Wednesday, March 25, 2009

Wilderness or renewable energy? …

   The federal Wilderness Act, enacted back in the optimistic year of 1964, defines such areas as federal land “where the earth and its community of life are untrammeled by man, where man himself is a visitor who does not remain.”  Today, Congress began debate on legislation to expand the stretches of lands designated largely as off limits to construction, forestry, mining, and other human intrusions.  But here is a fascinating story of a growing rift in the environmental community over whether some lands –- especially the open deserts of the Southwest, including California’s Mojave –- might be better-suited for large-scale solar development or wind farms.  While the traditional environmental line is that conservation, not increased production, should take precedence in the nation’s energy policy, places such as the Mojave also offer some of the best opportunities in the nation for large-scale production of renewable energy.  And California has, of course, pledged to increase vastly its renewable energy share, largely in order to decrease its carbon emissions.
 IMG_0600   I find it nonsensical to make categorical assertions that either one of two worthy land uses –- be it pure wilderness or renewable energy –- should always take precedence in land use policy.  But it does seem to me that the ideal of the Wilderness Act was always a bit cockeyed.  While we once might have imagined “untrammeled” nature, we now know that few areas of the planet have been untouched by humans, as far back as centuries ago.  Humans, like beavers, birds, and tortoises, have made their mark to some extent in most places, including the Mojave.  As a veteran hiker in wildernesses from Virginia to California to Alaska, I also know that designated wilderness areas are trammeled by hiking boots and horse hooves and altered by fire rings and foot bridges.  So while of course I wouldn’t want my personal favorite areas, such as California’s Joshua Tree Pinto Basin (see my January 2009 photo), filled with solar panels, my inclination is that our age needs land for renewable energy in California perhaps more than it needs more wilderness areas.  After all, in 100 years, when we figure out how to beam down fusion-created electricity from the moon, we can always remove the panels (unlike with houses) and let the desert return to its relatively untrammeled state ….

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March 25, 2009 | Permalink | Comments (2) | TrackBack (0)

Tuesday, March 24, 2009

Demolishing America …

   Whither goes the law of construction in a country where little is being built?  Perhaps it moves to the law of demolition.  Here are two interesting stories about the very literal disappearance of old industrial America: the disassembly of the huge former Ford plant adjacent to the Atlanta airport (being close to the world’s busiest airport, there are plans for development of the site) and the new work of Habitat for Humanity in demolishing vacant houses in declining industrial cities such as Saginaw, Mich.   
Foreclosure    When manufacturing leaves a factory for good, or people leave a town for good, there are solid reasons for having law mandate an orderly demolition. Crime, drugs, and fire often fill the voids of vacant buildings, as we have seen in neighborhoods blighted by a large number of foreclosed houses.  Perhaps commercial owners and banks should have an obligation to see that their properties do not become nuisance to the community.  There is precedent in laws such as the federal hazardous waste handling statute, which requires a disposal facility to have financial guarantees in case the facility has to close.  Perhaps governments should pay better attention to whether vacant commercial buildings might be reusable for schools or homeless shelters.  Transforming an economy is never easy, but land use law should see (under the law’s guiding principle) that it is accomplished with the interests of the community in mind …

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March 24, 2009 | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)