Saturday, April 04, 2015

Which is more Important: Climate Change or Environmental Protection?


Comments due by April 10, 2015

Does the need to mitigate the effects of man-made climate change override the need to protect nature? 
Climate change is with us, and is one of nine reasons why scientists are now concerned that the rate of environmental degradation is a threat to the future of human life on Earth. The loss of biodiversity, dubbed the Sixth Green Extinction by some, is another threat to humanity, with nearly half of the world’s amphibians and a fifth of its plants at risk of extinction.
We do not have the luxury of choosing which of these nine challenges to tackle; they are all critical to our survival.
Yet last week, here in West Dorset, the council unanimously approved the development of a 25MW solar farm on a Site of Special Scientific Interest (SSSI). Rampisham Down was designated as a SSSI because it is nationally important for wildlife. There are 70ha of heathland and nature-rich grassland, known as lowland acid grassland at Rampisham.
Natural England estimate that there is only 5000ha of this lowland acid grassland type left in England. Rampisham is in the top ten largest surviving fragments in England. It is especially rich in grassland fungi, for which Britain has an international responsibility. It is also highly unusual in that the underlying chalk influences the plant communities, creating areas of the extremely rare habitat known as “chalk heath”.
Rampisham Down escaped the “green revolution” that wiped away most other nature in England, because it was a wartime and cold-war radio transmitting station, a piece of strategic infrastructure. West Dorset residents have lived with the “Rampisham Masts” for 70 years, and these radio masts have dominated the West Dorset landscape, with many feeling they are an eyesore and wishing them away.
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After the radio station closed in 2011 it was acquired by a solar farm developer.
British Solar Renewables (BSR) and its supporters have continually claimed that the grassland at Rampisham is of little or no value and by building a solar farm they will actually enhance the environment. To counter the concerns that erecting over 100,000 solar panels across over half of the area of Rampisham Down would damage the grasslands, BSR instituted an experiment, involving a few solar panels, some with “windows” in them, to let more light through.
The results of their own experiment has showed that under the panels, even with windows, the grass was darker, damper and cooler. Natural England’s view is that this would be enough to change the plant community from the valuable one for which the site was protected, to a more common community akin to what might be found growing along a hedgerow.
The West Dorset planning committee met last weeky to decide whether to give the Solar Farm planning permission. They listened to the evidence against it from Natural England and Dorset Wildlife Trust, and for it, from the developers, their witnesses and local councillors. They discounted the nature value of the Down, viewed it as brownfield land which would benefit from being developed, and decided that the production of renewable energy and the small number of jobs the development would bring were of greater benefit to society than protecting the wildlife.
The National Planning Policy Framework is clear that SSSIs should not be destroyed, unless the benefit outweighs the harm. This is a classic cost-benefit analysis approach, which wilfully ignores all the intangible benefits nature provides us. Even so, as the Planning Officer laid out in his analysis, the costs of developing Rampisham Down far outweigh the benefits. And in any case, there is a perfectly good location for a slightly smaller solar farm on arable land adjacent to the SSSI, where BSR has already applied for planning permission.
Another large SSSI is also under threat from development – Lodge Hill, in Kent. There are many parallels between the two sites: they are both ex-strategic infrastructure, publicly-owned land that has been sold off for development; they were both notified as SSSI on account of their nationally important wildlife; and in both cases local authority planning committee have unanimously approved their development.
Both Lodge Hill and Rampisham Down are tests of the National Planning Policy Framework and whether it is capable of protecting nature from development. But there is a bigger challenge, to society. Protecting nature is no more an option, than tackling climate change – both are necessary and one cannot outweigh the other.

18 comments:

Anonymous said...

"To counter the concerns that erecting over 100,000 solar panels across over half of the area of Rampisham Down would damage the grasslands, BSR instituted an experiment, involving a few solar panels, some with “windows” in them, to let more light through.

The results of their own experiment has showed that under the panels, even with windows, the grass was darker, damper and cooler. Natural England’s view is that this would be enough to change the plant community from the valuable one for which the site was protected, to a more common community akin to what might be found growing along a hedgerow." I think that this information should have really been observed and taken more into account regarding the decision. They found that even with the little 'windows' in the solar panels, the grass was still cool and damp. If the people were so concerned with what would impact the area and how, then why did that not raise any flags? The author even said later in the article that "there is a perfectly good location for a slightly smaller solar farm on arable land adjacent to the SSSI, where BSR has already applied for planning permission." What I'm wondering now is, why couldn't the BSR just stick with that perfectly good piece of land next to the area? I just feel like sticking to the little area would be a better idea.
-E. Piper Phillips

Victoria said...

