The tiny toad taking on a geothermal giant
Could this renewable energy project really pose an existential threat to the Dixie Valley toad?
I don’t usually send emails this close together, but earlier this week my latest feature for the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists was published:
It is the story of the Dixie Valley toad, the first new species of toad to be discovered in the United States in 50 years. The Dixie Valley toad is the smallest of the western toads, and its only known habitat is a patch of greenery in the Nevada desert called Dixie Meadows, which is fed by geothermal hot springs.
It is also the story of the nearby Dixie Meadows geothermal project, which has been in the works since 2007, but only got approved and permitted in 2021. A biodiversity group claims that the project could disrupt the hot springs that the tiny Dixie Valley toad depend on for survival.
At this point, the conservationist against renewables is old news. When solar and wind farms are built on undeveloped land, they take habitat away from plants and animals. Most environmentalists would rather see these projects built on already disturbed land whenever possible.
But geothermal plants have a much smaller physical footprint than solar and wind farms; could this project really pose an existential threat to the Dixie Valley toad?
So that was the first question I asked, and the answer is predictably complicated, because experts on either side disagree. But I also get into why geothermal—a promising, low-carbon energy source—is so challenging and slow to develop, and whether there are better ways to find and site projects without harming the fragile ecosystems that crop up around hot springs and other surface expressions of geothermal activity.
I hope you’ll give it a read, if only to skim and see some of the photos I took of a stunning place that not many people ever visit. As I write in the opening:
Dixie Meadows is a smudge of vibrant green in an otherwise muted pink and tan landscape. To travel there from Fallon, Nevada, the nearest city, one must first drive 40 miles east on US Route 50, a stretch of highway known as the “loneliest road in America,” and then another 40 miles north on a gravel road into Dixie Valley, a low-lying plain between the Stillwater Range and the Clan Alpine Mountains.
The New York City marathon on Sunday was the hottest on record since the race was moved from October to November in 1986. So if you or someone you know or someone you saw on TikTok wasn’t able to finish, or fell wayyyyyy short of their goals, blame climate change. (Lauren Leffer for Gizmodo)
The Great Salt Lake is showing signs of eminent ecosystem collapse, as keystone species at the bottom of the food chain, like brine flies and brine fish, disappear. (Leia Larson for The Salt Lake Tribune)
I feel like the consensus among my friends is that all of the old buildings on Governors Island would be a great place to live, and it’s a waste of beautiful, historic buildings for them to sit empty all the time. (Just spitballing here: Maybe it should be a permanent artists’ residency?) But the proposed plan by the Adams administration and the Trust for Governors Island to develop the island has none of the potentially good stuff, like housing for residents of a city with a housing crisis, and EVERYTHING BAD: a 20-story hotel; a shopping district; PARKING for up to 200 vehicles??; and a “Center for Climate Solutions” which I’m pretty sure is a sop for people like me. But I, for one, do not want a Governors Island Disney World destination for tourists?? Or to have one of the few car-free places in the city taken away?! No, thank you! A group of likeminded folks are suing to stop this horrific plan. Hellgate’s Max Rivlin-Nadler has the full story.