While I was driving from San Diego to Las Vegas recently, I had a revelation. And it didn’t have anything to do with my destination—the so-called “Entertainment Capital of the World”.
My mental awakening involved a solution to global warming. It was right there—staring me in the face—on both sides of the highway. Thousands upon thousands of acres of open land, alternately festooned with low sand ridges and greasewood flats. It is a virtual Valhalla for renewable energy facilities. Or—at least—it should be.
To my great dismay, I counted only two single wind turbines and one solar array in more than 200 miles of driving through this high desert terrain. I kept asking myself why don’t we have wind turbines bracketing all these ridges and solar arrays blanketing the intervening plateaus. Doing so would certainly give us a jump start on the fossil fuel to renewable energy conversion process that we so desperately need right now.
Now, don’t get me wrong. I’m a career professional wildlife biologist and ardent conservationist. I realize that the majority of this land has ecological value as undeveloped desert habitat. But I’m also a realist. Natural resource protectors must be willing to give up something to save something better. We aren’t going back to the Stone Age—we must create new energy sources to continue powering the world we all live in.
We have to balance the bad with the good. In my mind, construction of large renewable energy facilities is much preferable to continued fossil fuel development. Fossil fuels are a thing of the past—just like the dinosaurs from which they sprang. We need to leave them in the ground—right where they’ve been since these great beasts last roamed the Earth.
Now let’s compare the environmental impacts of fossil fuels versus renewable energy. Construction of new solar arrays and wind farms will certainly have negative impacts. We will undoubtedly lose some valuable wildlife habitats.
But I ask you to consider where we should now explore for and develop new fossil fuel reserves—the irreplaceable Alaska National Wildlife Refuge, ANWAR for short. The proposed extension of the Prudhoe Bay oil complex will decimate one of the last great ecosystems on Earth—home to hundreds of thousands of migrating caribou and musk oxen. The wildlife and other natural resources in ANWAR are absolutely beyond belief. If you want proof, Google “Florian Schultz Productions”. Florian’s mind-boggling cinematography will knock your socks off while bringing you to tears.
Assuming we agree that the environmental impacts associated with renewables are preferable to digging up more fossil fuels, let’s look at the finances. How are we going to pay for hundreds of new wind farms and solar arrays? The easy answer is to let Big Oil foot the bill. They’ve got the money and—don’t kid yourself—they know the day is coming when they will be forced to convert to renewable energy sources. We just have to demand that Congress levy a carbon fee—on both producers and distributors—to kick start their time frames.
Here are some other pluses supporting this idea. The existing wind farms and solar arrays—while way too few and far between—have proven that renewable technology works very well. Next, most of the open land between Victorville and Las Vegas is federally owned, so land acquisition costs would be minimal. Finally, much of the power distribution grid is already in place. I saw hundreds of miles of high voltage transmissions lines, crisscrossing the desert landscape at 10-mile intervals. While some upgrades may be necessary, this transmission grid should require relatively minimal additional investment. No matter how power is generated, the distribution system stays essentially the same.
In conclusion, here’s my hope for preserving the quality of life for all of our future generations. To quote Spike Lee, let’s “all do the right thing”. In 10 years, I want to drive to Las Vegas again and—this time—I want to see vast solar arrays and wind farms occupying both sides of the highway. We can and must do this!
For the past 50 years, author, professional ecologist, and conservationist Budd Titlow has used his pen and camera to capture the awe and wonders of our natural world. His goal has always been to inspire others to both appreciate and enjoy what he sees. Now he has one main question: Can we save humankind’s place — within nature’s beauty — before it’s too late? His latest book, “COMING FULL CIRCLE—A Sweeping Saga of Conservation Stewardship Across America”, is now for sale on AMAZON.