|TORTOISES MANHANDLED FOR SOLAR SPLITS ENVIRONMENTALISTS|
Aruba, September 20, 2012 - It’s a 106-degree Fahrenheit day in the Mojave Desert. Heat devils dance off chocolate-hued Clark Mountain on the horizon. Air-conditioned cars zip along Interstate 15 toward Las Vegas. And inside a chain-link pen covered to keep out predators are scores of rare, threatened, sand-colored desert tortoises.
Their captivity helps show how complicated it is to combat climate change without collateral damage. The foot-long (30- centimeter) creatures are being removed from their burrows for a project to harvest solar energy in the California desert. Trucks groan down sunbaked roads, cranes pivot with 750-pound (340- kilogram) mirrors and mechanical post-pounders drive steel pylons into the packed desert floor, destroying their habitat.
Construction of such large-scale green-energy projects has splintered environmental groups. When concern over global warming was at a peak, national organizations such as the Sierra Club and the Natural Resources Defense Council threw their support behind industrial-scale wind and solar installations on public land. Now some smaller conservationist groups object to what they consider an environmentally destructive gold rush.
“Of course we need to do solar, but it should go on rooftops or in appropriate places, not the pristine desert,” says April Sall, director of the Wildlands Conservancy in Oak Glen, California, operator of the state’s largest nonprofit preservation system. “We need to tackle warming -- but not forget that there are other things at stake.”