Wherein I Actually Agree with Dianne Feinstein

A lot of climate skeptic sites are jumping on the apparent irony of this story:

Senator Dianne Feinstein introduced legislation in Congress on Monday to protect a million acres of the Mojave Desert in California by scuttling some 13 big solar plants and wind farms planned for the region.

But before the bill to create two new Mojave national monuments has even had its first hearing, the California Democrat has largely achieved her aim. Regardless of the legislation's fate, her opposition means that few if any power plants are likely to be built in the monument area, a complication in California's effort to achieve its aggressive goals for renewable energy.

I think that there is an important lesson here that even "clean" energy sources have environmental downsides.  Its funny how things come full circle - thirty years ago I used to argue with people who had obsessive concerns about nuclear waste.  I would say that the volume of waste was really small, and in fact coal and oil were no different in that they generated a lot of waste but that they spewed their waste all over the atmosphere -- at least nuclear waste was compact and defined and easy to store.

Anyway, I actually think Feinstein is correct here.   Here is the origin of the plot of land:

For Mrs. Feinstein, creation of the Mojave national monuments would make good on a promise by the government a decade ago to protect desert land donated by an environmental group that had acquired the property from the Catellus Development Corporation.

"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," Mrs. Feinstein said in a statement.

I have some bias in this, because my personal charities of choice tend to be private land trusts, that use private funds to buy lands for conservation.   I have always argued from an individual liberty angle that people who want land conserved shouldn't be demanding that government take it, they should be putting their money where their mouth is and helping to buy the land.  This story actually gives me another argument, because you can see that the private conservation buyers made a mistake in giving it to the Feds.  The Bush Administration, looking to score a PR victory in the alternative energy front, reneged on the promised conservation and committed the land to solar projects.


  1. DrTorch:

    I get your point. Private land is still private land.

    However, Feinstein's motives are disingenuous. She's not protecting tangible environmental concerns, she's lamenting the loss of "desert vistas". Pretty much a matter of opinion.

    In the mean time, she's simply serving the role of an obstructionist. She's offering no other plans for mandated power production. Even worse, I'll bet she supports those mandates!

    Hypocrisy, NIMBY, faux-environmentalism, obstructionist. It's hard to see anything good in Feinstein's behavior. (Except AZ may get those solar plants).

  2. Kyle Bennett:

    $18 million in federal funds is not "privately funded". As far as I'm concerned, it's open for homesteading... or at least that 25% or so of it is. I'm betting if we dug deeper, the actual federal subsidy is much higher.

    Is there a fully private environmental land trust?

  3. JVDeLong:

    I agree, coming at it from a rather different slant:

    "Oddly, oil drilling is quite unobtrusive. I once had a tour of the great East Texas oil field, courtesy of the petroleum industry, and it was mostly cows, with an occasional small rocker arm pumping away. So in a way I agree with Feinstein -- it is foolish to despoil the landscape with solar panels and windmills when we could rely on oil pumps.

    "But I don't see anything in the report that says she wants to open up federal lands to drilling, or promote the exploration of off-shore resources. As the wheels come off the whole climate change cart, an interesting possibility arises: an alliance between real environmentalists, who do not want to despoil the rare landscape for the sake of a corrupt international kleptocracy and rent-seeking US companies, and us cheap energy advocates. There is no real conflict between these two groups."

    I agree with you in principle about land conservancies, but have reservations about the practice. This is, I think, a good cause that has become tainted with tax evasion and sweetheart deals between government agencies and the charities. The same is true of urban preservation.

  4. John Moore:

    It is good to see the conflict between green energy and green obstructionism. I'm tired of far away environmentalists who want to pave our Sonoran desert with solar plants - without regard to the impact on our environment. (BTW, Warren, do you know if a lot of solar cells will increase local temps?)

    However, I agree with the previous two commenters. First, not all of the money was private, so this wasn't a private donation. If they wanted to do it cleanly, they shouldn't have taken our federal tax money.

