Another 2020 Crisis We Can’t Overlook

E. Thomas Nelson: One more crisis in 2020 we don’t want to overlook

By E. Thomas Nelson | Special to The Tribune · Published: 09/18/2020

Now three-quarters of the way complete, 2020 still has much time to shock us and potentially further disrupt our daily lives.

A global pandemic forced us out of the workforce and into our homes. Racism and tribalism sent us back into the streets, where sickening displays of violence have recently become commonplace. Earthquakes shook our houses and a generational windstorm sent tree’s falling down on top of them. We all have more than enough to keep us up at night: our proverbial plates are full.…/09/18/e-thomas-nelson-one-more/

E. Thomas Nelson: One more crisis in 2020 we don’t want to overlook
(Trent Nelson | The Salt Lake Tribune) Chelsie Kemper at a rally against the Inland Port at the state Capitol in Salt Lake City on Monday, Feb. 3, 2020.

Taken in context of the whirlwind that has been 2020, the air quality along the Wasatch Front might not seem a pressing issue right now. But the people of Utah would be well served to take note of this very real and very immediate crisis.

A virus is an invisible monster that can have horrible, irreversible health consequences; racism can marginalize; tribalism can sow the seeds of misinformation; earthquakes can shake an economy; and winds can destroy the landscape. The polluted air suffocating our valley has been doing all those things for some time now, with nothing but darker days ahead. The science is unequivocal. The data is clear. Our air is oftentimes toxic and has profound consequences for our health. These consequences start before we take our first breath and are lifelong. These consequences affect everyone and every major organ system in our bodies.

Unfortunately, our geography puts those of us along the Wasatch Front at particular vulnerability to the horrible consequences of air pollution. Those majestic mountains we love to hike and bike and ski act as a cauldron to trap polluted air in our valleys, a phenomena that one can actually see when the particulate burden is especially hazardous (our famous “inversion days”).

An inland port would accelerate and exacerbate our pollution crisis significantly. The sheer increase in traffic from planes, trains and automobiles would be profound. It’s the last thing we deserve. We do not deserve the rhetoric of local politicians who make decisions based on their own private interests while sacrificing the health of our citizens. We do not deserve an inland port that will poison our bodies while making an elite few richer, without ultimately improving our economy on a whole for the people who actually live here.

The idea of pollution-heavy industries being a financially sound investment doesn’t pan out on a national level either. Drew Shindell, professor of Earth science at Duke University, recently mapped out a pathway from 2020 to 2070 that reduced U.S. greenhouse gas emissions to stay below 2 degrees Celsius.

At a hearing of the House Committee on Oversight and Reform, Shindell testified, “Over the next 50 years, keeping to the 2 degrees Celsius pathway would prevent roughly 4.5 million premature deaths, about 3.5 million hospitalizations and emergency room visits, and approximately 300 million lost workdays in the U.S.”

He went on to explain, “The avoided health care spending due to reduced hospitalizations and emergency room visits exceeds $37 billion, and the increased labor productivity is valued at more than $75 billion. On average, this amounts to over $700 billion per year in benefits to the U.S. from improved health and labor alone, far more than the cost of the energy transition.”

The inland port will offer a short-term financial stimulus to a tiny fraction of Utahns. The port will drastically increase our air pollution levels. Air pollution is a killer. Many reading this live in a unique landscape that traps pollution. This shouldn’t be controversial. It isn’t political or fake news. No media outlets or Facebook news feeds need to tell you that the thick gray air you and your family are forced to breathe is bad for you.

We all play a role in this. Cutting back on our driving, doing what we can to bring down energy usage in our homes, improving and utilizing our mass transit systems, urban development favoring walkability; they all add up. But there’s a more imminent threat facing us right now. The inland port will act as a pollution factory that won’t save us financially and will ruin us physically. We deserve better.

If 2020 has taught us nothing else, it’s that we need to heed the warnings of the facts and injustices staring us straight in the face. If we, as a state, ignore the local climate crisis we face, there will be devastating consequences.

But 2020 has taught us better.

We’ve learned that we are not invincible, and that while politicians can skew facts and divide with rhetoric, science will eventually catch up to all of us. People can lie, but numbers don’t. We’ve learned that change on a wide scale is indeed possible when a collective of people band together, make sacrifices, and demand their voices be heard.…/09/18/e-thomas-nelson-one-more/
E. Thomas Nelson
E. Thomas Nelson