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Opinion: What you missed from John Oliver’s drought commentary

John Oliver’s “Last Week Tonight” episode about the drought in the West wasn’t making fun of religious people. It was pointing at very serious problems we need to act on

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A reservoir that has receded and exposed the land.

Echo Reservoir near Coalville is pictured at 12% capacity during a drought on Thursday, Sept. 16, 2021. When the reservoir is at capacity, the land in the foreground is under water.

Kristin Murphy, Deseret News

Micah Safsten in his article “Complete disrespect — What John Oliver said about Utah’s drought” accuses John Oliver of characterizing Utahns as superstitious “rubes who pray to a magical sky-god.”

Safsten is incorrect: Oliver bashes “magical thinking” across the West, from “surfing lagoons” planned in desert California to Arizona’s proposal to build a pipeline from the Mississippi River to the Colorado River. If he criticizes Gov. Spencer Cox’s day of prayer for rain, this criticism falls within the context of his real target: not religious people, but politicians lacking the courage to tell the truth. 

And while Oliver didn’t mention it, a strict focus on water use alone leaves out the glaring reality that climate change, and fossil fuel emissions which drive it, are ultimately behind this water emergency.

Governments across the West, liberal and conservative, continue to avoid this frightening truth. New Mexico, for example, continues to rely on state revenue from oil and gas drilling. And in Utah and other conservative states, a people-pleasing “all of the above” energy policy merely leaves fossil fuel use on its throne ... as hotter and hotter (and drier and drier) we go. Magical thinking indeed. 

Oliver’s rant is aimed not at religion, but at moral cowardice in the face of a fossil-fuel-dependent urban development model which enriches some, while endangering all.

Brian Harmon

Eagle Mountain