Shall We Dance

To Sum It Up: Climate Change

By Gary Couillard

A more fuel-efficient future depends on developin gtechnologies and a conservation ethic.
by Gary Couillard
sumitupLast month "An Inconvenient Truth," the third highest-grossing documentary of all time, won an Oscar. It's ironic, assuming votes were fairly counted, that Al Gore should finally be declared the winner against "Deliver Us From Evil," his film's closest competition in the feature documentary category.

Also last month, representatives from 113 governments, members of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), unanimously adopted the first volume of the Climate Change Report 2007 (AR4) that projects the impact of multiple climate-change response scenarios, all of which have profound environmental consequences. (See the table below for additional information.) According to the AR4 report:

Warming of the climate system is unequivocal, as is now evident from observations of increases in global average air and ocean temperatures, widespread melting of snow and ice, and rising global average sea levels.

Eleven of the last 12 years (1995-2006) rank among the 12 warmest years in the instrumental record of global surface temperature.

It is very likely that hot extremes, heat waves, and heavy precipitation events will continue to become more frequent.

A future IPCC report will address the vulnerability of our socio-economic and natural systems to climate changes. For now, this long-range assessment of projected surface temperature change and sea level increase fails to spur an urgent call for action. It's not the "burning bush" that propels and unites the global community to endorse fundamental economic and social change. Here in Utah, far from the coasts, it's difficult to rally for fundamental social and economic change when there is no indisputable apparent danger on the near-term horizon.

The risk of a "wait and see" approach is that if we forge ahead with our fossil fuel binge until there is overwhelming and irrefutable evidence that the dynamic equilibrium of our entire biological and cosmic system has been irreparably altered, it may be too late for the Earth to reestablish a healthy equilibrium. By the time the impact of climate change comes into clear focus, we risk a cascading effect of prolonged heat gains that could accelerate sea level rise to 23 feet, a devastating level.

The essence of any global warming solution is to wean ourselves from fossil fuels, the primary source of atmospheric carbon dioxide. The United States represents 4.58% of the world's population but consumes approximately 25% of all fossil fuel. Clearly the answer isn't to develop more costly energy sources, some in sensitive or scenic areas, to feed our insatiable energy appetite. A more fuel-efficient future depends on the development of fuel-saving technologies and a conservation ethic to overcome our disproportionate addiction to oil and other energy sources.

What happens in the next 100 years and, frankly, in the next millennium, should be of vital concern to all of us. Leaving the consequences of current energy consumption behavior to future generations seems to be nothing less than socially irresponsible. Whether you're a Republican or a Democrat, liberal or conservative, religious or atheist, urban dweller or a rancher, tree hugger or tree chopper; we share the responsibility and the consequences for the environmental choices we make today.

As temporary guests on this planet, we know that treading lightly is the right thing to do. Corporate greed is not an acceptable excuse for failing to control one's emissions or wasting valuable resources. Industry needs to be held to a higher standard – shareholder profits should not have priority over the public's right to healthy air and clean water.

Similarly, our regulatory agencies and elected officials need to be at the forefront of policy making and enforcement that promotes the common good and a thoughtful stewardship of our resources. In contrast, both Governor Huntsman and a legislative committee sought budget cuts for the Utah Department of Environmental Quality (DEQ) that, according to DEQ Director Dianne Nielson, would have left the agency incapable of meeting the requirements of federal environmental programs.

A half-dozen bills before the current legislature do address energy issues, including support for Governor Huntsman's goal of increasing energy efficiency in Utah by 20% by 2015. The group Utah Clean Energy has a description of these legislation proposals and other suggested changes on their website

Unless city residents have access to clean air and water, and are protected from potential environmental catastrophes like global warming, our other efforts as a city count for little over the long term. Sustained progress is impossible unless the resources needed to sustain life, such as clean, safe, healthy air and water are available to all people.

-Mayor Rocky Anderson's 2007 State of the City address on January 16, 2007, "Progress Through Dialogue and Action, Strength through Diversity"

Bill Reiss of the state Division of Air Quality offered this superficial assessment of our recent terrible air quality: "Even though we may not have known how bad it was for our health, in the past, it was worse." That's not an acceptable excuse for unhealthy air quality; nor is building more roads at the expense of mass transit.

Past air quality was bad, but there was dialogue and action to improve the situation. On February 27, 1919, the Salt Lake City Commission, led by Commissioner Herman H. Green (no kidding) unanimously undertook a door-to-door energy audit to improve air quality as a model study for all cities with a smoke problem. Air quality was measured by detailed chemical analysis, including airplane flights to collect air samples at varying altitudes over the city. "The results of the project resulted in a reduction of 46.5% in overall smoke production," according to the study. We need a similar focus today to address environmental issues and the climate crisis.

Joseph Smith, from an outlook similar to that of many Native Americans, taught the sanctity and unity of all things. Smith taught that animals and plants, like humans, had eternal spirits. Religious and spiritual leaders could provide valuable guidance to their members on how to balance environmental stewardship and entrepreneurial traditions.

And it came to pass that Enoch looked upon the earth; and he heard a voice from the bowels thereof, saying: Wo, wo is me, the mother of men; I am pained, I am weary, because of the wickedness of my children. When shall I rest, and be cleansed from the filthiness which is gone forth out of me?

-Moses 7:48 Doctrine and Covenants, Pearl of Great Price

Finally, I think we can all agree that Utah and Salt Lake City are incredibly beautiful places to live and play in. For many reasons, we should be a model city and state in all respects including our commitment to an environmental healthy lifestyle.

Progress is about building and leaving for the future a better world and better communities. Whatever affects the people of Salt Lake City whether it is garbage collection, federal housing policy, or the prospect of catastrophic global climate change – it is the responsibility of all leaders, whether in the business, religious, or civic communities including municipal officials – to take a stand, and to take action. Those who do not, those who say "It's not my job" or "It's none of my business" are not only derelict in carrying out their responsibilities as leaders; they are derelict in fulfilling their moral duties as human beings with choices and the ability to help make a positive difference.

-Mayor Rocky Anderson's

2007 State of the City address

We need to find common ground on the issue of environmental quality and resource management that maintains our high quality of life, while ensuring a healthy, sustainable future. Don't focus solely on the speaker. If not Gore, it could be Anderson or Kennedy or Smith. What is critical is an environmental vision that promotes building and leaving for the future a better and healthy world. We need dialogue and action, not excuses and delays.

IPCC Projected Global Average Surface Warming and Sea Level Rise at the End of the 21st Century:

Best est. temp. change                    Est. increase in sea level
from 1990-2095 (approx.)                from 1990-2095 (approx.)
Scenario        (Fahrenheit)                (Inches)

Best case            3.24 degrees F            11 inches
 Fossil intensive     7.2 degrees F        16.7 inches     

Gary Couillard is a numbers guy, expert witness and founding CATALYST supporter who wears funny hats and sings with our publisher.

This article was originally published on February 28, 2007.