Mojave Desert Project

Good news from the United States: The Obama administration is coming up with a “Desert Renewable Energy Conservation Plan”, according to Carolyn Lochhead at the San Francisco Chronicle.

That plan would make available up to 2,000 square miles of desert public land available for large scale solar development.

Of course some “environmentalists” worried more about desert turtles than about global warming are opposing the plan. They actually argue that having solar panels would be bad for the climate, since those would interfere with the natural carbon sequestrating happening in the desert.

And they are opposed because those projects would “permanently scar the desert landscape”. They say solar should stay on roofs, pointing out that there is enough roof space available.

I agree with those who want to use desert areas for these projects.

This particular plan affects a maximum of 2,000 square miles. The Mojave desert extends over 47,877 square miles. That leaves plenty of room for desert turtles elsewhere. We are talking about around 4 percent of the area, and that only if the first stage using only 600 square miles turns out to be insufficient.

I don’t buy the wondrous tale of deserts as carbon sinks, described in the article like this:

Scientists have come to understand that the desert is a major carbon sink, whose ancient, deeply rooted plants are a slow-motion machine for drawing carbon from the air and burying large stores of it underground in stable form.

Deserts are defined by the absence of water. While there may be some plants surviving even under those conditions, their contribution to drawing carbon should be extremely small (“slow motion”) per square mile, certainly not enough to offset the massive gains from switching faster to solar energy.

And while it may be true that rooftop areas are sufficient, that doesn’t say that desert projects don’t make sense. Those can be built at much larger scale, which leads to cheaper prices per kWh. And having both rooftop and desert projects will help displacing fossil fuels faster, as well as bringing down cost for solar panels faster.

Global warming is an emergency. Every single solar project is needed to help do something about it. Even at the cost of all desert turtles everywhere, since that cost would be much less than the extinction expected from global warming.

If you are worried about species extinction, standing in the way of solar projects is the last thing you should do.


Published by kflenz

Professor at Aoyama Gakuin University, Tokyo. Author of Lenz Blog (since 2003,

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