April 25, 2024

As I sat on the dock of Green River State Park I was surrounded by a cacophony of bird calls. I pulled out my phone and opened Merlin Bird ID to help me identify the calls. While my phone was picking up starlings, blackbirds, and flickers, I noticed a Great Blue Heron silently fly across the river. As I watched the silent beauty of the heron, a mile-long coal train blew its way through town. The noise of the train jolted me back into recognition that I was still in the town of Green River.

The small town of Green River, Utah has had a revolving journey through noise and silence. The booms of oil and uranium are either silent or dissipating. Currently, the noise of industry may be picking up again. Lithium brine lies deep in the rock under Green River, and a new process may allow for its removal. In less than a day after arriving, I learned many of the townies’ opinions on lithium. Through the combination of a very friendly park ranger and a copy of the Green River Observer I read at the Green River Coffee Company, I heard of the benefits lithium could bring economically and the fears of damage it could cause to an already weakened environment.

Before heading to the trailhead, our WRFI group spoke with the Mayor of Green River, Ren Hatt. When I first saw the mayor I was shocked at how “normal” he looked. My idea of mayoral attire is similar to Mr. Monopoly’s. Mayor Hatt, on the other hand, showed up in Carhartt and drank gas station coffee. His down-to-earth vibe continued the more we talked with him. After explaining the lithium extraction process in amazing detail, he then voiced both his and many residents’ concerns over the environmental impacts of the proposed mine. According to the mayor, “no one else is knocking,” and lithium mining is the only available solution to Green River’s economic silence. Mayor Hatt is hopeful that the noise of new industry could bring in a larger tax base, and that a larger tax base could be used to sustain the potential economic boom of lithium. For now, the lithium test mine is quietly drilling as I am hiking through the region.

While the town of Green River is significantly smaller than my hometown of Brookings, SD, it struck me as a very quiet place.That changed during my first day and night in Horseshoe Canyon, when I was shocked by the deafening silence. With no civilization for miles, it was just our small WRFI group until we reached the Great Gallery. Once we started diving into our coursework, specifically the geology coursework, I realized that the canyon makes noise differently. The canyon was screaming, “I LOVE ROCKS!” Actually, that was the echo of our instructor Heather screaming, but the canyon was screaming that information at me. The exposed layers of rock spoke of ages gone by. The great dunes of Navajo Sandstone and the riparian world of the Kayenta spoke of an age completely different from the modern Horseshoe Canyon.

Seeing the different worlds this region used to be makes me think about what our preserved geologic layer will look like. Due to the existential threat of climate change affecting human civilization, we will need to adapt. The lithium beneath Green River could be a key to that adaptation. If that necessary industry is knocking on Green River’s front door, what other choice does the city have? The city could be key in protecting the future of humanity. If we could look at the current geologic layer millions of years in the future, what would we see? Would we see records of a civilization that survived? Or would we see sections of thriving civilization amongst decimated ecosystems? For now, the residents of Green River are looking for a short-term solution to their economic problems, but I wonder what changes could be made if they thought of hiking through the screaming geologic layers of the human-impacted environment.

2 Replies to “Echoes of Industry: Navigating the Quiet and the Noise in Green River by Elijah Manzer”

  • What a beautiful and thoughtful piece. You have captured the eternal conundrum of economy vs. environment beautifully by breaking it down to a simple metaphor: silence over noise. I am encouraged and hopeful for our future knowing there are compassionate and dedicated students, such as you, paying attention. Thank you!

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