“An Environmental Nuclear Bomb”
I try to avoid disaster porn¹. That being said, occasionally I come across an image from the news which strikes me in a visceral way. It will reach down into the core of me, into my DNA, the part of me concerned with the survival of the species, and shake it awake. Images from the 2018 California fires felt like that to me. It looked like the world was on fire. Maybe for you it was an image from the 2010 Haitian earthquake or the 2004 Indian Ocean tsunami.
Recently, though, it was images of the drought in the American West that stirred me from my quotidian slumber. I don’t usually buy the newspaper, but this past June, while leaving a gas station, this image on the front of the New York Times caught my eye as I walked past the newsstand.
The headline read “‘Environmental Nuclear Bomb’ as the Great Salt Lake Dries Up”. The picture is of the the Saltair palace, an abandoned resort near Salt Lake City. Originally built in 1893, and rebuilt twice since, the resort has suffered repeated setbacks, both economic and natural. Fire and flood have cursed the location.
I first saw the site in 1993, when I was driving out to start college in Utah. At that time, the edge of the Great Salt Lake had enveloped the Saltair property. It was a striking image as we drove past on I-80. There was something romantic about the palace rising up out of the water. And so, it was quite a shock when I saw the photo above of the Saltair sitting on dry land and the shrunken lake far away in the distance.
The Great Salt Lake is drying up. This is no small thing. The Great Salt Lake, appropriately named, is huge. Take a look at any topographical map of the United States and you’ll easily spot it, a lonely spot of blue in the middle of the American desert. But the lake, which used to cover over 3,000 square miles (bigger than Rhode Island), now covers less than 1,000 miles. That’s all happened in my lifetime, and it’s accelerating. As the water retreats, it leaves behind a toxic bed of arsenic and other heavy metals, the residue of the mining industry. And as the desert wind blows, the air is turning poisonous. …