by Chip Ward
Ecosystems are stressed. Life’s operating systems are acting out. The signs are there: Carbon-based energy addictions are taking their toll. Who says you can’t change the weather?
The vastness of the American West holds rainforests, deserts, and everything in between, so weather patterns and moisture vary. Nonetheless, we have been experiencing a historic drought for about a decade in significant parts of the region. As topsoil dries out, microbial dynamics change and native plants either die or move uphill toward cooler temperatures and more moisture. Wildlife that depends on the seeds, nuts, leaves, shade and shelter follows the plants—if it can. Plants and animals are usually able to adapt to slow and steady changes in their habitat, but rapid and uncertain seasonal transformations in weather patterns mean that the timing for such basic ecological processes as seed germination, pollination, migration and hibernation is also disrupted. The challenge of adapting to such fundamental changes can be overwhelming.And if evolving at warp speed isn’t enough, plants, animals, and birds are struggling within previously reduced and fragmented habitats. Wildlife already thrown off the mothership now finds the lifeboats, those remnants of their former habitats, on fire.
by Sallie Dean Shatz
Rio Tinto's Bingham Mine is a top polluter in the country, and it's planning a major expansion. What's a risk, and what's the alternative?
Terry Marasco, communications coordinator for Utah Clean Air, has stared at the numbers long and hard. His analysis suggests that criteria pollutants—major pollutants the EPA has set maximum exposure levels for—are on the rise in the Wasatch Front airshed. The majority of the increases come from large industry, the “point source” polluters—refineries and Rio Tinto’s Bingham Mine in the Oquirrh Mountains west of Salt Lake City.
Rio Tinto provides jobs and gives business to other businesses in the area. It contributes a significant amount of money to the community, most visibly evident in the new Utah Museum of Natural History building on Salt Lake City’s east bench. It is also one of the country’s top contributors to air pollution.
by Katherine Pioli
Water and public health at the heart of Becker's Parley's plan.
Looking out on Salt Lake Valley, across the gray concrete of highways and the green of human-planted trees, it is easy to forget that Salt Lake is, underneath it all, a desert. But for our city and county officials charged with keeping Salt Lake a safe and desirable place to live now and into the future, this single fact is of utmost importance. In this desert, water and water quality is perhaps the most important issue for our local government. Decisions and sacrifices will be made to assure a constant supply of safe water to our growing population, even at the risk of losing popular public opinion. Such is the case with Salt Lake City Mayor Ralph Becker’s recent changes to Parley’s Historic Nature Park.
by Rebecca Solnit
The fierce affection and determination that sustains life is more essential than market forces to the economic iceberg below the waterline.
After the Macondo well exploded in the Gulf of Mexico, it was easy enough (on your choice of screen) to see a flaming oil platform, the very sea itself set afire with huge plumes of black smoke rising, and the dark smear of what would become five million barrels of oil beginning to soak birds and beaches. Infinitely harder to see and less dramatic was the vast counterforce soon at work: the mobilizing of tens of thousands of volunteers, including passionate locals from fishermen in the Louisiana Oystermen’s Association to an outraged tattoo-artist-turned-organizer, from visiting scientists, activist groups, and Catholic Charities reaching out to Vietnamese fishing families to the journalist and oil-policy expert Antonia Juhasz, and Rosina Philippe of the Atakapa-Ishak tribe in Grand Bayou. And don’t forget the ceaseless toil of the Sierra Club’s local environmental justice organizer, the Gulf Coast Restoration Network, the New Orleans-born poet-turned-investigator Abe Louise Young, and so many more than I can list here.
by Chip Ward
When, once again, we come to realize that everything we thought we knew is wrong.
The catastrophe in the Gulf of Mexico will generate passionate debate. We will critique BP’s profit-saving shortcuts and poor safety record, the Bush-era regulators who were literally in bed with oil corporations. We’ll debate any number of other issues, laws, policies and practices related to the catastrophe…but at the heart of the matter is something much deeper we must get to: If we want to stop our culture’s self-destructive habits and learn sustainable behaviors, if we want to survive our mistakes and thrive tomorrow, then we must shed our hubris and learn to be humble and wise. The age of hubris, a time when all things are knowable, all problems can be fixed and all limits surpassed, is crashing all around us.
by Benjamin R. Bombard
Salt Lake biologist Chris Cline documents the Deep Horizon oil disaster.
A really crappy reason to get to know a really beautiful place—Salt Lake biologist Chris Cline documents the Deep Horizon oil disaster. When Chris Cline last visited America’s southern shore on the Gulf of Mexico, it was May, just two weeks after the Deep Horizon oil rig exploded and oil began pouring into the ocean. A biologist with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service’s Utah Field Office, Cline was down south as part of the government’s initial response to the oil spill. She and her team had two tasks: get the lay of the land before oil rolled ashore and record the damage done to the area’s wildlife—its birds, fish and marine mammals. On her last day in the Delta National Wildlife Refuge in Louisiana, she stood on the shore, looking out to sea. There was oil on the water, coming in on the waves, building up on the beach.
by Margaret Ruth
Gorilla Design's adventures in shipping container construction.
Dominique and Eric Aragon’s garage isn’t a typical backyard garage. It manages the obvious job of sheltering two cars, of course, but it is so cool that Roi and Eric gave it a pet name, the “CFG,” meaning Cool F’ing Garage. It’s Salt Lake City’s first structure to follow a growing national and international trend of using surplus shipping containers as building blocks. “The Aragons wanted to push the envelope and see how green they could go,” says Roi Maufas of Gorilla Design, the firm that designed and managed the construction project. Salt Lake’s first shipping container structure is one high-class garage. Gorilla Design partnered with Dominique and Eric Aragon of 4R Innovations to produce a model of sustainable building at less than conventional building costs.
by Katherine Pioli
Do you love Utah's natural gifts? Here's a list of her champions. Lend them a hand.
Utah, the “reddest state in the nation,” has a surprising number of environmentally minded nonprofit organizations, each working enthusiastically every day to preserve the air, land and water of what is undeniably one of the most beautiful states in the nation. Whether you’re interested in brushing up on what’s going down, or hoping to get involved yourself, our directory of Utah’s enviro orgs is a great first step!
by Benjamin Bombard
Then more than now (but nobody's bragging.) Hear from some folks who remember when the snow was black.
When winter storms shiver snow over the Wasatch Front and clouds peel off the lapis skies, people from Payson to Tremonton enjoy picturesque vistas that inspire accord with Brigham Young's opinion: This really is the place. But when high-pressure fronts park dry air masses over the region, an atmospheric inversion creates prime conditions for a mucky haze to soup into the Wasatch Front, haze so thick it gives the sun a rusty pallor and so toxic as to be a certifiable health hazard. When this occurs, you may want to be any other place, somewhere you can breathe a deep, clean breath and rejoice in a view of a naturally blue sky.
by Katherine Pioli
Terri Martin tells her story of a shift from fierce environmental defender to advocate for conversations on wilderness.
When I met Terri Martin at her downtown office, she opened our conversation by asserting that she would not speak for the environmental movement in Utah. Martin is a long-time Utah environmental activist, and although I had been assigned to write a story of Utah environmentalism "then and now," I felt no desire to argue with this wiry, steely-eyed woman standing before me. There would be no guesstimate, she told me, as to how the number of groups had expanded since her early work in the '80s. She would not divine how the hot environmental issues would shift in years to come. "I can only speak to my personal story," she added, with finality.