Commentary: Inland port will be obsolete before it is halfway done

(Leah Hogsten | The Salt Lake Tribune) Ethan Peterson with Civil Riot kicked off the protest shortly after the meeting began. A group called Civil Riot shut down the Inland Port Authority Board meeting at North Star Elementary's gymnasium Wednesday, April 24, 2019 shortly after it began by speaking over board chairman Derek Miller.

On April 24, I rose up with a group of new friends drawn from across the community to oppose the proposed inland port. We transformed the Utah Port Authority Board meeting into a People’s Port meeting, sending a clear message that human and ecosystem needs can’t continue to be sacrificed to make money for the few.

An asthma attack knocked me to the ground just two hours before the action. I’m as concerned as anyone about the impact of air pollution from the port on vulnerable people like me, and on children whose lungs are still developing. But it troubled me that media coverage of our action focused so much on air pollution, because we wanted to bring attention to a bigger threat from the port: Climate change.

Port supporters talk about developing the transportation hub over a 25-year period, projecting that things like skyrocketing rates of parcel delivery from online retail and export of fossil fuels and water-wasting alfalfa will continue indefinitely.

We’ve known for generations that these kinds of projections are wrong, morally as well as factually. Researchers have been sounding the alarm about the fundamental impossibility of infinite growth on a finite planet since at least 1972. Each year we ignore them is a year we get closer to the bill coming due, compound interest and all.

The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) says we need drastic economic changes by 2030 if we want to maintain any shred of safety for our civilization — so that 25-year port development project will be obsolete before it’s halfway done.

As coverage of the proposed polluting port continues, climate change must be at the forefront of the conversation. Local news outlets in the U.S. are failing on climate coverage. Even as recent polls have found that climate change is the top priority for Democratic voters, local media continue to avoid covering the crisis.

In Salt Lake we have abundant stories to tell about climate change, from the strains on our forests and water systems to an inspiring surge in permaculture groups building hyper-local neighborhood economies and a relatively climate-resilient food supply. We need to talk about both the dire threats we face and the hopeful examples of alternative systems.

The media and public officials should stop giving higher weight to false narratives from those profiting off the destruction of our planet than they do to narratives rooted in sound science from those calling for a safe, healthy place to live. We need to completely transform our economic system, despite most influential power structures being entwined in it, before we become victims of our own mass extinction. It might already be too late, but it certainly will be if we don’t all accept the immense responsibility of being alive in this critical moment — and that includes journalists’ duty to spread important truths.

On the evening we disrupted the Inland Port Authority Board meeting, many of us took time off work to serve our community and the stream of life, not knowing what would happen to us. We stared down our own fear, as well as a board of Utah’s rich and powerful. The stakes are too high not to rise in defense of clean air, a livable climate, and thriving ecosystems. Shouldn’t people know what moves us?

Let’s tell the truth about the polluting port. Let’s not leave climate change — the worst crisis of all time — out of the conversation.

Adair Kovac

Adair Kovac is a climate change activist based in Salt Lake City.