"Create Strong Energy Policies" – it starts and ends with individual efforts.
by Sara Copeland
This January was the deadline for the HEAL Utah High School Essay contest which Utah high school students were posed with the following questions:
1. Noted author Chip Ward wrote that “there is a direct relationship between the vitality of a community’s civic environment and the health of its natural environment.” In your opinion, should this relationship be reflected in our state’s energy policy?
2. Some who are concerned about the harmful impacts of global warming cite nuclear power as an answer. Yet, from the mining and milling of uranium to the disposal of low level waste from nuclear power plants, Utah carries a toxic legacy from the nuclear fuel cycle. Given these competing concerns, what type of energy policy do you think is best for Utah?
HEAL Utah partnered with Salt Lake Community College's Community Writing Center to provide students both a place to learn the basics of essay writing and a forum in which to share ideas and peer review their work. HEAL also partnered with us, CATALYST Magazine, to publish the winning essay as First Prize. We're proud to support the next generation of writers and to bring you that winning essay in this issue of CATALYST.
ANative American proverb says that we do not inherit the earth from our ancestors, but rather we borrow it from our children. In dealing with energy policies for the state of Utah, the most important question to ask is whether our children will thank us tomorrow for what we do today. To ensure that the earth we leave to the next generation is one worth leaving, there must be civic engagement of every level, including state, local, and individual.
A strong state policy on energy conservation can be the catalyst towards an energy-conscious community. Governor Jon M. Huntsman, Jr. realized this when he said, “Energy is a critical component in sustaining Utah’s vibrant economic growth and preserving our unparalleled quality of life.” Recent policies concerning Utah’s energy consumption have helped cultivate not only the economy, but community involvement as well. Utah’s current energy policy helps make the state an example of conservation and efficiency. These policies will affect all state-owned buildings, schools, and transportation. The most important aspect of these plans will be implementing long-term versions, keeping the next generation in mind. To do this, the state of Utah must be willing to set clear goals, establish accountability, and work toward continuous improvement.
After the state takes the initiative to begin energy programs, the burden of continuing the progress is left to the community. Each community must pull together in order to implement the policies enacted by the state. After all, it is the actions of communities that spur action on the state level. When the state creates an important policy, the communities are the first ones to be affected. A bill in Utah’s Senate supporting Governor Huntsman’s energy policy resolves that the legislature urge the citizens of Utah to do their part to increase energy efficiency. The legislature relies heavily on the ability and responsibility of communities to follow up on the policies passed.
However, arguably the most important level of civic engagement is as an individual. William Rees, a Canadian ecologist and professor, coined the phrase ‘ecological footprint’ in 1992, describing the ecological impact that an individual with the typical North American lifestyle would leave on the planet. Each person’s footprint is different, and each represents a way that individuals can take action to conserve energy and the environment. While factories and huge businesses often get the blame for environmental problems, it is important to keep in mind what keeps those factories and businesses running — the continued patronage of individuals who choose to support companies that are not energy-conscious. Each individual has the privilege and responsibility to take care of the environment by conserving energy. Only by getting everyone involved can the community and the state create real change in energy policies.
Margaret Mead once said, “Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world. Indeed, it is the only thing that ever has.” This quote illustrates the imperative that everyone take action for the environment. Starting as an individual, and working up through communities and the state, each person has the ability to conserve energy, better the environment, and ultimately change the world.
The winning essayist Sara Copeland is a junior at Bingham High School who enjoys writing for the school newspaper and running track. She is also involved with a service project that works with planting gardens in communities.