- Dispatches From The Vanishing World - http://www.dispatchesfromthevanishingworld.com -

the complexities of doing well by the environment

There’s a plan in California I believe, I read this in the NY Times coupla weeks back, to erect a forest of solar panels in some remote high desert. This will supply the energy needs of 135,000 homes– great– but the panels will ruin the habitat and reduce the population of the endangered bighorn sheep and the desert tortoises, so the Sierra Club is fighting it.

In Pennsylvania there’s a huge debate about the wisdom of hydrofracking the Marcellus shale for its natural gas. The more gas we burn instead of oil, the less we are contributing to global warming, but the environmental impacts, the poisoning of the aquifer with toxic fluids from the process, etc., which haven’t even been definitely quantified, more than override its benefits. The Carnegie Museum of Natural History, which I visited two weeks ago– my great uncle Andrey Avinoff was the museum’s director from l925 to l945, and the Carnegie Museum of Fine Arts has just opened a magnificent show, called “In Pursuit of Beauty,”  of his surrealistic, botanical, butterfly, and homoerotic paintings–  owns a lot of shale land whose mineral rights could generate well-needed income. The museum is hurting and has had to lay off a dozen of its curators, and some of its collections are lying idle and neglected. So it has do redefine and reinvent itself, and do the right thing with its shale holdings.

Last week I gave a talk in Bedford, New York, my home town, the text of which should be up shortly in the Dispatches. Someone asked me about the health of Westchester’s glorious oak-hickory hardwood forest. Its biodiversity– with 4200 species of higher plants, from ferns on up, its is the richest temperate deciduous forest on earth– is having serious inroads made on it by the white-tailed deer population, which has gotten way out of hand. There is talk of culling it.

Sometimes doing well by the environment, the best way to go, the right way to go, isn’t at all clear. For every silver lining, there is a cloud.