Friday, February 11, 2011
Save the California Desert from Ruin - NO to proposed solar & wind Industrial Zones!
by Ruth Nolan – presented on February 8, 2011, Indian Wells public hearing to the federal government's fast-track solar/wind installations in the California southwest.
copyright (c) 2011 Ruth Nolan.
A Desert of Cathedrals; A World of Churches
I was 10 years old in 1973 when my father first drove me in his old Volkswagen Bug from my hometown of San Bernardino, imbedded in the smog of southern California sixty miles east of Los Angeles, up the long, steep grade of Interstate 15 and over the four thousand-foot lip of Cajon Pass. I held my breath as we reached the top and saw, for the first time in my life, a land that was as wide and vast as the sea. There, at the edge of the Mojave Desert, a long necklace of headlights stretched east for forty miles; toward the west, the sky was lit with rose and orange hues. We descended towards the small town of Victorville, racing past Joshua Trees whose thick-needled fists etched gracefully and fiercely against the sunset. I knew then and there that I’d found my place, my calling, my landscape. I stuck my head out the window and looked up: there was the evening star, a slice of moon alongside it. I was instantly and forever smitten.
This was an empty and imposing land, rife with danger and thrill. I sensed that an entirely new adventure lay in wait for our family there, where we intended to re-locate to be near my father’s new job. My intuitions were confirmed when my mother opened a kitchen drawer to find a baby Mojave Green rattlesnake; when I went to bed serenaded by a symphony of coyotes every night; when my brother went to the hospital with dehydration after climbing a harsh rock peak near our house on an August afternoon. The desert was as silent as a church during a funeral and as wide open and empty as a schoolyard on a Sunday, but it was never, ever boring.
It’s essential that President Obama, in his swiftness – and rightly so - to shift the country’s energy needs to renewable energy, considers how easily a tragic irony may prevail in the current rush to establish massive industrial zones that will harbor renewable energy facilities in the California deserts. We now see the damage and that our dependency on fossil fuels has done to our planet. To repeat the large-scale energy production facilities for any type of energy, including “renewable,” which requires the types of massive technological zones that have already been approved or are pending approval under Obama’s “fast track” renewable energy plan in the California deserts is to foolishly and tragically follow the same swath of destruction caused by fossil fuel technology. In other words: in our rush to embark on a new era of sustainability, let us not destroy in order to procreate. Renewable energy production can, and must, be implemented in a responsible manner that doesn’t leave tremendous carbon footprints, and does not take more than it gives.
On that day when I was 10 years old, the road that we drove on layered over a network of extensive and sophisticated Indian trails, used for thousands of years by different desert Indian tribes to traverse the Mojave Desert, following the entire 150 mile length of the sporadically-flowing, northern-seeking Mojave River, sometimes weaving between forests of cottonwood trees, and more often not, to its final resting place at Soda Dry Lake. The road we drove on was interwoven atop a trail network – just one of many that traversed every nook and cranny of the California desert - that had myriad village sites, culturally important, and well-established geographic notations throughout their vein-like expanses. In other word, there was and is no part of the California that is not known or has not been known and lived in and used as a culturally crucial and a sustainable way – to the various Indian tribes who have lived here since time unknown.
Little did I know, on that first drive to the high desert, that this region, largely seen to that date as a waterless wasteland ready for the taking and wonton raping, through widespread and reckless mining and military usage, for example, was, in even in the 1970’s, just beginning to be approached, investigated, researched, and understood for the environmental, cultural, archaeological and internationally significant region that it was and is. Millions of visitors come to the area every year from throughout the area, to visit our national parks, and also from the hugely populated urban areas not far from our desert’s westernmost edges; that our area is so attractive to others, as a one-of-a-kind geographic icon, and also so much in demand as a recreational outlet for southern California’s masses, not to mention that the deserts are home to many endangered species, wildlife corridors, Native American resources and spiritual-cultural sights, such as those named in the Salt Song Trail Ceremonial songs of the Chemehuevi Indians, should only give more importance to the extremely careful consideration of disturbing and forever destroying what little of this precious area that still remains under the fragile care of our collective hands.
