to transportation of materials and labor. With the distances encountered out in the desert, that transportation adds up.  One significant addition to the greenhouse burden of these projects is sulfur hexafluoride (SF6), used widely in high-energy electrical engineering projects as an insulating fluid. SF6 is the most hazardous greenhouse gas the IPCC has studied. It’s 23,900 times as powerful a greenhouse gas as carbon dioxide: one pound of SF6 is the greenhouse equivalent of just under 12 tons of CO2. A typical modern circuit breaker used in power plants will hold a bit under 100 pounds of SF6. The bulk of SF6 releases happen during construction and repair of facilities.

Water is a huge factor. Though an increasing number of solar projects are “air cooled,” mirrors and industrial PV panels need to be cleaned regularly. That means water use. A huge amount of energy goes to moving water uphill in the arid West, and the specifics of some projects make the energy use even greater. The Calico project includes drilling for water in Cadiz, 40 miles away, and then shipping it to the site by rail. At Ivanpah, last I checked, they planned to use diesel trucks rumbling through the facility every so often to spray the water. If water use is curtailed, dust coats the mirrors and PV and cuts the output of the plant.

There’s the habitat displaced to consider. Some studies indicate that desert habitat may sequester 100 grams of CO2 per square meter per year, a figure about half that of a typical lush southern pine forest. Other reputable desert scientists think that figure is too high. Whatever the actual figure is, it’s clear that cryptobiotic crusts and other desert photosynthesizers do take carbon out of the atmosphere after which it could conceivably be dissolved by rain and stored as stable subsoil carbonates, removing it from the atmosphere. If you scrape the photosynthesizers away, you lose that ecological service.

Lastly, there’s the issue of transmission losses. When you transmit electricity over long distances you lose some of it: it takes energy to move the electricity. This is a function of the electrical resistance of the conductor. Unfortunately for the desert projects, this resistance increases dramatically when the temperature increases. Electrical engineer Bill Powers estimates that about 10% of the generating capacity of desert industrial energy facilities will be lost in transmission. (With distributed generation such as rooftop PV, transmission losses are minimized.)

Developers of the defeated Green Path North transmission line once admitted publicly that after taking into account the greenhouse burden of construction, maintenance, and habitat displacement, the project would never amortize out to be a benefit to the climate no matter how much carbon-free electricity it might carry over the years. Many proposed solar projects are likely saddled with the same inevitable burden.

All that may be true, but we still desperately need to replace coal-fired power plants, correct?

Yes. But because of its limited capacity factor, desert solar doesn’t replace coal. Desert solar provides what the utilities call “peaking power,” power that comes around when we need it most: when it’s hot and sunny and people are at work and using gigantic air conditioning units. Coal provides baseline power, which is the 24-7 stuff. What desert solar actually replaces is natural gas fired plants, which are generally used to provide peaking power because they’re relatively easy to start up and shut down according to demand. Rooftop PV can replace coal, or at least displace some of it, due to the possibility of battery storage.

You keep mentioning rooftop PV as a feasible alternative to industrial scale generating plants. Isn’t that a bit naive? The things are unreliable, inefficient, expensive, etc. Besides, the desert has more sun than I do in my town.

The difference in sun intensity in the desert and urban areas, at least those along the California coast (which is where most of the desert electricity would be consumed), is small enough that avoided transmission losses make up for it. In desert cities such as Las Vegas, Phoenix, and Palm Springs, of course, the insolation is the same as in the desert next door.

Costs of rooftop PV have come way down, and efficiency continues to climb — though what’s really important is the power output per dollar of investment, which drops as the price does. If rooftop PV wasn’t feasible or cost-effective, it’s unlikely that investor-owned utilities would make major investments in it. But some are.

In California, the two main obstacles to greater PV installation are legal, not technical. One is an artificial market structure that restricts the amount of power a homeowner or other small producer can sell to the grid operator. If every net kilowatt hour provided was bought at fair market rates, which admittedly sometimes might be zero, investment in PV would pay off a lot quicker. The other is the fact that rooftop solar generally doesn’t count toward the percentage of California’s electricity that state law requires come from renewables. Instead, they’re counted as “demand reduction.” If the Renewable Portfolio Standard regs were changed to include rooftop PV, utilities would have incentive to follow SCE’s lead in installing 20MW and larger projects on rooftops, over parking lots, on brownfields and incorporated into the design of new commercial buildings.

