Intro from Jay Allison: Scott Carrier explores "the basement" of waste in Western Utah.
Notes from Scott Carrier
I see “The West Desert” as a cultural history of the physical terrain more commonly known as the Great Salt Lake Desert. Here in Salt Lake City we call it The West Desert because we also have deserts to the south and north and east. The West Desert is different, culturally, because it’s a place that no one, or very few people, ever wanted to live in or own property. Because of this (and some environmental qualities that are discussed in the story) its become a place to put our poisons. In producing the story I tried not to take the position that the poisons should be put somewhere else, or that the poisons should not exist. The poisons do exist and will exist and the sad fact of the matter is that the west desert is probably the best place in the country to put them. In 1991, when I made the thing, I was realizing that the environmental movement was stuck in an “us versus them”, “good guys versus bad guys” pattern of ignorance. I thought that by showing this “garage” or “basement” I could make people think about how we are all implicated and responsible.
For instance, there is a magnesium plant out there which has been single-handedly responsible for earning Tooele County the highest EPA air toxicity rating in the country (I forget which years specifically). They pull water from the Great Salt Lake, which contains magnesium chloride as one of its salts. Then they separate the magnesium from the chlorine. The metal goes into bars which are used in alloys that make steel four times lighter and eight times stronger, like magic. The chlorine, however, goes into the air – mustard gas. After it goes into the air it eventually drops back into the lake or onto the desert floor, which is where it came from, which is a good way to get rid of it, but occasionally, depending on the wind pattern, it blows south over the small town of Grantsville and I-80. This sucks, of course, but I still don’t want to close that magnesium plant. There is magnesium in my golf club, the one I used to hit the ball in the story. There is magnesium in the engine of my truck, the one I used to drive around and record the interviews. I like magnesium, and I like that the plant makes it in such a simple way. I just hope that the people who work there are doing every thing they can to make it in the safest way possible.
Another example that isn’t mentioned at all in the story is that now some of the Goshute Indians are trying to get the contract for storing radioactive waste from the nuclear power plants around the country. I don’t like radioactive waste. I would rather it not be moved on trains and trucks through my community, but it has to go somewhere. We don’t use nuclear-generated electricity in this part of the country, but we have one of the best places to put the waste. Should we shut down the nuclear power plants? Maybe. I’m not even convinced of this. Given the choice of storing radioactive waste deep in the ground or having our troops occupying Saudi Arabia, I think I would choose the radioactive waste. At least then we are shitting in our own yard. My hope, again, is that the people who take care of the stuff will do the best job they can. I would, if I had the power, require those folks who work out there to also live on the grounds with their families. I would pay them well, give them lots of vacations, counseling, anything to keep them happy and very alert.
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Conservation? Conservation? It seems to be a myth. The reality is that we burn everything we can afford and justify it as a God-given right. And perhaps one of the best ways to actually change this pattern would be to sit in our own filth until we think of a way not to produce any more of it. This radio essay was never broadcast nationally, although it’s been played here locally on KUER several times, and, strangely, still seems to be current even though I originally produced it in 1991. It’s a good story, one that I’m proud of, and I’m glad that Transom is posting it now. I could go on and talk about it, but I think the work pretty much speaks for itself. One thing I will say is that my intention was to piss people off, which may be the main reason it never played on a national program. Listen to it if you want. If you have any questions or comments I’ll try to respond.
Also, the opening lines are from Mark Twain’s “Roughing It.” He came through here in 1861 with his brother on the Overland Stage, en route to Carson City, Nevada.
As for credits–Larry Massett and Art Silverman gave me some very good advice on how to put the thing together, and the funding came from a CPB grant.