Earth Day intended to show lousy job we do taking care of planet

Mar 20 2013 - 11:16pm



News item: Utah's Division of Oil, Gas and Mining is sponsoring an Earth Day poster competition on the theme "Where Would WE Be Without Oil, Gas, & Mining?"


Oil, gas and mining on Earth Day? The mind boggles.

It's tempting to write a sarcastic diatribe about this really bizarre idea. I could heap praise on air pollution and lung disease as signs the economy is booming.

Because, really, what is Earth Day?

On the first one, when I was in college, we were told to go outside, sit in the sunshine and contemplate clean air, trees, grass and flowers. We were urged to build a world in which we have more of those things.

The polluting effects of oil, gas and mining were not considered positive parts of that world.

This diatribe would be easy to write. I just staggered through Utah's most recent winter, the air of which was astonishingly befouled from massive use of the products of oil, gas, and mining, so I'm particularly bitter. Those toxic airborne products tried to kill me, and darn near succeeded. I've got an 8-inch scar where the surgeon had to go in and clean stuff out.

And these guys want an Earth Day poster contest praising oil, gas and mining? That's like going to someone's 100th birthday and handing out coffin brochures. Everyone needs one, but the timing is lousy.

On the other hand, one must be fair.

I recognize the historical and economic roles of oil, gas and mining in Utah. I grew up watching a TV show sponsored by the Kennecott Copper Corp., now Rio Tinto. My family made annual pilgrimages to the Bingham mine, which was then Utah's largest economic engine. As copper prices went, so went Utah's economy.

Utah coal lights my home. Utah gas heats it. Utah is the nation's 10th-largest oil producer. I once calculated that all the oil pumped in Utah is enough to make all the disposable plastic grocery bags used every year in the United States.

And I know that oil and natural gas were used to make my bicycle. They powered the machines that made the tubes and other parts. They fueled the trucks and ships that hauled it to Utah. Its bearings are lubricated with grease, the tires and plastic parts made from oil.

But beyond acknowledging we live in a world powered by oil, so what? Earth Day is intended to highlight what a lousy job we're doing keeping that world clean while we use all that oil and gas.

Utah can have a poster for mining and gas corporations any time. Earth Day is one day to remind us that we, the people, are supposed to be in charge of this planet, not the guys who own the oil companies, the mines, the gas and oil pipelines and smelter smokestacks.

One day a year is not too many to say we want fewer of the toxic by-products of those companies' products, which crowd our hospital emergency rooms and kill a couple thousand Utahns every year.

It's a day to urge us to use fewer of the products of those industries that, I suppose, will hurt them.

For example, Earth Day reminds me that an ounce of grease in my bicycle's bearings lets me save hundreds of gallons of gasoline a year by riding my bicycle.

That makes the air cleaner, the grass greener, the world more pleasant and me a lot healthier.

Wasatch Rambler is the opinion of Charles Trentelman. You can contact him at 801-625-4232 or email him at He also blogs at

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