Lawmakers need to do more than acknowledge climate change in Utah

Sunday , December 24, 2017 - 12:00 AM

Standard-Examiner Editorial Board

A resolution for the 2018 legislative session, sponsored by Rep. Ray Ward, R-Bountiful, proposes to acknowledge the negative realities of climate change in Utah.

House Concurrent Resolution 1 “acknowledges that average global temperature and average Utah temperature have increased substantially over recent decades, and that scientific consensus is that a substantial cause for these increases is human-caused emissions; and commits that the Legislature and Governor will base decisions regarding state energy policies on the best scientific evidence available and urges individuals and corporations to conserve energy.”

It’s about time.

Last year was only a good snowfall year by comparison to the three or five most previous seasons — it was by no stretch a banner year. And, according to a century’s worth of data compiled by the Associated Press, winter in Northern Utah used to last more than two months longer on average.

This crisis is far beyond an environmental issue, reserved for the Green Party or tree-hugging hippies. It’s a matter of economy. If nothing else, this resolution at least expresses the notion that even if climate-change deniers are somehow correct, the risk might not be worth the gamble.

If our laws and our social behaviors continue to reflect a culture of unrestrained use of natural resources and reckless pollution of the air and water in favor of quasi-libertarian freedoms and unregulated industry, we’re not just in for an environmental or health emergency — it’ll cripple the economy.

A survey, conducted by a research firm during the 2014-15 ski season, showed economic impact of ski resort visitors alone was around $1.3 billion. (The survey results were included in the State of Utah’s Travel and Tourism Industry 2017 report, published by the Kem C. Gardner Policy Institute at the University of Utah.)

That same policy report showed the National Parks — you know, the ones state lawmakers are working so hard to shrink and/or take state control of — account for 14,000 jobs and another $1.3 billion contribution to the Utah economy.

For anyone who believes we have another century to act, consider that winter sports revenue nationwide declined by $1.07 billion between 1999 and 2010, according to a study commissioned by the Natural Resources Defense Council.

That report predicts snow depths in the West could decline by 25 to 100 percent if winter temperatures increase by 4 to 10 degrees.

There are, to date, just a handful of proposed bills that have anything to do with curbing behaviors that contribute to climate change. One bill would restrict a county’s authority to exempt vehicles from emissions tests (HB 101). There’s not much else.

HCR 1 is a good first step, but other lawmakers need to step up and propose — and support — substantial, science-based changes to improve air quality, reduce emissions and conserve water before we all pay a major price.

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