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Herbert's energy plan has no pioneer ancestry

Published January 18, 2013 1:01 am

This is an archived article that was published on sltrib.com in 2013, and information in the article may be outdated. It is provided only for personal research purposes and may not be reprinted.

'A Tale of Two Salt Lake Cities" was on vivid display at the Salt Palace last week. Inside, warm and comfortable, 1,400 members of the Utah "establishment" led by Gov. GaryHerbert met for two days to implement the Herbert energy plan.

The plan is beautiful, at least in its simplicity. Utah has abundant fossil fuels, we know how to dig them up, therefore Utah should dig up and burn them all. It's an economic development strategy that would have made Yosemite Sam proud. "There's gold in thum thar hills!"

It's also a get-rich scheme for campaign contributors and the well-connected. Oil and gas firms have been Herbert's largest donors, to the tune of hundreds of thousands of dollars.

Meanwhile, outside the Salt Palace in the freezing cold, 200 of the "anti-establishment" — professional skiers, wildlife defenders, hunters, environmentalists, public health advocates, Native Americans, professionals, academics and grandmothers — presented a much different energy future.

They addressed everything that was ignored by the "establishment" — the climate crisis, the oft-times worst air pollution in the country, disappearing water resources, shrinking snow pack, diminished quality of life, and the myopic vision of tying Utah's economic future to the 19th century wagon of dirty energy.

There was no get-rich-quick scheme and no one had to cough up cash for a seat at the table.

Ironically, it was the "anti-establishment" that drew upon the legacy of Utah's pioneer ancestors to make their case. In the 1840s, Brigham Young exhorted the pioneers against the quick-buck scheme of their time, the California gold rush. Instead, they built churches, temples and sustainable communities from scratch that many of them knew they would not live long enough to enjoy.

Our ancestors sacrificed virtually all they had for the greater good, a better future for their descendants, and without a guarantee that they would survive individually, as families or even as a community. Though often suffering deprivation, they wisely stored, and shared, food, clothing, and all life's necessities in the event of unforeseen catastrophe.

To this day it is our pioneer legacy to prepare for adversity by storing substantial amounts of food, water and emergency supplies. What we really should be storing now is a two-year supply of livable climate and breathable air.

Unlike the pioneers, the disaster we should be preparing for is hardly unforeseen. Every week the latest climate research and water forecast is more frightening than the last. A recent report in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences states that "observed heat wave intensities in the current decade are larger than worst-case projections."

If we continue our current fossil-fuel consumption, by 2050 North America can expect 14.4 degrees Fahrenheit of warming. By 2100, it's an apocalyptic 22 degrees, making much of Earth uninhabitable.

But the response of Utah's leaders has been to embrace the anti-pioneer ethos of immediate gratification that is the Herbert Energy Plan. They are committing the entire state to the kind of "gold rush" that Brigham Young helped the pioneers reject, with the justification that we cannot interfere in the free market.

Imagine the pioneer handcart companies burning their winter clothes to stay warm, or responding to the "cricket plague" by killing the seagulls, and you have this energy plan.

It is easy to forget that our survival still depends upon the same ecosystems and natural resources that our pioneer forefathers depended upon: water, clean air, arable land and a suitable climate, all of which are under assault from this "gold rush" for fossil fuels.

Utah is in desperate need of a return to pioneer wisdom, morality and sacrifice. And none of that could be found inside the Salt Palace last week.

Brian Moench is president of Utah Physicians for a Healthy Environment and a member of Union of Concerned Scientists.