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Sun and Air

Though Hillary Angelo paints a stark picture of solar energy development in the American West [“Boomtown,” Letter from Nevada, January], many studies suggest that solar farms offer an opportunity to unite carbon-free energy production with ecological restoration.

While solar farms can have mixed environmental effects, my research has found that amid increasing heat and drought stress in the West, the shade provided by arrays can strengthen native plants, extend flowering time, and support critical pollinator habitats. And agrivoltaics—the coupling of solar energy and agriculture production—shows promise. For example, using sheep grazers to manage solar array landscapes in lieu of gas-powered motors sustainably combines livestock and energy production.

The opinions of those living near proposed solar sites must be taken into consideration, and the ways in which private companies are benefiting from the use of our public land should be examined. But what the Beatty residents in Angelo’s report fail to consider is that solar arrays can improve ecosystems in historically disturbed and degraded landscapes. As we attempt to transition to a carbon-neutral future, it is crucial that we look comprehensively at new modes of energy generation, set environmental conservation goals, and weigh potential socio-economic effects.

Seeta Sistla
Assistant Professor of Soil Ecology, California Polytechnic State University
San Luis Obispo, Calif.


As Angelo reports in her thorough examination of the “green” energy industry in Nevada, almost every large energy production facility comes with the threat of widespread environmental damage, including the destruction of critical biological diversity.

Four years ago, in Humboldt County, California, our organization Siskiyou Land Conservancy was virtually the only environmental group to oppose a proposal by the Manhattan energy company Terra-Gen to place forty-seven wind turbines atop Bear River and Monument Ridges. In addition to requiring the construction of a huge industrial maintenance facility and a new grid, the turbines would have spelled doom for a number of protected avian species, including the golden eagle and the marbled murrelet. Thanks primarily to opposition from the Wiyot Tribe, the county rejected the project.

Energy companies find themselves happily allied with big environmental groups eager to promote speedy solutions to the climate crisis. But wind and solar only become viable alternatives if facilities are publicly owned. Rather than handing off public land to large corporations, we should fund widespread distributed solar on rooftops across the country—and give ownership of that power to the people.

Greg King and Ken Miller
Arcata, Calif.



The Will to Deceive

Mark Edmundson’s recent piece [“Truth Takes A Vacation,” Essay, January] struck me as so wrongheaded that I turned to William James’s essays to check whether, several decades after first reading them, I had forgotten what he wrote and meant.

Fortunately, I had not. Edmundson’s take on James’s philosophical method attempts to place Trump in the tradition of American Pragmatism, but it seems he made a common semantic error, one James himself warned of: “On all hands, we find the ‘pragmatic movement’ spoken of, sometimes with respect, sometimes with contumely, seldom with clear understanding.” This misunderstanding arises between “Pragmatism” as a philosophical method and “pragmatism” in the colloquial sense of “practical,” often accompanied by an amoral sense of what constitutes the practical.

It is clear from even a casual reading of James that he was not concerned with the colloquial “practical man,” but with the age-old question of “what is Truth,” and found that “truth” is not a capital-T metaphysical entity:

No particular results then [in metaphysical debate], so far, but only an attitude of orientation . . . the attitude of looking away from first things, principles, “categories,” supposed necessities; and of looking towards last things, fruits, consequences, facts.

Trump is concerned with none of these things, especially not with facts, and surely James would have found Trump horrifying—if not exactly unfamiliar in the American tradition of the demagogue. James’s method was not an excuse for amoralism, but for a kind of ethics grounded in what we can know of reality.

Frankly, calling Trump a Pragmatist, and attempting to rescue idealism from skepticism of the kind practiced by James, smears the tradition. But perhaps Edmundson confuses philosophical Idealism with moral idealism.

William L. Scurrah
Tucson, Ariz.


Mark Edmundson responds:

The crucial moment in American pragmatism comes with “the linguistic turn,” which I associate with Richard Rorty, not with James. With the linguistic turn, language becomes instrumental: you use it to get what you want. You may want peace and plenty, as Rorty did. Or you may want power and personal aggrandizement. Pragmatic thinking cannot tell you authoritatively why one of these goals is better. For that you need ideals. Without ideals, humans lack ballast: all that is solid melts into air.



Good Morning Moon

Reading Rachel Kushner’s Easy Chair [“Night Watch,” October], I was pleasantly transported back to a childhood marked by wonderment of the night sky. I do, however, wish to correct her statement that in the past fifty years there have been only two complete solar eclipses (in 1979 and 2017) witnessed in the United States.

On the Big Island of Hawaii on July 11, 1991, at approximately 7 am, we were cast into total darkness. My husband stood at the end of our road beneath the moon’s eclipse of the sun, just a halo of the corona visible above his head, and our three-month-old son asleep in his arms. I will probably never experience another total solar eclipse, but perhaps my son will. Hopefully next time, he’ll be awake.

Linda Goeth
Kailua-Kona, Hawaii



Because of an editing error, “Boomtown” incorrectly referred to a highway running through Beatty, Nevada, as I-95. In fact, it is U.S. Route 95. We regret the error.

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March 2023

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