The NYTimes looks at the supposed battle between conservationists and developing renewable energy. This is a none starter, IF, the renewable energy projects get sited on disturbed lands like old mines and fallow agricultural lands. The LandArt Generator Project showed that you could generate more energy on the same footprint of all the existing coal mines with solar power. The other study is from AWEA that looks at the area required for wind to power the US. Both these studies show how little land is required.
In the mojave and other deserts of the southwest, there are lots of fallow agricultural land and former mines that already have the supporting infrastructure and would not generate additional disturbances. But American companies love to build on green field sites as part of the pioneering spirit – it’s harder to clean up somebody’s mess, then to create your own.
Land use is central to addressing climate change and the anthropogenic mass extinctions , so it’s good that we’re talking about this. It’s not an either/or topic as the NYT’s frames it. Jonathan Foley wrote a very prescient piece in october for e360, where he states: The massive environmental impacts of our agricultural practices rival the impacts of climate change. We can easily swap energy practices with agricultural practices and make the same dire statement – but then it is our energy practices that got us into the mess. But rarely do we talk about the impact of energy extraction or energy infrastructure.
Cities are one aspect to the solution to this catch-22. If we can limit deploying most of the new renewable energy infrastructure to our cities (and that means solar, not wind), then we have a winning solution of distributed generation nearest to the user, and reduced impact on the non-urbanized lands. Just wanted to also link to Michael Mahaffy’s November screed in planetizen, where he explores the nuances of why cities with 50% of the human population are the answer to a sustainable future.