It's All Somebody's Backyard


Regarding the editor's note, "For the love of wasteland," make no mistake about it: Conservation alone is no silver-bullet solution (HCN, 5/11/09). Yes, conservation is often overlooked in favor of supply-side solutions. Yes, huge gains can be made through energy-efficiency programs. I fully agree and support energy conservation efforts -- in fact, some conservation should be made mandatory. However, we can't fantasize away energy impacts by thinking all we need to do is conserve more. If we as a nation are really concerned about curbing our use of fossil fuels -- a monumentally important direction for us to take -- we need to have a serious discussion of where renewable energy projects and their associated infrastructure could be placed.

I agree we should look for places such as abandoned mine sites and alfalfa fields first, but although it's a great goal, it's naive to think we can "find ways to develop large-scale renewable energy plants and transmission without sacrificing large tracts of pristine land." HCN recently ran an informative piece about resisting solar projects in the Mojave Desert. Of course there are important ecological values there. Now, we have Sarah Gilman telling us there is even ecological value in "wastelands," and of course she's right, too. This is my point: Nearly every single place has value and every single proposal will be in someone's backyard and will be opposed and probably litigated by someone.

As environmentalists, we need to sit down at the table and play a constructive role in deciding where the best places are to build our new renewable energy system. Opposing every alternative energy project is obstruction, not constructive discussion. When environmental interests merely veto every renewable project, it has disastrous consequences for our world: We simply fall back on the same destructive fossil fuels we currently have in place. Resist solar development? More coal gets burnt. Resist a transmission line for wind energy from Wyoming to Vegas? More oil gets burnt.


Jun 11, 2009 02:33 PM
I don't see how your article adds to Sarah's. She pointed out values; you somehow translate that to 'we can't oppose every project.' You pick on the opposition to the Mojave project without showing any understanding of the nature of that opposition. You also ignore the alternative proposals the protesters have provided. A small amount of research shows the alternatives (rooftop solar in sunny places) are better, more efficient and cost-effective. You ignore that the BLM has a mandate to sacrifice public lands to meet alternative energy policies which are creating a rush to cash in on subsidies; alternative energy would merely be a byproduct.

Yes, it's all someone's back yard. Not all back yards are created equal, though. The sunny southwest can make better use of rooftop solar than Vermont, or even Montana. No ecosystem is lost by installing rooftop solar, compared to massive and inefficient Mojave projects.

It would be a shame if people got too excited by uncritical, unexamined enthusiasm for something that sounds good, combined with false dichotomies (turn down this project and you'll burn more coal, not to mention kill kittens) and created a bunch of unnecessary, inefficient, landscape-destroying turbines when better alternatives exist.
Jun 12, 2009 03:23 PM
quack, you misrepresent my post. I never "picked on" opposition to the Mojave project: I said their concerns were legitimate. I realize not all back yards are created equal, which is why I advocate having a discussion of which back yards are most appropriate. Nowhere in my post did I talk about ignoring better alternatives. There is huge potential for rooftop solar, and we should definitely start there. In fact, exploring and discussing those alternatives, as opposed to brushing them aside with talk of "conservation is all we need," was the point of my rant.

I thought Sarah’s piece was important. And I realize the question "Why not simply use less energy?" does not necessarily mean she was contending that "conservation is all we need," but I took the liberty to counter that general argument. There’s no question: The less development, the better. While the idealist in me thinks "conservation is all we need" is a laudable goal that we should work hard to obtain, the realist knows we’ll have to talk about some renewable development/infrastructure on public lands, even with extraordinary conservation efforts. I would rather be a participant in that discussion than a bystander.

By the way, this thread continued with some great posts from other commentors:
marty weiss
marty weiss
Jul 20, 2009 09:11 PM
I just want to say it is all somebody's living room-- not backyard.
The tendency to objectify nature as "the environment" takes the world out of immediacy and out of consideration. It is our life support system, and we hope somebody lives there, retains viability and supports the biosphere directly. Forgetting our lives depend on the smallest life forms can lead to our own extinction. Monoculture is weak, diversity gives strength. Mongrels are healthier than pure-breds. Allowing poison in our life-support system makes no sense.