Even with those obstacles to PV and the absurd incentives for solar thermal or remote industrial PV, California –  according to Bill Powers –  is installing distributed solar PV generating capacity at a rate that rivals the installation of Big Renewables projects. 220 MW of distributed PV was installed in California in 2009, compared to 229 MW of the other stuff. There’s a very good reason for this: power from distributed PV is cheaper. According to an April 2010 draft report from California’s Renewable Energy Transmission Initiative (RETI), electricity from dry-cooled solar thermal is likely to cost about $30 per megawatt-hour. Distributed PV runs about $17-25 per megawatt hour. And it’s getting cheaper as the market for PV panels grows, production goes up, and unit costs come down.

The distributed PV doesn’t stop putting out juice all at once when a tiny cloud drifts past a city, so it’s more reliable than concentrating solar too.

This is all well and good, but all of us are going to have to make compromises to survive climate change. We may have to sacrifice some of your desert habitat to survive. The desert tortoise might have to take one for the team.

We all have to sacrifice? What sacrifices have you made? And did anyone notify the tortoise it was on a “team”?

Emergency Walking With Zeke sale to benefit Berkeley Humane Society

Last night a terrible thing happened at the Berkeley-East Bay Humane Society:

Breaking News:  In the early morning of May 20, a major fire destroyed a large section of our shelter.  We lost our entire cat sheltering area as well as laundry facilities and offices.  We are currently without water, electricity and phone service.

We lost 15 of our beautiful cats that were ready for adoption but all the dogs survived and are being cared for in our kennels and at a veterinary emergency service.

The Berkeley Humane needs donations of money, volunteer time, and temporary homes for displaced pups and kitties. You can check out the details at their website.

Berkeley Humane is where my dear ex-and I found Zeke. I’m a few hundred miles away and broke, but I can do this: from right now until the end of June, I’ll give one hundred percent of the proceeds from sales of my book Walking With Zeke to the Berkeley Humane Society. If it wasn’t for Berkeley Humane, I never would have met the best friend I’ve ever had.

Donate directly to the shelter if you can, of course: more of your money will get there that way. But for those of you who were planning to order a copy of Walking With Zeke, do it now and Berkeley Humane will get the proceeds.

Selling out desert wildlands

One more group says “We care about these intact desert wildlands, but not those over there.” Embedded here is The Wildlands Conservancy’s testimony, delivered this morning, on the California Desert Protection Act of 2010. The Wildland Conservancy’s goal has been to protect a certain subset of desert lands — the so-called Catellus lands — from development and destruction, and they have done a good job of that. Do they need to offer up other lands that are just as intact, just as important habitat, in order to achieve that goal?

The Wildlands Conservancy testimony on the California Desert Protection Act of 2010

A Call for a Standard: Zero Net Loss of Desert Wildlands

This is a nice little video in support of the California Desert Protection Act of 2010. Watch it. I have a question I’ll ask afterward.

Who Needs a Desert? Solar Power in the Mojave from Peter Rhalter on Vimeo.

It’s a nifty little debunking of the notion that Feinstein’s bill blocks solar power development in the Mojave Desert. In fact, there are significant parts of Feinstein’s bill that accelerate solar development in the desert; just not on lands protected by the bill. But did you see what the filmmaker did immediately after showing the map of land affected by solar development and/or the CDPA?

The narrator says that there’s plenty of land still available in the Mojave for solar development even if CDPA passes. The landscape shown is a plain full of healthy creosote forest. The filmmakers could have shown an abandoned alfalfa farm, a decommissioned military base with building pads and runways, or a whole lot of warehouse roof space in Barstow, but they showed undisturbed creosote that could easily have been habitat for tortoises or fringe-toed lizards or Mojave ground squirrels. “Take all the healthy, intact desert habitat you want that’s outside the Monument Boundaries,” the film seems to be saying. “We won’t object. See? We’re not NIMBYs.”

