Dio Tararrel: There’s a lot more than baseball in the Utah air

Smokestacks at planned stadium site is a perfect metaphor for what Utah is today.

When the renderings of a new Major League Baseball ballpark were unveiled this month, the first thing I noticed was something dominating — yet perfectly fitting — in straightaway center field.

Three massive brown smokestacks.

They’re impossible to miss, obscuring the Wasatch Mountains and downtown, and they’re a perfect metaphor for what Utah is today.

I’m a huge baseball fan. My fandom has taken me to 20-plus Major League ballparks, and I’ve seen ballparks that reflect the very best of their city. In Pittsburgh, PNC Park offers breathtaking views of the city’s skyline and bridges. On summer nights, Denver’s Coors Field has majestic Rocky Mountain sunsets. St. Louis’s stadium is in the shadow of the Gateway Arch. Oracle Park goes to the edge of the San Francisco Bay and the views of Chavez Ravine from Dodger Stadium are unmatched.

Utah? Three giant smokestacks.

“Salt Lake City Baseball: There’s more than just excitement in the air!”

With apologies to Gordon Monson, our hazy hometown could even fit into the new team name.

The SLC Smoggers? On top of the three in center field, the stadium would be located near the tallest smokestack west of the Mississippi. Say what you want about Utah, we know our smokestacks!

The Inland Port Inhalers? The new ballpark would sit a few miles downwind of the new inland port, a 16,000-acre industrial hub that is all but certain to have a major impact on air quality.

The Ex-Lakers? Even with this winter’s record-breaking snowpack, the Great Salt Lake is still struggling from a historic drought and is still at “high risk” of disappearing in our lifetimes.

The Deseret Dust Clouds? CNN reported earlier this year that “centuries of natural and manmade toxins like mercury, arsenic and selenium” have been exposed on the lakebed, and kicked up and into our lungs by seasonal winds.

The Salt Lake Dry Docks? “Dry” could even work for alcohol-abstaining Utah — and a built-in rivalry with the Milwaukee Brewers!

The Tooele Tailpipes? The ballpark could be within a few miles of a newly expanded I-15, potentially as massive as 20 lanes wide. About half of the inversion is caused by automobile pollution.

The Fighting PM2.5ers? The ballpark would sit in one of the most highly air polluted census tracts in the state, nestled between four cancer-causing “hot spots” for industrial air pollution.

“It’s more than ‘baseball fever,’ it’s two years off your life expectancy from air pollution!”

I know, I know. We need those smokestacks. If you’re reading this online, those Rocky Mountain Power smokestacks likely charged the screen you’re using. I wrote this piece on a laptop using electricity from 42 percent coal, 19 percent natural gas and only 26 percent renewable sources. That’s reality. I’ve tailgated some of those baseball games with charcoal and beef hamburgers, two of the least planet-friendly options around.

I’m not a naysayer for the stadium, either. On balance, I’m excited about the possibility of a new team, and I agree with the benefits of the west-side location. I’m a loyal fan of the Salt Lake Bees, and I was disappointed when the owners abandoned Salt Lake City.

But I’m more worried about the air we breathe 24 hours a day. So, here’s what I’m doing in my own life, instead of just joking about team names.

I turned off my sprinklers and let my lawn go brown, and I commend the city for offering drought-tolerant grass that needs 30% less water.

I take public transportation and bike for my commute exclusively, so there’s one less car on the road.

I plant trees with TreeUtah, which has plenty of upcoming events if you’re interested in joining.

Finally, I’m doing what climate scientist Katharine Hayhoe identifies as one of the most important things you can do about climate change: I’m talking about it.

We aren’t powerless in this fight. There are options for anyone to make a difference, here in Salt Lake City and globally, depending on what fits your lifestyle. But the first step might be acknowledging and talking honestly about where we are.

So, I’ll be rooting for my hometown Salt Lake Smokestacks.

Everyone together now, deep breath: “Let’s Go, Smokestacks! (cough, cough, cough cough cough!)”

Dio Tararrel is a political writer and playwright who lives in Salt Lake City.

Dio Tararrel was born in Provo, developed asthma as a child on the Wasatch Front, and lives and breathes in Salt Lake City today. He is a writer and graduate student at the University of Utah.