In a Saturday demonstration at the Great Salt Lake, young activists from Utah Youth Environmental Solutions (UYES) held a “funeral” for the lake, which is on the verge of ecological collapse. The event, which reportedly drew over 100 community members, featured young people who “dropped dead” one by one in front of handmade tombstones to highlight the severity of the crisis and demand action.
Converging on the dry lake bed behind the Great Saltair, the protesters are urging Utah’s authorities to take action to protect the Great Salt Lake. Think of a place you know that is loved and cared for, said local poet Milo Emilia as he read poetry from his most recent book, “lake words.” Consider the atmosphere and feelings you experienced there.
Now consider a location that has been pushed aside, ignored, or disregarded. It’s tangible. Has the Great Salt Lake been forgotten about? What love does it require to be healed? According to reports, protesters entered the lakebed in silence. They arrived at a “graveyard” containing close to 20 tombstones, each of which had a warning about the harm that would come to communities in the Salt Lake Valley if the lake dried up.
“2005-2022: I died from arsenic poisoning,” “Utah values alfalfa over my life,” and “My legislators let me die” were among the inscriptions on the gravestones. The Great Salt Lake would no longer exist, and people would breathe in arsenic and other heavy metals from the wind.
At the occasion was Winona Gray, a Ph.D. candidate in environmental sociology and organizer for the Party for Socialism and Liberation. Gray explained how violence against people and the environment is “the root of capitalism.” Another speaker, Flor Isabel, a mother of four and the United Way of Salt Lake’s Community Leadership Coordinator, shared her experience raising an asthmatic child.
In his speech, 22-year-old UYES organizer and Zoology major Alan Gutierrez urged the audience to “wield their collective power and demand revolutionary change.”
According to a press release from UYES, “compounding issues, including climate change, metropolitan expansion, and water diversions for agriculture and industry,” are causing the Great Salt Lake to disappear quickly.
The group warns that arsenic and other heavy metals left behind by nearby mining operations in the lakebed “will be carried by the wind and inhaled by residents” as the water recedes. Representatives claim that the research points to a potential ecosystem collapse that could start as early as this year, harming numerous industries the lake supports, brine shrimp, and migratory birds that depend on the lake for food and habitat.
YES, organizer Muskan Walia states that “it’s hazardous for biodiversity, the economy, and people’s health.” Legislators are discussing it, but they have mainly focused on geoengineering solutions to the problem, according to UYES organizer Maria Archibald.
We are saying here at the lakebed that we don’t need to pipe water hundreds of miles to the lake; instead, we need to work within the natural boundaries to allow the water that we already have to reach the lake rather than diverting it for alfalfa and industry.
Ultimately, Walia claims that funding “vague research efforts and geoengineering projects” with state funds is not a solution. According to her, scientists have been researching this topic for a while, and their findings need to be applied to create a policy that “reduces harm, sustains, and centers justice for all people in Utah.”