Utah ‘Earth Day’ poster contest exploits, misinforms children

Commentary originally published in a Campaign for a Commercial-Free Childhood on April 12, 2013

“Children are such a precious resource, and if anyone knows how to exploit a resource, its a petroleum engineer.” Colbert Report (April 1, 2013).

Sadly, satire usually speaks truth.  Parents in Utah were shocked to discover that the Utah Department of Natural Resources was sponsoring an Earth Day poster contest in Utah’s schools, with the theme “Where would we be without oil, gas, and mining?” Students were being asked FOR EARTH DAY to design posters celebrating polluting fossil fuels.  This year the Society of Petroleum Engineers cosponsored the contest. Last year’s sponsors look like a roll call of big, corporate polluters: Rio Tinto, Bill Barrett Corporation, Newfield Exploration, Arch Coal, Inc., among others.  Cash prizes will be awarded, and Utah Governor Gary Herbert will be signing awards certificates.

To add insult to injury, the contest follows in the wake of 6 straight weeks of terrible smog filling the Salt Lake valley.  From Christmas until after Valentine’s Day, citizens could not see the infamous Rio Tinto/Kennecott Copper Mine across the valley, and usually astronauts can see the mine from space!  Headlines internationally told the story of the dirtiest air in America, right here in the ski haven of Salt Lake City.  Physicians and health care providers demanded that the Governor declare a health emergency.  Our Governor declined to do so.  Finally spring arrived, and everyone let out a collective sigh of relief.

But then, this outrageous state-sponsored Earth Day poster contest began.  After an outraged parent, Colby Poulson, alerted the media to this ridiculous fossil fuel propaganda in our schools, Utah Moms For Clean Air stepped in.  Started six years ago by Salt Lake City mom, Cherise Udell, UMFCA has never shied away from conflict when it comes to protecting the air that our children breathe. This time we are not only defending our children’s lungs, but their very souls.  Our state has given the big polluters access to our children to corrupt the very concept of Earth Day.  They attempt to rob our children of the dream that clean, renewable energy sources could one day power our lives and tempt them away from the hope that one day our valley could be smog-free.

UMFCA announced an alternative poster contest.  The rules are the same, only our theme is “explore the economic, environmental, and health costs of fossil fuels.”  We are now in the process of raising enough money to fund prizes matching the big corporations and to hold an awards picnic in May.  We called upon Utah Governor Herbert to also sign our awards certificates, to seize the opportunity to show our children a balanced perspective.  He declined. 

Sadly, here in Utah our Governor sides with the “green” of the fossil fuel industries that helps fund his campaigns, but politely refuses to side with the “green” spirit of Earth Day.  Stephen Colbert forgot to mention how good the fossil fuel industry is at exploiting governors, too.

To see Stephen Colbert offer his perspective on the big polluter Earth Day contest, click here.

Ingrid Griffee is raising four children with her husband in Salt Lake City. While the kids are in school, she is the Vice-President of Utah Moms For Clean Air, advocating for clean air policies in Utah, in the hope that one day, children can play outside EVERY SINGLE DAY without worrying about smog, that innovators will develop cleaner technology for living, and that the state will finally force big industry in the valley to use the very cleanest technology available.