As a child, I perceived that the desert was a place of wildness and possibility, quickly learning the nuances of rock hunting and tortoise sightings, of flash floods and dry waterfalls, and to succinctly endure long months and seasons when rain doesn’t fall. As I grew older, I came to see that this was also a peopled place, and as I read about my adopted homeland as widely as I could, I learned that this was a land rife with stories of courage, despair, a land where hopes are endlessly fulfilled and countless dreams are dissolved. I learned that the desert is not some desperate, completely waterless void: in my hikes and explorations, I learned that thousands of springs and waterholes grace it. They are often hidden, detectable only to the longtime desert resident—by a lone cottonwood or sprig of weed in the Mojave, and by a cluster of native Washingtonian Fan Palm trees tucked into deep canyons of the Western Colorado. Likewise, instead of being easily diminished to the tiresome caricatures dominated by a literary canon that favors cities, farms, and forests, the human character of the California desert defies the stereotypes created by those writers who have tried to tuck it into a neatly categorized place.
Most people are certainly familiar with stories of the rugged desert survivalist, the consummate “desert rat” or gold miner, grizzled and worn by sun, who wears a rattlesnake-skin headband and roams the desert with a bag of tools. However, the stories of the earliest people, our desert Indians, whose very languages, creation stories and songs depict an active relationship between the landscape and an early and enduring people, such as the many locations named and form a crucial contributions to historical and contemporary American literature. In stock desert literature, stories of rugged western settlers, gunslingers, and stagecoach riders, who brave the desert’s harsh expanses and pray to make it to water, have been greatly emphasized. In contrast, the true stories of our state’s deserts are as rich and textured as its geography, which covers 25 million acres, comprises one-fourth of the state’s expanse, and includes all or parts of seven of the state’s largest counties.
I’ve been told by biologic resources that the California desert is second only to the Amazonian Rain Forests in terms of its plant diversity. Scientists are still trying to learn what treasures reside here. Further disturbing of desert topsoil that is necessary for mass installations of renewable energy facilities will not only rob the entire southwest of the CO2 formation that naturally occurs in the living, biotic “desert crust,” but will pose a tremendous threat to the respiratory health of millions of southwestern residents and create an uncontrollable “dust bowl” and sharply influence the inevitable increase of such viral diseases as the dreaded “valley fever,” already on the rise in the area; the disaster of Owens Dry Lake comes to mind.
The California desert is a very windy place, and it doesn’t take long for disturbed desert to stir up and create hazardous dust-zones. In addition to posing serious health threats, there is the issue of freeway visibility. Already, on various places along Interstate 10, a major east-west artery involving traffic and heavy truck travel from Los Angeles to points east, dust storms are ea problem. This area includes the corridor in eastern Riverside County where proposed renewable energy sites have already been approved, have large yellow warning signs that say “warning: dust storm ahead when lights blinking.” I’ve been on the freeway in the area when the blowing dust has been so bad that I’ve had to pull over.
In the desert, “church is on the face of the land itself,” and to scar its essence needlessly is, in essence, to tear down a world of churches and tear down a vital part of our human and national and global heart. In the desert, an old-growth Joshua Tree is the equivalent to an ancient redwood tree in our state’s northwestern forests. In the desert, the sacred desert tortoise, a federally-protected species, is what the great white whale is to our Pacific and Atlantic oceans. In the desert, the golden eagle and red-tailed hawk will be among the thousands of birds who live and migrate here on important migratory corridors who stand to lose their lives when they are sucked into windmill farms. We all know what happened in the Gulf of Mexico and the widespread environmental and cultural havoc created along out southern coastlines this past year with the BP Oil Spill. To install massive, technologically experimental and highly polluting, noisy, destructive renewable energy facilities in the California desert is to spell disaster that will have no relief.
Rather than exploit the California deserts, I’d say let’s do more to protect them, now and for future generations; to protect precious aspects of our country’s heritage so important to all of us, as a country and global community, that once gone, can never be replaced Let’s not destroy virgin desert lands, what little of them remain, and forever desecrate this very special area that is still so largely unknown, a place that motivates spiritual and personal renewal and inspiration, a region of uniqueness that can never be duplicated. Let us not forever destroy the cultural and archaeological artifacts of our desert’s Native American people, many which to date remain scantly known and little understood. The California deserts are filled with heritage and wisdom that we can’t afford to erase. At a time in human history when so much has been irreparably plundered world-wide, it would be in our best interests to sustain that which might very well serve us in our efforts towards survival on our heavily overtaxed planet.
The desert hums with the pulse of overlapping human lives to form a river of sound, a complex and richly-woven conglomerate of human voices that sometimes overflows its shores with terrible roars, gathering momentum to overrun the dry wash, and at other places, dissipates entirely, only to relieve the eyes with the gracious vision of water, that may or may not be a mirage, later on. I invite you to step in, lightly, if you please, with great reverence and curiosity and respect, to share its mysteries, its rough edges, its infinite tranquilities.