|Why renewable energy projects make sense in the long run|
|Tuesday, 14 February 2012 13:13|
President Obama’s inclusion of renewable energy on public lands in his State of the Union address prompted intensified media coverage of the controversy that sometimes surrounds this issue. But while it is right for reporters to point out the very real impacts that large scale solar development causes in sensitive environments like the Mojave Desert, it is important that they do not lose sight of the common goals of all renewable energy advocates, including conservationists.
As a scientist and advocate for wildlife habitats and wild landscapes, I know very well the challenges presented by development of renewable energy resources on public lands. I also understand the need to rapidly transition from carbon-based energy production to renewable energy if we are to protect our native plant and animals at all. This is the central reason why conservation groups are moving in uncharacteristic fashion to support large solar projects on public and other lands. To an outsider, it might seem like a paradox or even a conflict, as some in the media have characterized this position. But the truth is, if we are to truly protect these natural treasures we must play the long game .
The scientific community agrees that greenhouse gasses from human activities threaten, among many things, plant and wildlife species around the planet. We also know that we have a short timeframe in which to reverse this trend. Conservation organizations not only value and protect wildlife and the places they live, but we also know that we have to do our part to turn the tide on global warming to limit the extinction risk that we currently face. As responsible organizations taking the long view, we are seizing this greater challenge head-on and working hard to minimize the costs to our public lands and native species in the process.
Sadly, we are all paying the price for many decades of irresponsible actions (and inactions) that have exacerbated the global climate crisis. Our policymakers have failed to enact lasting and meaningful policies to address the problem until only recently. Despite some conflicting positions on other energy issues, the current administration in the White House has recognized the need to make the transition to renewable energy and is committing resources to doing so with the necessary haste that is required.
A major challenge is the limited time we have to halt our emissions of greenhouse gas buildup in the atmosphere. As pointed out in in a 2011 report commissioned by Google , a 30 to 50 year commitment in transitioning our energy infrastructure is required and will demand multiple technologies and approaches, including utility scale renewable energy production, to adequately reduce global carbon emissions.
Of course, there are also many economic and national security benefits to moving from fossil fuel-based energy sources. These additional advantages make for strange bedfellows between conservationists and industry, and there are critics who choose to maintain the short view and paint this as conservation groups selling out to industry in order to further the "not in my back yard" message that only advances the clock and the peril of all we hold dear.
Simply stated, if we continue to delay acting on carbon emission reductions, which absolutely requires the inclusion of utility scale solar production on public lands, conservationists will have sacrificed much more than the public lands needed for well-sited, least-impact renewable energy projects. This is the conundrum that we face, but the right choice is clear and we must not lose sight of our ultimate motivation. After all, we are working to save not only the desert, but ourselves.