Opinion: Young Utahns have a right to feel pessimistic, Gov. Cox

If the governor is looking for a culprit for the pessimism he decries, he should grab his friends on Capitol Hill and a huge mirror.

(Mark Eddington | The Salt Lake Tribune) Gov. Spencer Cox gives remarks in St. George, Thursday, Jan. 11, 2024.

At a conference last week, Gov. Spencer Cox lamented, “People today truly believe that their kids and grandkids are going to be worse off than they are … That may be true everywhere else, but that is not true here in the state of Utah because we can work together to solve these biggest problems.” He expressed dismay about “doom and gloom” from the high schoolers he’s met about Great Salt Lake and that, “We are going to save Great Salt Lake.”

As a board-certified “doom and gloomer” I was excited to hear that. When I read that his solution was for Utah to continue being “weird,” I was even more excited because I’ve been a committed “weirdo” since kindergarten. I prayed for rain when he asked us to, both times. Now what other weird thing can I do?

Then I donned my tin foil hat with critical thinking antennae and started wondering if my being weird, and all my family, friends, neighbors and fellow Utahns continuing to be, might not, in and of itself, achieve the requisite “weirdness” threshold to solve our daunting environmental problems.

The governor has likely heard the affirmation, “God helps those that help themselves.” It doesn’t say anything about God helping those who just sit around being weird. Likewise, a religious document the governor is likely familiar with says, “Faith without works is dead” (James 2:26).

I’ll bet “weird” without works is also dead. What then would be the works part needed in order for us all to avoid the “dead” part?

In Utah, even non-doom and gloomers recognize that one way or another, more water has to reach the lake and stay there, or indeed it will disappear. How might that happen? I suggest gathering up some non-prayer, non-weird ingredients, like science, empirical evidence, facts, environmental consciousness, reality acceptance and stir in courage and common sense to come up with the “works” part of that formula. And that’s where Utah lawmakers, thorough aversion to those ingredients, haven’t exactly done us any favors.

Climate scientists are virtually unanimous in telling us we are barreling into a perilous future, where weather extremes, especially heat, rising sea levels, melting glaciers, drought and floods will make life miserable and dangerous while agriculture will be nearly impossible for large swaths of the world — including weird Utah. Not only was last year the hottest year by far since records have been kept — it wasn’t even close — the trend of temperature increase is accelerating.

Because reality tends to have a scientific bias, and most children, even in Utah, are still taught something about science, worldwide almost 60% of children and young people are “very” or “extremely” worried about the climate crisis. Over 50% say their anxiety about the climate adversely affects their daily lives, making them feel “afraid, sad, anxious, angry, powerless, helpless or guilty.” Seventy-five percent say the future is “frightening,” and they feel abandoned by their governments and older generations. What a scathing indictment of us all.

If the governor is looking for a culprit for the pessimism he decries, he should grab his friends on Capitol Hill and a huge mirror. His party is the primary obstacle to more rational climate policy in the United States; his party, at the state level, is still turning over rocks to dig, process, sell and burn ever more of the state’s climate killing dirty energy; his party is the puppeteer of the Utah Inland Port Authority, ushering in more water consuming industrial development and carving up and paving over Wasatch Front wetlands. It is his party that fiddles while Great Salt Lake shrivels.

The governor boasts that Utah’s economy was rated number one in the country 16 years in a row. Then why is the state giving away the farm (literally), with this absurd, unnecessary, frantic rush to smother Wasatch Front open space with inland ports, and their acres of asphalt, cement, warehouses, diesel trucks, traffic congestion, water consumption, air pollution and accelerated population growth; everything that undermines the lake and our quality of life?

When Utah high schoolers, like other youth throughout the world, see the politically powerful enforce selfish, short-sighted priorities, science and reality denial, and wholesale disregard for their future, forgive them if they struggle to be optimistic.

As for me, I’ll continue praying … for leaders that accept science and face reality. How weird is that?

(Brian Moench)

Dr. Brian Moench is president and co-founder of Utah Physicians for a Healthy Environment, one of the organizations suing the state to save the Great Salt Lake.

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