by Annie Gilliland
Last Wednesday, I joined about 200 people to gather on the steps of Utah’s Capitol and call for stronger legislative action on Salt Lake City’s air pollution. The rally was created by Marjorie McCloy, a concerned Utah citizen and writer, and Carl Ingwell, an Environmental and Sustainability Studies student at the U and founder of grass-roots and Facebook group, Governor, We Can’t Breathe. McCloy started a petition on the issue directed towards the governor, and as of this writing it has 8,498 signers. Sign here.
The protest provided a podium for several speakers. Cherise Miller Udell, founder of Utah Moms for Clean Air, was there partially to make a case on behalf of children and future generations. Her young daughter was also in attendance and read a heartfelt letter addressed to Governor Herbert, pleading with the legislature to make a difference. Udell acknowledged that while big, corporate polluters are a major part of the problem, individuals need to be more conscious, as well. The Salt Lake Tribune has a list of the biggest toxic releasers in the nation and Utah (one of our state operations comes in second in the nation) and the stats are not promising. But how many of us complain and still drive our cars daily? We are all a part of it. And let’s remember to enforce the anti-idling ordinances on ourselves.
Utah Moms for Clean Air handed out information about air pollution and health. Some facts were especially startling to me: Utah’s air pollution shortens the life span of Wasatch Front residents by about two years; air pollution from motor vehicle traffic may put women at a higher risk for breast cancer; coal plants put out the most mercury, possibly leading to Utah having the highest rate of autism in the US; air pollution increases the rate of SIDS as well as other serious medical problems in newborns. Thankfully, they also distributed information on how to keep your air at home clean.
Several Utah public officials spoke, promising their continuing commitment to help. Governor Herbert was in Washington, DC at the time, but his office has said they would make air pollution a priority. Later in the rally there was an open-mic stage, and people stood to offer their reasons for wanting to change.
It was a perfect day to talk about air pollution. It was very cold and very smoggy. Visibility at the Capitol was not great. And standing there taking pictures, my hands went numb with the frozen fog that comes with the inversion. I know my reasons for wanting change. I live in a beautiful valley and would like to be able to go outside during the winter without fears of mild respiratory problems worsening. I would like other people to come to Utah and want to stay. I would like to be able to see the mountains when I look up. What would you like?
Here are my photos of other people who care:
Annie Gilliland is a graduate student in the Environmental Humanities program at the University of Utah.