    Second, some of the actions of land conservancies have been very damaging - using allies in government to force people to sell to them at a huge discount, and forcing others to sell by grabbing all the land around them and screwing things up.

    With all the money current in the hands of environmentalists, there is a danger that they could take huge amounts of land and make it off limits to all but granola crunching, young healthy hikers.

  5. Dr. T:

    The Alaska oil pipeline would have minimal effects on the environment (ironically, the net effects were positive), but the ecofreaks raised all kinds of hell about it and spent lots of time and money trying to block it.

    Now, these same ecofreaks are pushing for massive solar farms and wind power forests on desert sites that are among the most ecologically fragile in the world. Can we say HYPOCRITES?

    For John Moore:
    Solar panels will act like any heat-absorbing materials (such as pavement and buildings in cities): they will increase local temperatures. The process of converting light to electricity generates waste heat, as does the process of ramping up the voltage. The bigger problem is that the desert ecology will be damaged everywhere solar panels are installed. Besides the extra heat from the panels, there will be damage from building access roads and damage to the land beneath the panels (that will never again get direct sunlight). There is nothing environmentally friendly about a solar panel farm unless it is installed on bare rock.

  6. O Bloody Hell:

    > There is nothing environmentally friendly about a solar panel farm unless it is installed on bare rock.

    Nope, not even there.

    The process of making solar cells is currently fundamentally no different than that of computer chips. And we aren't talking about making smaller and smaller chips as we've done for decades (i.e., the areal creation probably hasn't gone up much in the last four decades) --- NO, we're talking about making literally thousands and thousands of SQUARE MILES (US Power grid requirements -- not less than 4/5ths the land area of the state of Delaware, plus weather diminishments... adjust that number by the % of solar coverage you wish to implement -- 20%="only one FIFTH of the land area of the state of Delaware". Ooooohhh, boy, gimme some o' that!).

    If you know anything about computer chip manufacture at all, then you are aware that it produces some of the nastiest byproducts (i.e., "toxic wastes") that there are. And we're talking here about A MASSIVE RAMP UP of these processes? OooooooooooKAY!

    The same idiots who are whining about nuclear wastes ("deadly" for, at max, ca. 10-20k years, when its radioactivity level drops below that of NATURAL ORES from which it came -- not "when the radioactivity drops to zero") want to, instead, produce stuff which is deadly for far longer, until it happens to chemically break down and get dispersed by natural processes... like, oh, leeching by water... Ah-yeah!!

    The real fact is, you're better going with Solar Thermal, which uses mirrors to focus the heat/energy in one central point. The toxic waste production is far lower -- but you'll STILL need just as much surface area covered with mirrors as opposed to the panels. THAT is driven by the unalterable fact of the Solar Constant, which is no more mutable by existing tech than the acceleration due to gravity (see the link above for more explanation -- that 4/5ths is a MINIMUM, and not subject to reduction by ANY possible tech improvement which does not involve a massive breakthrough in physics). And that's just for the USA. You want to bring the whole world up to energy use at USA levels you're talking about a factor of 20-odd greater.

    In real fact, there's only one solar power mechanism which isn't flat out stupid -- Ocean Thermal, which uses the vast surface of the ocean as a solar collector, and, mainly, pollutes the area around it with... fish. Lots and lots of fish. There's some engineering issues which need to be solved, but it's the only "alternative energy" system which really ought to be seriously getting chased at this time. Solar is unquestionably A Bad Idea outside of OTEC, and wind is too variable (though I did see a proposal some years back which would generate its own wind... So of course I haven't heard of anything about since)

  7. Mark:

    There are some newer solar technologies which use carbon nano-tubes. Not as polluting or expensive as the silicon based cells.

    But as others have stated, I don't think Feinstein's solution is necessarily good, because the eco types tend to want to obstruct every form of energy. We can't have oil and coal, and we can not have wind and solar either. Their goal is to really bring us back to the dark ages.

