I have long suspected that the Devil invented UTVs to keep mankind deaf, ignorant, and generally unhealthy – as a biological being and a presence on earth. The past decade in Moab has done little to convince me otherwise.
Empathy and recreational experiences that allow spiritual rejuvenation and the contemplative distillation of one’s thoughts are the enemy of evil. During the second year of an extreme drought with no monsoon season, with fires incinerating West Coast forests, with Pentagon planners and insurance companies understanding climate change as their number one strategic threat – I struggle to understand those who claim the only way to make a living here in booming Moab is to start a business where visitors can, after already driving for hours, burn a little extra gasoline driving noise-pollution devices through residential neighborhoods.
I’m not sure whose American dream it is to grow up to be a Captain Planet villain.
I have heard some UTV businesses owners defend themselves as just “running a business like everybody else.” This is baloney. No other business ever came into people’s backyards or through the walls of their bedrooms, and told them that they must experience perpetual discomfort so that someone else might profit.
It is possible that, as with invasive species like tamarisk and quagga mussels, noise pollution-based forms of recreation will create landscapes where no other recreational forms can survive. Gentrification, overcrowding, traffic and high prices were bad enough and have driven away many of our best friends and repeat visitors. Incessant noise pollution is another nail in the coffin. UTV noise threatens every other business that survives because Moab is a pleasant place to visit.
This is about respect. If you are a UTV enthusiast or business owner and you want to be able to thrive here, your job is to make people like you and not tell them how little you care because you feel you have a right to pollute. The three best ways to do this would be to relocate your businesses away from residential neighborhoods, negotiate with public lands agencies to facilitate trailered transport (which every other recreational industry in Moab has done), and convert to quiet, electric vehicles as soon as possible.
But heck, and let’s not kid ourselves: “electric” anything still means a fossil fuel-powered grid. If you’re trying to grow your fleet, there is already a carbon-neutral, silent, all-terrain vehicle out there. It’s called a bike. I hear they’re cheaper to invest in, more affordable and they even come with health benefits.
That’s one solution. Let’s hear some others. Uncertain times favor outside-the-box thinking.
Americans don’t join causes lightly. But when you take away their backyards – when kids can’t enjoy playing in the sandbox parents built for them – when couples can’t enjoy an evening on the patio of a house they sweated and slaved for – when people are so ashamed of their town that they’re embarrassed to invite over family and friends – that’s when apathy stops, people get involved, and big changes happen.
If you’ve been bullied by noise pollution, I encourage you to step up, share your voice and consider running for office. If you’re still here, you probably really love this place. Like me, you might feel like this town has given you a lot. If you value that, maybe it’s time to give back. Other people have fought in the past for the good things we have. Now it’s our turn to leave a legacy.
Stopping noise pollution would be a great victory. But there's something deeper at stake here too. This whole country is really screwed up right now. People distrust both political parties. People distrust each other. People distrust their slow-as-hell, often unresponsive political system. A lot of us now have what you could call a very tenuous commitment to the principles of representative government and tolerance for diverse opinions.
It would be a bigger victory, then, to win on noise pollution. Instead of devolving into lunatics, throwing rocks at strangers speeding past our houses or telling families to shut up and respect your right to invade their bedrooms and backyards, we could use our very basic small-town political structures to prove to ourselves that the will of the majority can still correct shortsightedness. Can we make Moab quiet again? Maybe we can’t. But it sure as heck seems like a goal worth fighting for.
Christian Wright is a historian, boatman, filmmaker, KZMU DJ, and a former park ranger who has lived in Moab since 2010. His first book, “Carbon County USA,” chronicles the rise, reform, and decline of the United Mine Workers union in Utah.