I have these friends, Bob and Ingrid, who for years have been taking trips to the desert to enjoy the landscape. The few times I have been with them on a hike, their knowledge and enthusiasm for plant life has been infectious. Not the type to be naturally inclined toward botany, when I’m with Bob and Ingrid, I’m sucked in, and it all seems exciting and fascinating.
A few years ago, Bob told me that a large solar electric generating plant was planned for an area of the desert that they frequent. There are many types of solar projects, Bob told me. This one is a 600-foot tower with reflectors that concentrate the sun’s power, turning some receptive chemical into steam that is used to turn an electrical generator. So simple, so elegant, so practical, so clean, so necessary.
600 feet tall? Good grief! That’s like the height of a 50 story building, isn’t it? Won’t that look rather peculiar sticking up out of the desert floor? That’s the rub. How far away from this thing does one have to be standing before it isn’t ruining your enjoyment of the natural desert environment? Viewscape! They’re destroying our viewscape!
On the other hand, when I flip the switch, I like it when the lights come on. I work in an office that has a fancy green certification – new toilets, lots of cans for sorting waste, post-consumer paper, extra-ultra-energy-saving lights. If we all changed our toilets, waste receptacles, and lights, well, I guess at some point we’d still run out of power at the rate we’re going. Conservation alone won’t get us there.
I have this other friend, Searle, who works very hard to educate the world about the impacts of overpopulation. Certainly, if there were fewer people, we would need fewer resources – natural and otherwise. (Searle, by my way of thinking, is going to have a tougher go of it than Bob and Ingrid. Overpopulation is a tough issue to tackle.) Is overpopulation at the root of our problems?
You don’t need a Ph. D. in economics to read the tea leaves these days. China is roaring ahead, natural resources, human rights, and a long list of western values left as flotsam in their wake. The US national debt continues to rise, state and local governments are running out of funds, and unemployment remains stubbornly high. There’s no avoiding that business must improve if we are to sustain the standard of living to which we have all grown accustom.
Complex issues have many sides. Who is wrong, and who is right? Solar power, preserving our natural landscapes, clean energy, overpopulation, third-world-to-first-world transition, human rights, unemployment, funding of local governments and services. It’s enough to make your head spin.
No, really, I just want to talk about solar power in the desert. Unfortunately, when God was distributing the myopia gene, he seemed to have forgotten about me. For reasons I can’t explain, I am unable to look at one single issue at a time. If every perspective has merit, how should I view this question? Should we, or should we not build a solar tower in the desert, that’s the question?