Guest editorial: Park City’s student climate protesters need to be armed with real-world knowledge
Having spent the majority of the last three years living in the Pacific Islands, I would like to share a firsthand perspective of what is really happening in these small specks of land surrounded by vast oceans. My desire is to show that Parkites need a better understand of the magnitude of the world environmental problems before they can become so myopic in thinking that the worst of the potential environmental problems are in Park City.
The four countries at greatest risk of climate change are Tuvalu, Kiribati, Marshall Islands and Maldives. I have spent time on each of the first three listed. These countries are not really islands, but rather a ring shaped reef comprised of coral, lava and sand, called atolls. Thus, there can be almost nothing produced to sustain themselves regardless of changes in climate.
Throughout recorded history these atolls have been affected by tsunamis, king tides and cyclones. Long before anyone was talking about changes to the environment.
In my opinion the greatest travesty to the Pacific Islands, however, was and continues to be the effects of World War II. An example of this is the atoll of Ebeye, the second most populated atoll in Marshall Islands. The United States began to test hydrogen bombs on Bikini Atoll and the inhabitants were forced to leave and resettle on Ebeye Atoll. They were promised that after the radiation levels were resolved they could return. This has obviously never occurred.
In 1968 the population of Ebeye was 3,000. Today it is 15,000. If there is no soil to cultivate, what do the people do there? Well, 50% of the population is under 18, let your imagination answer that. The land mass is 80 acres, with the highest populated elevation being 7 feet above sea level. These statistics make it the fourth most densely populated land mass in the world.
Everything they consume is processed and shipped in by barge. Understandably this creates an amazing amount of trash, which they are not able to manage. What goes in must come out, so dealing with human waste is a major problem. When it rains, water is gathered from roof tops in large barrels or it too must be shipped in with resultant waste.
Electricity is produced by diesel fueled generators which consume 10,000 liters of fuel per week. Recently the generators stopped working, and two new ones were brought in from Papua New Guinea.
Here were the most pressing problems for these people:
• Only one of the two generators is working.
• Power is provided at four hour intervals.
• The entire atoll was under quarantine because of an outbreak of Dengue fever.
• Over 50% of the adult population has diabetes, not being controlled.
• Life expectancy continues to decrease.
It could easily be said these people might die in 12 years, but it likely won’t be from climate change.
The Pacific Islands have signed an agreement to become carbon neutral by 2030. Sounds like what Park City is trying to do except with some major differences. The president of Marshall Islands, Hilda Heine, has proposed “building on stilts, for higher ground.” We can provide the people of the Pacific Islands with solar power, desalinization plants, waste disposal systems and their problems still would not be resolved. Ebeye Atoll is only one small example of a large complex, worldwide problem that still needs to be addressed. I assume this is a microcosm encapsulating, in miniature, features of other parts of the world I have not experienced. I do know that Park City is in no way a microcosm of the reality of our world. To teach otherwise would be unfortunate to the students we now want to influence.
Students only verbalize what they have been exposed to. I wonder how much time is spent on the environmental problems created by the geography, history, politics and economy of the Pacific and the world? Only with real-world knowledge will their protests be meaningful and bring about real change.
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Members of the Historic Park City Alliance write in a letter to the editor that early December is the perfect time for Parkites to experience the “old town feel” of Main Street.