I strongly agree with the fact that action needs to be taken for both nature protection and climate change. One can cause as much harm as the other if not taken care of properly. On a different note, I do not understanding why they do not want to experiment on the SSSI land and want to experiment on the land next to it. I do not agree with that action they took.

Anonymous said...

The effects of climate change are harmful to the planet. That being said, protecting natural environment is more important. Many beneficial wildlife species depend upon the natural environment. Nature helps to fight climate change as well. To seriously combat climate change, the UK should consider building the solar panels on current developed sites, such as parking lots and roofs. By building the solar panels on the grassland, they are promoting growth and damaging the bio-diversity of the ecosystem.

-Frazer Winsted

Chelsea Dow said...

The opening statement of this article states a crucial problem plaguing the world stage, "does the need to mitigate the effects of man-made climate change override the need to protect nature?" Essentially, in this article, it seems that society has taken more of a liking to combating climate change by producing a field of solar panels. Yes, this is a great alternative to the fossil fuel industry. However, the plot of land they wish to build on is a dynamic and unique ecosystem, and the infrastructure would damage the organisms present there. Thus the question hangs, do you protect nature or do you combat climate change? Both of them go hand in hand. If you make the solar field in a critically important area, how much good are you actually doing? Indeed, as the article concludes, "both are necessary and one cannot outweigh the other." Thus, what I took away from this article is that climate change remediation & protection of the natural world are parallel in importance and necessity; both are needed to combat the future degradation plagued by current environmental stresses.

Anonymous said...

This seems like a ridiculous issue to me. In my opinion destroying a nationally important wildlife for solar panels is like trying to cure a cold by acquiring a fever. The solar panels will produce clean energy so we can help save the environment that we just destroyed to build the solar panels in the first place. All very hypocritical. I clearly am not as well educated on this issue as someone attending these hearings but there must be a better solution than destroying all this grassland. The only logical reason one would do this is if he does not care about the environment and only wants to profit off of the solar energy. The power of human greed is sickening.

-Chris Magnemi

Geordi Taylor said...

Based on my knowledge of solar farms and the current state of England's energy grid, I think another site could be selected to erect the panels. However, the site adjacent to the SSSI land may not allow BSR to yield and convert as much as energy. Just because the they cannot yield as much from the adjacent site, that is not a justification to build the solar farm on the SSSI land. BSR could simply move the farm elsewhere and tie the system in the grid, it's advancement enough to do that, if I am not mistaken.

Anonymous said...

Clean energy and the acquisition of it can, at times, be a double-edged sword. In order to develop the technologies needed to obtain the energy from these clean sources, we may need to make some sacrifices in the process. This is the case in this article, in which an area for wildlife will be destroyed for solar panels. I find this ridiculous, personally. Nature should be a top priority, always. Clean energy should not tamper with nature and destroy natural habitats in the process, clean energy should work with the natural environment and not disturb it. I don't see why people and companies cannot understand that nature is our most precious resource and should always be protected, even if that means renewable energy cannot be used in that site. There are plenty of other places that you can put the solar panels that wouldn't affect a wildlife habitat.

-Marrina Gallant

Anonymous said...

This is a very difficult thing to decide between, however I think in the end the most important thing is the protection of the natural land. Energy can come from other sources, and solar panels can be set up in other places, but that land could never be returned to the way it was.

-Rachael Pepper

Anonymous said...

I believe that we do need to find new forms of energy in today's world because it is affecting our climate. However on the other hand at what cost. We should not be harming the environment around us. We need our ecosystem and it will help us maintain a stable climate in the end. I think we should not harm the environment.

-Neal Vincent Raimo

Michael Giordano said...

I think this post brings up an excellent point about prioritizing. There are so many issues that are threatening human life and instead of working toward a solution to all of them we are prioritizing for example climate change without even paying attention to nature degradation. While climate change is a huge problem for every organism on this planet, protect nature needs to be paid attention to because without biodiversity you don't have nature. Without nature the ecosystems we as humans depend upon each and everyday would all fail leading to what I would believe to be a bigger threat than climate change. Also doing a cost benefit analysis doesn't solve anything. Clearly nature has so many benefits that it would be close to impossible to calculate all of them and get an estimated figure that would be accurate. Just because this piece of land is small compared to all the land in the world doesn't mean that it doesn't have implications to people all over the world.

