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Commentary: With proposed inland port, Utah planners continue to ignore climate catastrophe

(Francisco Kjolseth | The Salt Lake Tribune) Students at North Star Elementary have recess adjacent to I-215 on Monday, Feb. 11, 2019. With 530 students in Pre-K through 6th grade, it is one of the closest schools to the planned inland port development, located less than a mile away. The inland port, a massive development planed for Salt Lake City's westernmost area is cause for concern for the Salt Lake City School District through possible impacts in air quality and students, who they already have to keep inside from recess on bad air days.

In recent weeks we have seen catastrophic flooding across the Midwest, the devastating Cyclone Idai in southeast Africa, emergencies and/or evacuations in impoverished Native American communities in South Dakota and new reports emerge daily of the threats posed by planetary warming.

Digesting this news over the last month, one might consider two questions: Are these events interrelated? Should Utah residents care?

It is well understood that these types of extreme weather events are becoming more common and more severe because of a warmer atmosphere. The continued use of fossil fuels will increase warming. This is a fact, supported by extensive peer-reviewed literature on the topic. There is virtually no debate about it in the scientific community. So yes, these events are related.

Furthermore, many have concluded that several degrees of warming are already baked into Earth’s climate systems, which will have catastrophic impacts on human civilization, including rising sea levels, loss of glacial freshwater, more severe wildfires, food and water shortages, and collapsed ecosystems.

Last July, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration concluded that the planet will see a 4 degrees C (7 degrees F) rise in temperatures by 2100. This report was published by an administration that simultaneously claims there is no climate change, but if there is, there’s no point increasing vehicle emissions standards, the planet is going to burn regardless.

That’s the level of criminal insanity with which our federal government is currently operating. Let that sink in, because Utah’s leaders may be giving the feds a run for their money.

This brings me to the second question: Should Utah citizens care? As in, should we care deeply enough to take genuine political action? For future generations, the answer must be an emphatic yes, especially when one considers the disastrous plans to construct an inland port in the northwest quadrant of Salt Lake City, near the airport, in the middle of migratory bird habitat south of the Great Salt Lake.

This port is a cynical opportunity for a handful of landowners, several of which are large corporations, to reap significant profits. One of these companies is the multinational Rio Tinto, which apparently requires revenue beyond its $40.52 billion from last year (at the expense of wildlife habitat and air quality).

It is also an opportunity for Swiss-based rail company Stadler to establish a new plant staffed by recruits from local high schools via partnership with Salt Lake School District. Perhaps a more accurate testament to Stadler’s “commitment” to students is their insistence on tax breaks, including $10 million promised by the port authority and a $9.6 million deal with the city.

Additionally, the Utah Inland Port Authority board (made up of nine white men and two white women) has total control over future tax breaks in the 20,000 acres it administers over. That’s roughly equivalent to 1,000 City Creek Centers. Also present at board meetings: Savage, a logistics company that concedes it plans to transport coal via the port.

This is but a small sample of the troubling information that can be obtained by attending just a couple board meetings. It’s alarming to consider what is being agreed upon behind closed doors.

We should be ashamed. As frontline communities fight for survival, often impoverished communities of color that have contributed the least to this catastrophic state of affairs, we watch the ultra-wealthy, with politicians as their lapdogs, extract and destroy despite the suffering it causes.

While some struggle to make ends meet, others continue to enjoy lifestyles that cannot be sustained. It is long past time to rise up, resist, and build an alternative future. No inland port!

Ethan Petersen

Ethan Petersen, Salt Lake City, is a residential direct care associate for individuals with developmental disabilities with degrees in biology and mathematics from the University of Utah. He will be entering the University of Utah School of Medicine this fall.