Mojave Desert at the sight of the famous Joshua tree from the U2 album of the same name. Photo by Theschmallfella (source: wikimedia commons)

Mojave Desert at the sight of the famous Joshua tree from the U2 album of the same name. Photo by Theschmallfella (source: wikimedia commons)

Being a conservationist and an environmentalist may not always be the same thing; and definitions of both terms are clearly open to interpretation. Indeed, sometimes environmental or ‘Green’ interests may compete or clash. For example, Sting’s recent resurgence in campaigning to protect indigenous lands in Brazil has fallen foul of those in favor of building a massive hydro-electric dam, which would be a significant source of renewable energy for the country. According to an article in the New York Times, U.S. Senator Diane Feinstein has more or less successfully opposed the development of solar energy plants and wind farms in California’s Mojave Desert. Her argument: “The Catellus lands were purchased with nearly $45 million in private funds and $18 million in federal funds and donated to the federal government for the purpose of conservation, and that commitment must be upheld. Period.”

I cannot deny that Senator Feinstein is upholding the intention of the environmentalists who purchased the lands, but in practical terms the spirit of environmentalism could well be open to a different interpretation. Ultimately renewable energy sources could conceivably do more for conservation than simply marking off certain tracks of land while the country continues to depend on foreign fossil fuels. This case may be more complex than the ‘Green energy vs. nice views’ debate that is going on in Cape Cod Massachusetts where opposition to wind turbines there included the now deceased Edward Kennedy. Interestingly enough, another member of the clan, Robert F. Kennedy Jr. is all for the development of solar and wind plants in the Mojave, as quoted in the Times: “This is arguably the best solar land in the world, and Senator Feinstein shouldn’t be allowed to take this land off the table without a proper and scientific environmental review”.

Is this just a case of “not in my backyard” politics? Are nice views and the preservation of natural landscapes for human enjoyment more important than sustainable development and the responsible use of resources? Personally, I like the way wind turbines and solar panels look. Besides, the stakes these days are higher and more complex than preserving what some people arbitrarily consider nice views. It’s not exactly a case of “drill baby, drill” now is it?

Additional resources:

Wind turbines spoil views of rising seas and toxic sunsets

Tilting at Windmills: Are Wind Turbines the Answer to Sustainable Energy?