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Desert Year: Meeting Energy Needs is All About Perspective

by Skip Laitner • April 18, 2012 @ 2:25 pm

It had been in my mind for some time.  Picacho Peak is a fascinating and major focal point of the Arizona landscape, located perhaps 40 miles north of Tucson.  I’ve wanted to explore both the peak and its surrounding area almost since my first return to Tucson last May.

Earlier this year Arizona celebrated the 150th anniversary of the only Civil War skirmish that occurred in Arizona — right there in Picacho Pass. The Union forces lost that particular encounter because of the disobedience of an overeager young lieutenant. They also suffered three fatalities in that fight.

The little bit of publicity I saw about this anniversary only heightened my interest in climbing the peak.  So I set out one fine Friday with a friend to get it done.

Picacho Peak at a Distance

Our very first picture was taken at about 7:30 am in the morning as we approached Picacho Peak from the south on Interstate 10.  At that angle and distance one might begin to wonder, how the heck do we even begin to think that we can actually make the ascent? And if we look at the seemingly insatiable demands for energy, how might we do anything but dig for more coal or drill for more oil? (more…)

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Desert Year: Insights on Economy, Energy, and Climate

by Skip Laitner • August 8, 2011 @ 9:29 am

John ‘Skip” Laitner is an economist, enjoying a desert year while on research sabbatical  from the American Council for an Energy-Efficient Economy. Skip is uncovering some surprising insights from his time in the desert that inform the way one looks at the economy and social systems. In a series of posts entitled Desert Year, Skip lends us his insights, as well as his 40 years of experience as an energy and natural resource economist, to probe the economic, climate, and energy challenges that confront us.

A Most Unnatural Cactus! 

Unlike most economic statistics, this really caught my eye.  A very tall and almost too perfect-looking giant saguaro cactus, perched very high upon the hill just outside Tucson. The desert sentinel.  I wondered aloud whether it was real or perhaps artificial.  My friend leaned over as we drove past and assured me that it might be unusually large but it looked quite real.

Still I wondered.

It took me almost six weeks later, this past weekend in fact, to actually find out.  I was out for a late afternoon jaunt and I first started to scoot along on the road right past the cactus.  But as I again looked up again I suddenly thought, why not turn the outing into a more of an adventure? So I decided to get up close and personal.

As I then detoured and surged the 200 meters up the hill, some of the details begin to unfold.  About halfway up, yes, it began to look like the real thing.  From about 30 meters away I spotted a couple of holes that might have been home to Gila Woodpeckers or Gilded Flickers.  And I thought, why yes, it might actually turn out to be very real indeed. 

But it wasn’t until I was perhaps 10 to 15 meters away that I saw the bolts that held it to its concrete footing, and as I pulled right up to it I spotted the several heavy wires that looked as though they might siphon off a very large current. I’m guessing it was nothing more than a very elegant lighting rod.

I am an economist, enjoying a desert year – very much in the tradition of naturalist Joseph Wood Krutch’s book, The Desert Year.  He wrote it in the year just before he joined the University of Arizona faculty in 1952.  I first read it in the early 1980s.  And as I am slowly making the transition into a year-long research sabbatical with colleagues at the University, the “Desert Year” again informs my thinking.  (more…)

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Did Environmentalists Kill Climate Legislation?

by Frank Ackerman • May 9, 2011 @ 11:32 am

This post first appeared on Triple Crisis.

Climate legislation, even in its most modest and repeatedly compromised variety, failed last year. And there won’t be a second chance with anything like the current Congress. What caused this momentous failure?

Broadly speaking, there are two rival stories. It could be due to the strength of opposing or inertial forces: well-funded lobbying by fossil fuel industries, biased coverage by increasingly right-wing media, the growth of the “Tea Party” subculture and its rejection of science, dysfunctional institutions such as the U.S. Senate with its filibuster rules, and the low priority given to climate legislation by the Obama administration.

Or it could be because environmentalists screwed up and shot themselves in the foot. (more…)

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