Senator Dianne Feinstein (D-CA) appears to like deserts so much that she wants them to stretch from Oklahoma to California and cover one third the planet.

The AP reported Friday, “Feinstein seeks [to] block solar power from desert land“:

Nineteen companies have submitted applications to build solar or wind facilities on a parcel of 500,000 [Mojave] desert acres, but Sen. Dianne Feinstein said Friday such development would violate the spirit of what conservationists had intended when they donated much of the land to the public.

Feinstein said Friday she intends to push legislation that would turn the land into a national monument, which would allow for existing uses to continue while preventing future development.

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I am sympathetic to “conservationists,” but mostly to those who are trying to conserve what matters most, a livable climate. The solar resource is the only one capable of sustaining the nation’s and world’s population, even if we all become far, far more efficient (see “ The Solution“).

The good news is that concentrated solar thermal power (CSP aka solar baseload aka “The technology that will save humanity“) is such an efficient converter of the sun’s energy that we could generate half the country’s power with a 65 mile by 65 mile square grid in the southwest. The “bad” news is that the obvious place to put much of California’s CSP is the Mojave Desert:

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The Wildlands Conservancy orchestrated the government’s purchase of the land between 1999-2004 … David Myers, the conservancy’s executive director, said the solar projects would do great harm to the region’s desert tortoise population.

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“It would destroy the entire Mojave Desert ecosystem,” said David Myers, executive director of The Wildlands Conservancy.

Deserts are certainly fragile, inhospitable eco-systems — a key reason that nobody should want them spreading over one third the planet or the entire U.S. Southwest for 1,000 years (see “Intro to global warming impacts“). Certainly, Californian, Nobelist, and Energy Secretary Steven Chu gets this (see Chu: “Wake up,” America, “we’re looking at a scenario where there’s no more agriculture in California”).

So California can’t be saved without significant development in the desert, as Governor Schwarzenegger and the Interior Department seem to understand, at least.

Feinstein said the lands in question were donated or purchased with the intent that they would be protected forever. But the Bureau of Land Management considers the land now open to all types of development, except mining. That policy led the state to consider large swaths of the land for future renewable energy production.

“This is unacceptable,” Feinstein said in a letter to Interior Secretary Ken Salazar. “I urge you to direct the BLM to suspend any further consideration of leases to develop former railroad lands for renewable energy or for any other purpose.”

In a speech last year, Republican Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger complained about environmental concerns slowing down the approval of solar plants in California.

I have little doubt that the solar resource can be tapped in a way that can preserve the tortoise, but I have no doubt whatsoever that failing to take advantage of the massive solar resource in the California desert — and in deserts around the country and around the planet — will wipe out a large fraction of the species on this planet.

The article hints at a compromise:

But Karen Douglas, chairman of the California Energy Commission, said Feinstein’s proposal could be a “win-win” for energy and conservation. The governor’s office said Douglas was speaking on the administration’s behalf.

“The opportunity we see in the Feinstein bill is to jump-start our own efforts to find the best sites for development and to come up with a broader conservation plan that mitigates the impact of the development,” Douglas said.

Douglas said that if the national monument lines were drawn without consideration of renewable energy then a conflict was likely, but it’s early enough in the planning process that she’s confident the state will be able to get more solar and wind projects up and running without hurting the environment.

“We think we can do both,” Douglas said. “We think this is an opportunity to accelerate both” …

Feinstein’s spokesman, Gil Duran, said the senator looks forward to working with the governor and the Interior Department on the issue.

“There’s plenty of room in America’s deserts for the bold expansion of renewable energy projects,” Duran said.

If Feinstein’s office believes that, then perhaps this should have been handled behind the scenes, taking some time to work with a friendly new administration — rather than by dropping this bombshell letter all over the media.

And, of course, this letter gave global warming deniers and their enablers a chance to rejoice at the seeming hypocrisy of some environmentalists. The uber-conservative readers of the “Power Line News Forum” are all over this like white on rice GOP voters (see here). My favorite poster there has a signature line that sums up the entire civilization-destroying, Ponzi-scheme-boosting conservative ideology:

“Every government interference in the economy consists of giving an unearned benefit, extorted by force, to some men at the expense of others.” — Ayn Rand

Seriously. But I digress.

Today, the country is not even serious about global warming, and I don’t meet even 2 people in 100 who “get” global warming — the holocaust that is coming on our current emissions path and the staggering amount of clean energy that must be deployed to avert that. This allows people the “luxury” of balancing seemingly competing interests.

Over the next decade or so, I do think the country and the world will get serious — and global warming will rise to a truly first-tier issue for most. By 2030, “When the global Ponzi scheme collapses,” though, the country and the world will be desperate — and global warming mitigation (and “adaptation”) will dwarf all other issues. Then things like Feinstein’s letter will be a thing of the distant past, and humanity will rightfully start ignoring many if not most other concerns.

This post was created for, a project of the Center for American Progress Action Fund.