Step It Up, Salt Lake: April 14

By Sadie Hoagland

Communities unite for climate action now!
by Sadie Hoagland
Deer. Pikas. Yellow-bellied marmots. Cold-water trout. Dozens of migratory bird species. Farmers. Skiers. These are a few of the locals that will feel the effects of global warming, and feel them acutely, painfully.

They are also a few of the reasons why this month Utahns are joining a national campaign—Step it Up 2007—to ask Congress to, well, step it up and pledge an 80% reduction in carbon emissions by the year 2050. The campaign, started by environmentalist Bill McKibben and Middlebury College graduates, is the first attempt to organize independent groups of concerned citizens throughout the country on one day, April 14, to rally Congress for climate change action.

In Salt Lake, one group of such concerned citizens, many of them students who have become inspired by McKibben’s movement, are planning the Salt Lake Spring Run-off Step it Up in Sugar House Park, near the pond. National Step it Up organizers suggest that each event demonstrate some localized effects of climate change, and while some participants are planning elaborate actions to show our changing planet —such as skiing receding glaciers in Montana and Wyoming and taking underwater footage of damaged coral reefs—many will simply gather people in parks and public spaces. One of Salt Lake’s Step it Up rallies will be more like the latter, an informal gathering at the pond in Sugar House Park.

Another group, People Protecting the Planet, plans a noontime gathering in Liberty Park (northeast corner) where you can join in performing 108 Sun Salutations or meditate under the “banner for change.” A salutation to the sun is to pay your respects and surrender to the universe… a metaphor to let go physically—the mind follows as you move ‘inside’ the practice,” according to their entry on the Step it Up website. (Also see website for interesting information on “why 108 times.”)

The Mayor’s office has also recently joined in, pledging a “huge blowout” of a gathering on the west side of the City/County Building, from 3 p.m. till 9 p.m., with Los Lobos performing at 8 p.m. Check the Step it Up website frequently for updates. But expect a festively entertaining, educational and activating afternoon.

While the exact repercussions of global warming on Utah’s climate are uncertain, scientists seem to agree that negative effects on our watersheds will be inevitable. I recently spoke with one Salt Lake Step it Up organizer, Adele Bealer, a graduate student in Environmental Humanities about the event, and about water. As we spoke over the phone (to avoid unnecessary driving), she explained that water is going to be our first local resource to show the effects of climate change, a problem exacerbated by the rapidly growing population of many Southwestern states. In addition, she explained, water holds “the idea of diminishing snow pack,” and is “intimately linked to the impact on the ski industry and the greatest snow on earth.”

Which is why the Salt Lake Spring Run-off Step it Up group is asking participants to bring water from their watershed, perhaps from a creek running down one of the canyons, perhaps from their tap, or even from a symbolic body of water. At the event, participants will acknowledge the valuable water resource of spring run-off by pouring all the water people bring into the Sugar House Park pond. Not only does this action symbolize local climate change, but having people bring water also encourages them to think about their water, and involves them in Step it Up on a personal level.

Many participants may opt for the ease of their kitchen tap. Others, like naturalist, writer and Step it Up participant Terry Tempest Williams will bring water with more of a story. Williams, visiting Rwanda early this month, plans to bring water from Lake Kivu, a body of water that has managed to cleanse itself despite being used as a body depository during the genocide. “The waters, to me, symbolize the self-generating healing nature of nature,” Williams says.

For many Utahns, global warming has long existed as an abstract issue on the fringe of political and environmental spheres. The problem has seemed far away, as intangible as the Arctic. But this year more than ever, climate change is becoming a central issue that the American public, not just environmentalists, can’t stop talking about. Recently, California, New Mexico, Arizona, Washington and Oregon formed the Western Regional Climate Action Initiative, a joint effort to reduce carbon emissions state by state. Utah Governor Jon Huntsman, however, declined to join other governors in the initiative. While this inaction may be frustrating to many Utahns with growing concerns over climate change, it does help inspire political reaction and demonstrate a need for protest about climate change on a more politically visible level.

To facilitate such political visibility, national organizers have asked participants to take pictures or video of their events and send them through the Web to Step it Up collaborators, who will then compile the evidence for Congress. A national protest connected via Web is certainly unique to our era but also appropriate, given the need to bring the issue out of Washington and into communities so that people may understand climate change better. As Bealer puts it, this campaign is appealing because it calls for citizens “to bring some creativity to this [problem] other than the old solutions, in the hopes of dealing with a problem unlike any other, one that needs new solutions, new answers.”

The campaign, though still weeks away as this article is written, is already a success. With 1,092 already registered events in all 50 states, Step it Up has encouraged a span of grassroots action rarely seen in an era where political activism is often limited to email petitions. In March, Step it Up was featured on NPR and in the New York Times. More communities join the campaign each day.

There has never been a better time to feel the support of a national movement, and never a better time to make a local ruckus. With Step it Up actions planned in Provo, Park City, Ogden, Smithfield and Springdale, Utah communities are certainly looking to make an impact. And what is the nature of that impact?

 “The goal of Step it Up is to reach a citizens’ consensus that climate change is not something that should only concern scientists, or businesses, but that as creatures of this planet, this concerns all of us,” says Bealer. “Step it up is a way of saying to the governor, ‘we are concerned,’ but it is also a way of saying ‘let’s all come together as a group.’ This is not just an environmental issue. This issue is about everybody; about the quality of our lives, about the care of our planet, and this is about the future.”

The near future, Step it Uppers hope, is an era of better-late-than-never concern for climate change. For the marmots. The birds. The trout. And for the world as we know it. 

What is Step it Up: a national campaign to persuade the U.S. Congress it’s time to take climate change seriously by pledging an 80% reduction in carbon emissions by the year 2050—43 years from now.
When: April 14, 2007.
Where: At over 1,092 locations nationwide—nine locations in Utah  (as of March 28), including Salt Lake City, Park City, Provo, Ogden, Springdale, St. George and Smithfield
Salt Lake City gatherings:
Sugar House Park, noon-2pm.
    Liberty  Park, noon-2pm
(corner of 700 E. and 900 S.)
    Washington Square (City/County Bldg.), west side, 3 p.m.-9 p.m.

This article was originally published on March 31, 2007.