BY PATRICK HART
That’s not a title, it’s a question. Is it better to change bad habits or let them continue? Go ahead, think about it, I’ll wait.
A doctor was talking to a patient with a history of poor diet and severe substance abuse. This combination has unfortunately resulted in near-total kidney failure, HOWEVER, the doctor enthusiastically and proudly states that it is completely reversible! The patient need only improve their diet and stop abusing their body, and everything should return to normal function. The patient sighs and looks at the doctor, “I guess dialysis is my only option then”.
This is basically the situation we are currently facing in the Salt Lake Valley. Our rivers and creeks are perfectly capable of taking care of themselves, but only if we stop poisoning them. But we instead choose to bury them, using vast quantities of energy to dig great trenches and create pipes to push the water out of sight.
I am sure most of you know about the ruptured Chevron pipeline in 2010 that spilled thousands of gallons of crude oil into Red Butte Creek (if not then certainly read about it here), but how many actually saw, or felt, what happened beyond thinking "that's awful" whenever the story would appear on the news. It’s not entirely your fault. Oh, sure the signs were there: "don't look at the water", "don't touch it", and "lord help you if you drink it", but these were of course the wrong signs.
They should have read "come look at this water, our water, running black in the creek bed, come look at this and feel something". Chevron tidily cleaned up their mess though, and now the problem is solved and the world is right again. Well, unless you live downstream; who knows how many people, plants, and animals were affected by the 21,000 gallons of oil that was carried away by the current. Oh, and don’t dig too deeply along the creek bed lest you encounter the black sludge that seeped into the soil, still slowly percolating down into our aquifer.
It would seem that hiding the water does little to keep it cleaner, although it does wonders for PR when no one can actually see the toxic waste passing through the creek. And maybe this was a freak accident that we will never see happen again in the future of Utah, but it has happened, is happening, and will happen throughout the world for the foreseeable future so long as people cannot see the harm that is being done.
Would the reaction have been different if Red Butte Creek had been above ground? If people could have seen the oil painting the banks a murky black along its entire length? Imagine the outrage if thousands of residents had seen, smelled, and felt the damage done by a single company in less than a day. Maybe we would be more concerned about the auto guana we spray into our gutters if we knew it would end up in our backyards later that day. And maybe we would hold ourselves to higher standards if we knew that waters was ours. Not the city’s, not belonging to a company or a jurisdiction, but if we could walk up to the water, cup it in our hands, and know that this is ours, everyone’s, and we will protect it.