There’s not a more important economic imperative for the US than the transition to renewable energy. Ominously, anti-development forces — commonly known as NIMBYs — threaten to make this transition much harder. And much of that NIMBY energy is coming from the political left.
Consider the recent blockage of a solar power plant near Las Vegas. The Battle Born Solar Project, set on a rock formation called Mormon Mesa, would have been the nation’s largest. It would have provided a tenth of the state’s generating capacity, enough to power more than 800,000 homes. And since Nevada mostly uses power generated from natural gas, the project would have made a significant dent in greenhouse emissions.
But a coalition of environmental groups and tourism businesses calling themselves “Save Our Mesa” organised to successfully block the project. The businesses argued that the solar plant would hurt activities linked to all-terrain vehicles and skydiving. The environmentalists in the group claimed that it was about land conservation.
This is a pretty massive case of misplaced priorities. Land conservation is well and good, but climate change is bearing down on the US Wildfires in California, heat domes in Portland, hurricanes in Louisiana and New York, droughts in the Great Plains, and flooding on the Mississippi show that nowhere is safe from the effects. It’s imperative that the country — and the world — switch to green energy sources as fast as possible.
In this context, scrapping the nation’s largest solar plant in the name of conservation — and of gas-powered ATVs — is an untenable position. Save Our Mesa reeks of pure, unadulterated NIMBYism. Nor does it seem specific to Mormon Mesa — on its website, the group criticises solar panels in general, claiming that they lower humidity, create dust issues, etc.
This is sadly typical of a strain of so-called environmentalism that has turned on renewable energy projects. Some activists have been opposing wind turbines for years, claiming they scar the natural beauty of the countryside and kill birds.
When the turbines are offshore, groups sometimes oppose them due to unknown but possibly deleterious effects on the ocean. Meanwhile, the Battle Born Solar Project is hardly the first to come under attack from environmentalists — for years, activist groups have opposed to building solar in the desert, in order to protect local animal and plant life.
The electric vehicle revolution, meanwhile, is facing its own sort of pushback from the political left. Warnings that child labor is
sometimes employed in overseas cobalt mines have turned some against the technology of lithium-ion batteries.
Concerns over open space, protected species and child labor are legitimate, and companies who deploy green energy technologies should minimise these downsides. But using these issues as an excuse to scuttle the transition to green energy only exacerbates the problems they’re concerned about.
Climate change has the potential to devastate the natural habitats of animals and plants all over the world. And it will impoverish countries to the point where child labor becomes commonplace again.