Back at the Joshua Tree café, Harvey goes through a series of calculations to determine how much rooftop solar California would need to meet its state-mandated goals. A reasonably sufficient solar array for a single-family home generates about 5 kilowatts, he figures; many homes in the desert where he lives run on arrays of 2 or 3 kilowatts. If we all lit our homes with compact fluorescents and LEDs, if we outfitted them with better insulation and passive solar heat, if we just plain used less energy, couldn't we easily displace 400 megawatts of coal-fired generation, just as BrightSource claims Ivanpah will?

Most of all, if the United States, or at least California, adopted an energy policy more like Germany's, couldn't we stall climate change without any large-scale renewables at all?

There's just one problem: Germany, for all its success with solar, still burns the coal of two Californias. In fact, this spring, Vattenfall Europe is haggling over the terms of a 1,640-megawatt coal plant it hopes to build in Hamburg without burdensome environmental restrictions.

Harvey is not deterred. "All that means is that we've got to use conservation, too," he says. "We can't just keep using more and more energy."

Four days earlier, Harvey had stood before the Sierra Club's Desert and San Gorgonio Chapters in Shoshone, on the edge of Death Valley, and presented his findings. "You should have heard the room in there," he says. "People were literally jumping to their feet applauding what I had to say." Unfortunately, the club still refused to give a clear thumbs-down on Ivanpah.

"Literally, they were talking about how they were going to relocate all the tortoises. Do you know what that means?" A recent plan to move desert tortoises off land to be occupied by a military base in the Mojave was abandoned when more than 15 percent of the animals turned up dead.

"Every relocation effort is a death sentence for those tortoises," Harvey complains. "They're lying if they say it's not."

Harvey left that day in despair. "I woke up Sunday morning at 5 a.m. thinking that I'd just lost my dog or best friend. I was just sick to my stomach. This is the first time that I feel like I may lose this battle."

At least that loss, if it happens, will be a long way off. BrightSource has yet to file all its documents with the California Energy Commission and the BLM. After it does, it has many more hurdles to clear before it can bulldoze a single acre of ground.

If that day comes, though, Harvey vows he will be ready. "If this project isn't the one that would make you lie down in front of a bulldozer and say, 'You can't do this,' what is? Thousands of pristine, beautiful Clark Mountain acres are going to be leveled and gone forever. What do you stand for," he wants to know, "if you don't stand up for this?"