The Ivanpah Valley is one of those pieces of land that would not be protected by the CDPA. So is the plain south of the Cady Mountains, where Tessera plans to level more than 8,000 acres of tortoise, lizard and bighorn habitat to install a huge amount of Stirling sun-catchers — an completely unproven technology. So is the stretch west of Blythe where Chevron and affiliates want to put solar on land now occupied by ancient geoglyphs. None of those lands matter to the filmmaker, it would seem. They’re a fair trade-off for getting the bill passed.

That’s a lot to read into one little scene: the filmmaker may not have intended to say that at all. The video may have just had the unfortunate effect of reinforcing what a number of huge environmental organizations are saying explicitly.

Take the Sierra Club’s national office, which recently sent out an email alert urging members to “protect the Ivanpah Valley” by urging Ken Salazar to choose an “alternative” design for the Brightsource solar project that was identical to a plan drawn up by the developer. The Club later claimed that was a mistake. The national office did not notify its members of that mistake. The national office has, however, withdrawn funding from both the Sierra Club’s Desert Committee — a network of grassroots members of many different chapters with an illustrious history of fighting to protect desert wildlands — and the Desert Report, an invaluable publication devoted to those same desert wildlands. Check out the Sierra Club’s new “resilient habitats” campaign, which urges people to work to “create resilient habitats where plants, animals, and people are able to survive and thrive on a warmer planet.” Notice something about the habitats they’ve selected? Aside from the “Greater Grand Canyon” ecosystem, which arguably includes a sliver of the Mojave, true desert ecosystems are nowhere included in the ten habitats the protection of which the Club has chosen to promote.

If that seems a small omission, consider this map of the southwest US, taken from Tom Patterson’s Physical Map of the Coterminous United States. I’ve added shaded overlays to indicate, roughly, the location of the four major North American deserts.

image

I’ve drawn the overlays somewhat conservatively, and omitted a couple semiarid regions often thought of as belonging to “the desert,” the Colorado and Columbia plateaus in particular. Even so, the desert I’ve marked off is a far larger amount of land than many of the biomes usually deemed complete and important enough to merit some level of preservation. Together, the four deserts are far bigger than the Sierra Nevada, far bigger than the Rocky Mountains, far bigger than the Appalachians or New England. In terms of sheer acreage, the only biomes in the continental US that rival the deserts are the Great Plains and the Mississippi basin. The deserts are far wilder and far more fragile than either of those beleaguered places, and yet the deserts are omitted from the Sierra Club’s consideration as potential “resilient habitats.”

Which is ironic, because if there was ever a place where the topology is set up to facilitate migration in response to climate change, it’s the American Desert. Take a look at this un-overlain section of Patterson’s map:

image

This section of the desert possesses what the geographers call “basin and range topography”: the landscape is made up of many distinct mountain ranges surrounded by broad, flat valleys. Most relevant for our discussion here is that the ranges and valleys tend to have their long axes aligned more or less north-south, especially in the Great Basin desert in Nevada but also in the Mojave and Sonoran deserts farther south.

Organisms that have adapted to the heights of the mountain ranges in the desert have a bit of a problem if the climate changes: in order to migrate northward, they or their offspring have to traverse the flats somehow. Many species, from endemic plants to small alpine animals such as the pika, are thus seriously threatened by climate change. The only way they can really migrate is up, and eventually, as it gets warmer, they will run out of up.

But for a lot of species not as strictly confined to the deserts’ “sky islands” — whether they’re alpine organisms that can cross the flats, or organisms that live in the flats to begin with —  those northish-southish-trending basins and ranges are almost tailor-made for migration in response to climate. Travel northward along the long spine of one of those mountain ranges, or plod along toward Polaris on your tortoise feet as the creosote follows you into what had been cooler lands, and there’s little to block your passage.

Until people come in and cover all the flatlands with industrial energy development, that is. If the flatlands are your migration corridor of choice, industrial developments are locked doors in the middle of those corridors. The Sierra Club’s goal of making landscapes more resilient to climate change is thus undermined by, well, the Sierra Club’s efforts to combat climate change.

