July 1, 2013 | 8
Scientific American’s frontpage carries the following story about bringing solar power to the deserts:
The vast and glittering Ivanpah solar facility in California will soon start sending electrons to the grid, likely by the end of the summer. When all three of its units are operating by the end of the year, its 392-megawatt output will make it the largest concentrating solar power plant in the world, providing enough energy to power 140,000 homes. And it is pretty much smack in the middle of nowhere.
The article starts from the assumption that existing deserts are empty, useless, wasted spaces. Deserts are dust, they are nowhere. If only we could make use of this void with energy arrays, it implies, we could solve our problems.
My home institution should know better. Deserts may be inhospitable to our own species’ delicate range of environmental tolerances. But they aren’t empty. Thousands of other species live in deserts, many already endangered by human encroachment. Deserts are some of the last wild places we have left. If we’re going to bulldoze them in the name of saving our imperiled planet, the least we could do is acknowledge the richness of their existence.