    I suspect she is really waiting for the land to be sold to Harry Reid, and then would be more then willing to rezone it for whatever purpose Harry has. Much like Harry's Nevada deal!

  8. me:

    "I have always argued from an individual liberty angle that people who want land conserved shouldn’t be demanding that government take it, they should be putting their money where their mouth is and helping to buy the land."

    Couldn't have said it better. If we ever find the gene in human dna or the fundamental socialization experience that causes everyone to scream for the government to force others to behave as they think is right and get rid of it, we'll grow by leaps and bounds as a species.

    My favorite contentious example to get heated discussions started is abortion - how about putting up a bounty to adopt and raise?

  9. DrTorch:

    I didn't see solar "panels" mentioned in the story. I could have overlooked it, but I took this to refer to solar thermal production. (Past articles have discussed this.)

    Solar thermal is very different than solar photovoltaics, and does not require semiconductor processing. It is also much more efficient, and is a cost-effective product.

  10. Mesa Econoguy:

    Everything has opportunity cost, but this isn’t why Feinstein is doing this. She’s making a political play she can gesture to next year.

    Which is an interesting point: this “green” coalition is nothing but duct tape & toothpicks. Much of it is competing interests, and as we just saw in the healthcare disaster, these people will duck, jump ship, or turn traitor in a nanosecond. They have zero convictions (or knowledge, for that matter).

  11. Link:

    I just connected the dots to figure out that "All the leaders of the World flew to Copenhagen to dance to a tune called by One Guy. This One Guy taught Al Gore all that Al knows about global warming. This One Guy's office is one floor above the Seinfeld Diner, literally ... and this One Guy may be completely nuts."

    The "NASA-Goddard Institute" which makes the AGW predictions has an affiliation with NASA and with Columbia University, but may be accountable to neither. The common link is James Hansen, who heads the Institute. If you had to pick one person as the most influential in developing AGW theory it'd be James Hansen.

    Once upon a time, Hansen did work for NASA on the atmosphere of Venus -- which is 96.5% CO2. Hansen then fell to Earth. He claims affiliation with NASA, and to be an adjunct professor at Columbia, but it looks like he's operated independently. As I understand it, along with the East Anglia gang in England, Hansen's "Institute" is the other keeper of the global climate data bank.

    Hansen seems hung up on CO2 because of his Venus experience, even though CO2 is a trace gas in Earth's atmosphere -- less than 400 parts per billion, instead of 965,000,000 parts per billion. There are several basic differences between Earth and Venus which can readily explain why its atmosphere is so different than ours -- and thus probably irrelevant to ours -- including that its day is longer than its year and that it lacks a magnetic field, so that gases which are lighter than CO2 have tended to float away over millions and billions of years.

    This is not a small point as Hansen was a pioneer in creating computer models of Earth's atmosphere. He literally adapted his Venusian models to do this. This led to his hook-up with Al Gore and to Hansen's warning Congress about global warming back in 1988.

    From 2005 until 2008, Hansen was in a PR fight with various parts of the federal government about his statements about AGW. In 2006, he went on 60 Minutes to say that his views were being suppressed.

    In 2008, Hansen went on ABC TV and elsewhere to say that fossil fuel company executives should be put on trial for "high crimes against humanity and nature", because they have actively spread doubt and misinformation about global warming.

    In 2009, Hansen became a proponent of civil disobedience and a harsh critic of Copenhagen as being too little too late. He now believes that unless we shut down all the coal plants in the world within the next 20 years that the Earth will boil over. With this in mind, he managed to get arrested with Daryl Hannah and thirty others at a protest in West Virginia in June 2009.

    The "NASA-Goddard Institute" is based at 112th Street and Broadway near Columbia University in NYC, and is literally above the Seinfeld Diner. Like in "Get Smart" you enter through the telephone booth at the back of the diner. They share space and a receptionist with the United Network Command for Law and Enforcement, which has its own separate entrance through Del Floria's Tailor Shop around the corner .... OK, only the Seinfeld Diner part is true. See here: http://www.giss.nasa.gov/about/