Stim & Dross
Preface: The Brinkmanship of Annihilation, 2020
HD with sound, 10:52 min.
The Utah Inland Port is a proposed dry port in what developers refer to as the "Northwest Quadrant" of Salt Lake City, Utah. The term "Northwest Quadrant" being a euphemism for 28,000 acres or 43 square miles of Great Salt Lake ecosystem and vital habitat for numerous species of wildlife, some of which are endangered.1 The widespread use of the term "Northwest Quadrant" by developers and lawmakers in proposals and plans demonstrates their inability to make even nomenclatural concessions to the land, framing the space as a homogeneous "quadrant" instead of a biodiverse, fluid, and heterogeneous space.2 The term is also ahistorical, as it fails to acknowledge that it has only recently become possible to conceive of the land as a quadrant for development due to the historically low levels of the Great Salt Lake as a result of withdrawals for industrial, agricultural, and economic activities. Fortunately for developers, they need not fear building in the Great Salt Lake floodplains, as the Inland Port all but guarantees reliably low lake levels due to the increased environmental pressures and water expenditures associated with its construction and operation.
Inland ports are large swaths of land in areas with "lower land acquisition costs" than areas surrounding traditional seaports, as these are located near major coastal metropolitan areas. Inland ports serve as intermodal logistics hubs that increase the efficiency of the transshipment of shipping containers from boat to train to truck. They are designed to minimize the amount of time spent transferring and organizing containers at major seaports to reduce costs, traffic congestion, and pollution in these areas.3 However, these problems do not just magically disappear by creating an inland port; they are instead transferred from the seaport to the dry port. Costs are transferred by taking advantage of lower land acquisition costs and property taxes inland, and by hiring workers in smaller metropolitan areas where wages are lower and organized labor unions are not as strong. Traffic congestion and pollution is reduced by minimizing the amount of time trucks and trains spend at the seaport, but this time is simply spent at the dry port, many of which are in areas of high environmental sensitivity, such as the wetlands and floodplains of the Great Salt Lake, or areas with more lax environmental regulation.
In its current state, the port is still just an abstraction — an idea borne out of the neoliberal tendency to conflate development with progress and acceptance of progress as a kind of telos despite the obvious incompatibility of the two concepts. Telos being an ultimate goal or destination and progress being the movement towards a goal. So what is the mission of the Utah Inland Port Authority or uipa, the corporation leading the push to industrialize Salt Lake City's Northwest Quadrant? The uipa describes itself as "a state corporation directed to maximize the long-term economic and other benefits of a robust logistics system while still maintaining a high quality of life. [They] are a forward-thinking agency aiming to channel logistics in a way that benefits all of Utah by ensuring a safe, smart, and sustainable system statewide." The uipa cites several reports and studies as having informed their mission; one such study is the 2017 Salt Lake County Global Trade & Investment Plan. According to the document, the plan is "an attempt to simultaneously sustain Salt Lake County's positive economic characteristics while mitigating concerns that have real implications on the lives of county residents. It also aims to avoid complacency and mere back-patting, instead proactively building an economic landscape that meets the needs of current and future residents and adapts to an increasingly global marketplace." The 2017 Salt Lake County Global Trade & Investment Plan is of particular interest because it reveals the degree to which proponents of economic and industrial development in the age of Trump evince symptoms of cognitive dissonance as it pertains to global capitalism, holding the notion that the cure to social and economic ails contracted through globalization and global capitalism is to "[increase] fluency in and engagement with the global economy through export activity and [foreign direct investment]." The plan, tellingly, cites Salt Lake's "strong linguistic diversity and deep international connections...among members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints" as "latent assets" that can be "employed to create opportunities for increased global engagement" and "position [Salt Lake County] as [a] prime international business hub." This idea aptly yet dangerously draws parallels between the implicit racism and colonialism of the Mormon Church and its missionary efforts with the imperialism of global capitalism.
While the plan implicitly acknowledges how globalization and neoliberal global capitalism have failed the working class and identifies these failures as the source of current "protectionist sentiments," it simultaneously argues that "it is impossible to return to a 'simpler' pre-globalized world [and that] [f]urthermore, such a world may never have existed as it is portrayed. Rather, protectionism builds from a sentimental nostalgia and presents a world that may never have existed as the ideal past to which we should return. Because of this, the answer cannot be movement backward and inward, but must be forward and outward."
While it is surprising and, to some degree, refreshing to read such a poetic and philosophical argument in an otherwise dry and bureaucratic government document, the county's position is myopic at best and utterly paradoxical at worst. Development that repeats and exacerbates globalization and global capitalism's failures do not move society "forward and outward" but instead moves us "backward and inward" as the plan inversely suggests.
2. [Davis, Mike (2006). City of Quartz. Verso Books.]↩ 3. [Rodrigue, D., & Notteboom, T. (2020, February 09). Chapter 2.4 – Dry Ports. Retrieved June 1, 2020, from https://porteconomicsmanagement.org/?page_id=629]↩