Student Art Project Depicts Unwise Burden on Desert Wildlands

Biologist have expressed concern that the scale of proposed utility-scale renewable energy development in America's southwestern deserts could push various species of plants and wildlife to the brink by destroying or fragmenting large swaths of otherwise ecologically intact wildlands. This energy model ignores the opportunities to build on already-disturbed lands or focus on distributed generation -- such as rooftop solar -- and will ironically compound the challenges wildlife will face as a result of human-induced climate change.  The desert tortoise is an icon of this quandary, and it caught the attention of high school student Halle Rayn Kohn.  In a mixed media piece of art using acrylic paint, sandpaper, and a collage of pictures and magazine cut-outs, Halle's art depicts a species burdened by human energy demands.

An image of the original art work, used with permission from the artist.  The piece was part of an AP Studio Art project in California.
The piece was displayed at a high school art gallery, accompanied by a statement that explained the urgent threat of the solar land rush that is threatening to destroy hundreds of square miles of tortoise habitat, including the projects being constructed in the Ivanpah Valley, and pointing to distributed generation as a wiser clean energy solution.  Copied below is the statement that accompanied the art:

The fragility of desert ecosystems and their sensitive inhabitants is too often overlooked. This habitat and its animals, having delicately evolved over billions of years, are desperately in need of our protection and respect. Unfortunately, because of the many misconceptions about these lands, many view the desert as a dumping ground – useless for anything other than fulfilling superficial human needs. If our perception of this beautiful and one-of-a-kind environment does not soon change, it can easily slip through the cracks of our fingers and be gone forever, as if to have ceased to exist completely; unable to be viewed nor admired by future generations. This may seem unthinkable, but is sadly quite possible – consider the events unfolding in Ivanpah, CA. Endangered desert tortoises have been removed from their burrows and forced to live in captivity, so that solar panels could be erected in the sand which they once depended on for a home and security. It is a drastic mistake for our society to approve of such measures to be taken for our own lifestyles, when we could be placing these panels upon our rooftops and no longer put this species existence into jeopardy. This is why I decided to have my piece portray an aged, wise desert tortoise carrying solar panels upon her shell, to convey the metaphorical weight that we are placing on this species as a whole. After all, why is it okay for them to be deprived of their homes for us to receive such a luxury as power in ours?

Thank you, Halle, for this wonderful piece and for raising awareness about the value of our desert wildlands.


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