Dear Gov. Herbert,
They say you can’t go home again. I’ve recently returned to Salt Lake City after a decade living away. I’m shocked, saddened and sickened by Utah’s health and air-quality crisis. If it continues, I won’t stay.
How has the availability of clean, breathable air become a polarizing issue? Or, if you listen to some, a “nonissue”? It’s hard to believe that any party promotes poisoning children, complicating conditions of the ill and elderly, and shortening all of our life spans.
Surely, any who choose not to act during this crisis are misinformed about the facts, or simply not fully educated about the severity of the situation. Perhaps—even worse—they do understand, but fear speaking up about their concerns. Others may have lost faith—or faith in their leaders.
Gov. Herbert, you have an opportunity to leave a legacy of inspired and innovative policy, wise and humble stewardship of the sky (land and water) and, actual farsighted leadership.
In an accident of geography, “this is the place.” Local meteorologists mouth the mantra “We live in a ‘bowl’ ” and joke about “inversion season.” Lulled by words like “haze” and “fog,” we soldier on, stoic and trusting, awaiting the next storm. Afterward, for a few days, we gulp clean air like guppies, then watch and mourn as the mountains disappear once again behind stinking wall of putrid air.
The truth is, this is more than haze or fog. It is mixed with ever-worsening poisonous pollution. Our winter air measures some of the worst in the nation. Nowadays, the issue continues year-round. The skyline, more often than not, is smudged, dull and gritty. Many of us suffer stinging eyes, hacking coughs and suffocating asthma attacks. We are the canaries in the mine.
Geography is no excuse to shrug this off. In fact, it is the reason we cannot. Our geography means we don’t have the luxury for lackadaisical (or even normal) environmental standards. Because of our location, we must be more inspired and intelligent about how we grow, travel and produce.
In order to survive, Utah and her “peculiar people” can and must harness that uniqueness and innovate. To solve this, we’ll have to re-evaluate outdated, now dangerous conventions.
Gov. Herbert, help lead us out of this toxic dystopia. Resuscitate a truly collaborative effort and finally complete the plan to meet federal pollution standards. Provide incentives for individuals and industry to reduce emissions and enforce regulations already in place. Invest in sustainable, renewable energy at every opportunity. Reward flexible, affordable public-transportation systems. Rethink traffic patterns. Be honest about the short-term sacrifices we all need to make, as well as the long-term benefits of doing so.
We who want to call Utah home need to be able to do the simplest and most necessary of things: breathe.
Salt Lake City