“We Only Get One Home, We Only Get One Planet.”
With these words, President Obama announced the Clean Power Plan; new climate rules that will decrease carbon emissions from coal burning power plants and increase energy production from renewables such as wind and solar.
It was a victory that environmentalists have worked hard to achieve. A common sense approach to power generation that took a quarter century of political struggle made possible by quantum leaps in wind and solar technologies.
President Obama has called for a full 30 percent of U.S. energy production to come from renewables by 2030. That is quite a mountain to climb given that renewable sources of energy accounted for about 13 percent of total U.S. energy production in 2014. Reaching the president’s goal in 15 years will require billions of dollars and massive construction on a scale not seen since FDR electrified rural America in the 1930s.
In the 1980s, I produced a documentary focused on a group of backyard mechanics and environmental visionaries who successfully constructed the world’s largest wind turbine for the production of electricity. It’s a story of American ingenuity and independence at a time when use of the word ‘renewables’ was relegated to library cards and driver licenses. Ever since I produced ‘Generation on the Wind,’ I have felt strongly that harnessing wind and solar for energy production was an enlightened response to climate change that pointed to a brighter, cleaner future.
A Land of Extremes
Currently, Sally Kaplan and I are producing a new documentary film that will explore the magnificent deserts of California, Nevada and Arizona; the Mojave, Great Basin and Sonoran Deserts. The film will question the common misperception of deserts as a worthless and barren ‘wasteland’ rather than the true wonderland that they really are. In spite of extreme temperatures and little water, deserts sustain a unique set of complex ecosystems that support a startling abundance and diversity of life. Recent studies suggest that parts of the Mojave Desert for example, remain a biological frontier with a diversity of plants equal to that of a North Coast redwood forest in California.
Yet because they are seen as worthless we have exploited deserts for mining, nuclear testing and now renewable energy development without considering the cultural, biological, recreational and even spiritual values that deserts provide to humanity.
Could green kill the desert?
Because there is an abundance of sun and wind, deserts are in the crosshairs for energy development. They are also for the most part, public land and therefore, incredibly cheap to lease from the federal government, especially when the President has placed renewables near the top of his agenda. But according to a Los Angeles Times Op-ed written by Bruce Pavlik, a desert ecologist and advisor to our film, “without careful planning and regulation, these ‘climate solutions’ could irrevocably damage the planet they are intended to protect.”
There is better way.
Brown to Green and Innovating Closer to Home
Before racing headlong into massive development of pristine desert lands we must carefully consider the alternatives. The EPA estimates that there are more than 15-million acres of industrial brownfields across the country suitable for wind and solar development.
A number of solar developers and tech companies such as SolarCity, First Solar, and Apple are focusing their market on rooftop solar for homes and businesses located in urban areas where the power is consumed. Tesla just released their “Powerwall” – a 10-killowatt-hour battery that stores solar power during the day and lights the house at night. The average U.S. home consumes a little over 1-kilowatt hour each hour. Tesla suggests that up-scaling this grid of independent power producers could result in a net export of neighborhood energy.
The president’s new policy promises hope that America will do its part to stabilize the Earth’s climate. But, it is critically important that we get this right. In our attempt to save the planet, are we willing to sacrifice one of the most pristine and biologically diverse ecosystems in North America?
We only get one home, we only get one planet.
David Vassar is a producer of documentary films about nature and the environment. His most recent film, “California Forever” continues to air on PBS.
Visit the ‘Conspiracy of Extremes’ website: http://bcpfilms.com/conspiracy-of-extremes/