Joan Podolski said...

For me personally, Nature is a huge part of the environment and without the animals and there circle of life it effects us. To build 100,000 solar panels over half of the area of Rampisham Down would be crazy and dangerous to the planet. In the article, it as said "The National Planning Policy Framework is clear that SSSIs should not be destroyed, unless the benefit outweighs the harm. This is a classic cost-benefit analysis approach, which wilfully ignores all the intangible benefits nature provides us". In this case the cost completely outweighs the benefit, so if the options do not allow progress, then no progress should be made.

Anonymous said...

Combating climate change is a huge endeavor and we should implement renewable energy sources where ever we can. However, I agree that building a solar farm on undeveloped grasslands was uncalled for. We should be building these technologies closer to where residents live, especially in the cities. Implementing renewable sources is a good idea, but they also have their negative aspects, such as disrupting wildlife at the building site. We need to find a balance between promoting a sustainable future and minimizing the harm to nature in doing so. This story is also a perfect example as to why cost benefit analyses are controversial. Undeveloped land may not look like much but the ecosystem it contains and the services it provides can't be replaced--it's priceless.
-Emma Weis

Marisa Flannery said...

I'm not to knowledgeable on the benefits and disadvantages of solar panels being places across such a large area, but if the bad does not outweigh the good, than I'm not for it. If these panels are not actually helping our environment then they are useless and a waste of money. It seems these do more harm than good so I'm sure why people are trying to promote this.

Kobe Yank-Jacobs said...

The two goals mentioned in this article are, of course, important. When possible, one should not interfere with the other as they are directly related. But when they do conflict, protecting against climate change takes precedence in the long run because its effects will destroy any consideration of an environment left for us to protect.

I do believe in room for compromise, though. As is mentioned in the article, there was room for an adjacent solar farm, thus balancing the two needs.

Anonymous said...

Prioritizing is difficult because it requires weighing subjective values in light of the idea that their may be a "right" answer. As expected, higher priority was placed on the protection of human need instead of the needs of other species. Understanding that the solar panels may have saved future species from harmful side effects of coal-burning plants, it seems unlikely that there was no middle ground of compromise. The main issue still lies in choosing our species over all others. The value of life needs to rest equally among all species, plant and animal, in order to truly prioritize actions related to both climate change and environmental protection. Until then, our choices will be skewed in favor of humans, a practice which has already proven to be dangerous.

-Nadya Hall

Christina Cranwell said...

No matter the context it is always a battle to pick the right choice. This choice , I think that they picked the wrong answer. That area of land was protected for a reason so I don't understand why it needed to be questioned. The thing that outrages me the most is that there was a spot of land right next to it to use. Why couldn't they pick one instead of both? It is another classic case of bigger is better here.

Anonymous said...

This is a very hypocritical way of attempting to make a change for the better. Building solar panels on top of what is known to be a wildlife area. It just sounds wrong. Although solar panels do have it benefits to the environment, just think about how much time and energy it takes to put this much solar into this area and also don't forget how these solar panels are most likely harming the wildlife around it as well. I think that this was just a tedious decision to show that they are trying to be environmentally friendly. I most certainly could be wrong but I think that the solar panels should be put in an area where less damage could be caused. Preferably somewhere that isn't rich with plants ands animals, just a thought.

-Katherine Murphy

Anonymous said...

I think this is a perfect case of business trying to ignore environment and use it, as has always happened. But this time, with the results of the test, they proved that they would damage, if not destroy the local ecology with the solar panels.

I am happy that in this case, the area was properly protected. If this solar company wants to build solar panels. Instead of destroying land, they could instead put solar panels on top of already existing structures aka private homes. If the company did this, then it would be much better to put the panels in sight of people so that they can question, and express interest or disdain in appearance. Even helping the local economy, by providing the homes that they have homes set up with panels, be the first ones to benefit from the energy produced. While the excess would be routed to the power station, and redirected back to homes without the panels.

This is only my take on how the company could be better for the communities that they reside in, as an overall whole.

Beverly Levine