Living Lighter to Save the Pika

I’m writing this column from the heart of California’s Sierra Nevada range near Yosemite National Park. It’s beautiful here and not as hot as Las Vegas in early September, but there is ample evidence of rising temperatures as the effects of climate change become increasingly obvious.

The wide-spread bark beetle infestation in the western U.S. has resulted in large numbers of dead or dying trees. And California’s fire season is now seemingly without end, with numerous wildfires currently raging in the state, one of them quite nearby. Animals are feeling the effects of the climate crisis. Pika are cute little critters that thrive in the high country. They are running out of habitat as warmer temperatures cause them to seek the cooler temperatures of ever-higher terrain. Guess what: Higher is running out.

Yes, climate change is here and its effects are visible to anyone willing to take a look. I shudder to imagine the reaction John Muir would have if he could once again visit his beloved Sierras.

Experiences like these drive me to live lighter on the planet, for what we do to the Pika, we do to ourselves. A shift is underway but at this point, a post-carbon society can not come soon enough. Just how soon is up to us, but there is some good news that we’re making progress.

Technology alone will not save us from ourselves, but it can play a key role. I think photovoltaic (PV) power is a good example. Of all the solar energy technologies, PV is perhaps the most elegant. It converts sunlight directly to electricity, with no middle-man so to speak. PV does not use water (a real plus in the arid Mojave Desert) and rarely needs maintenance. Panels are so robust that they come with performance warranties of twenty years or more.

Global implementation is growing rapidly and technological advances are improving performance while reducing cost. In fact, according to a recent article published by the American Association for the Advancement of Science, “PV electricity today costs less than that from a new natural gas peaking plant, and is rapidly encroaching on combined cycle baseload generation costs.”

Manufacturing output has grown by a factor of 200 over the last twenty years. PV power can be scaled to any application, from a watch to a house to a utility-scale plant. It’s easy and quick to install. For example, Spain built more than two gigawatts of PV power plants in 2008 alone. Conventional power plants take many years to build.

The shift to renewable energy is an important factor in controlling energy costs over the long term and homeowners can directly benefit from this trend. One of the best ways to find out more is by attending the Southern Nevada Solar Home Tour on Saturday, October 3.

The tour is organized by Solar NV, the non-profit Southern Nevada chapter of the American Solar Energy Society (ASES). Each year ASES organizes the National Solar Tour with well over one hundred thousand attendees in communities across the U.S. The event provides a way to meet and learn from the growing number of people who are reducing their energy costs and carbon footprints through renewable energy, green building and various efficiency strategies. Each stop on the tour is unique and since it’s self-guided, you get to decide what interests you most.

The Southern Nevada Solar Home Tour has been a regular yearly event for the last several years and typically sells out in advance. More information and registration details can be found at

Attending the tour can open a new realm of possibilities for living a greener lifestyle. That’s a good thing for the trees, the Pika and for us.

Green Living column for Thursday, September 10, 2010, published in the Las Vegas Review Journal: “Power of sun put on parade during annual tour”