I don’t mean to pick on the Club unduly. The Sierra Club has many wonderful activists working on national and local levels, many of whom care deeply about desert wildlands. Besides, the Sierra Club is not alone among big mainstream environmental groups in its seeming willingness to sacrifice desert wildlands to further the industrial development of non-carbon energy. Consider, for instance, this excerpt of a formal comment on the Ivanpah Solar Energy Generating System Project, offered by a pair of notable green groups. In the section of the formal comments dealing with the inevitable, massive and irremediable visual impact involved in paving 4,000 acres of wild desert adjacent to a National Park with mirrors surrounding seven 45-story-tall towers, each of which will be capped with a blindingly illuminated “receiver unit”:

[I]t is clear that there will be significant visual impacts from the construction of the ISEGS project. However, the construction of a six square mile industrial development anywhere on public lands will entail significant visual impacts, and the benefits which the ISEGS renewable energy project will provide may well outweigh the costs of the visual impacts from this development.

Let that sink in for a moment. I have to say, I’m not used to environmentalists taking this approach. Usually it’s the other side who insists that protection of the wild environment and its denizens be subject to a cost-benefit analysis, that Endangered Species Act reviews include an analysis of the economic costs of listing the Delta smelt or the gnatcatcher or the Furbish lousewort.

The comments subsequently note that Ivanpah is not the only such facility planned for the desert, and that the cumulative visual effect of massive development of the desert may be more than the sum of its parts:

The ISEGS project, however, is only the first of many projects that have been proposed for the CDCA. The PSA “identifies 76 solar project and 61 wind project applications with a total overall area of over one million acres within the CDCA. This figure [sic] does not include renewable projects within the Nevada and Arizona portions of the Mojave Desert. With this very high number of renewable energy applications currently filed with BLM, the potential for profound widespread cumulative impacts to scenic resources within the CDCA is clear. These impacts could include a substantial decline in the overall number and extent of scenically intact, undisturbed desert landscapes, and a substantially more industrial character in the overall CDCA and Mojave Desert Landscape.

True enough! What do the commenting groups suggest as a way to address this threat to the very nature of the desert?

Recommendation: In the case of the ISEGS project, the agencies should consider whether the benefits which the ISEGS renewable energy project will provide outweigh the costs of the visual and other impacts from this development.

You may be wondering which groups would put together comments so fraught with compromise of the environmental movement’s most basic tenet: that the living environment has intrinsic value which resists spreadsheet analysis. The answer: it’s the Natural Resources Defense Council and The Wilderness Society that have crafted this recommendation that our natural resources and our wilderness be tossed into the energy planners’ balance sheets.

There are important groups who haven’t gone quite as far. Some are working quietly to defend the desert. Staff at Defenders of Wildlife, for instance, have been writing tough-minded comments on desert industrial energy proposals, intervening in a few such projects. Though the Center for Biological Diversity took an emphatically wrong position approving the notion of public lands giveaways to the energy companies, its staff have been invaluable in fighting individual projects and the group as a whole may well come around.

As a whole, though, the mainstream environmental movement has gone AWOL on protecting our ancient deserts. I’m not sure precisely why, though the severity of the climate change threat certainly does lend our decisions some urgency. A cynic would likely point out that the foundations who provide Big Green Groups with their big green have jumped on the climate change wagon with a vengeance, and so this shift in emphasis away from protecting the planet that exists now, in favor of protecting some hypothetical climate-change-mitigated planet that we hope will exist in the future, may be driven more by development staff than by scientific staff. On alternate Tuesdays I am that cynic, and I find the argument persuasive.

Whatever the reason, those of us who find value in the ancient landscapes of the desert Southwest cannot count on help from the mainstream environmental movement unless we make our position irresistable and hard to refute.

Let’s start here: any sensible, ecologically relevant energy strategy must include a commitment to zero net loss of desert wildlands. This is the baseline environmentalist position, and any deviation from it, no matter how “sensible,” is necessarily a loss for our side.