OGDEN — Weber State University hosted its 10th annual Sustainability Summit Thursday, featuring Paul Hawken, leader of a project that identified and ranked the most effective existing solutions to climate change, and Brenda Ekwurzel, co-author of the Fourth National Climate Assessment and senior climate scientist at the Union of Concerned Scientists, as speakers.
As part of the summit, more than 30 presenters — the majority of them from Utah — discussed local solutions to climate change, with the more than 400 people in attendance.
One presentation discussed West Liberty Foods’ landfill-free facility in Tremonton, which sends less than 1 percent of waste to the landfill.
Another covered the Field of Dreams EcoCommunity, a new affordable housing development in Kearns built by Habitat for Humanity. Designed by Jörg Rügemer, associate professor of architecture at the University of Utah, the 20-unit structure consumes very little energy.
“Ten years ago, this room only had 100 people in it, and we were not talking about climate change,” said Debbie Lyons, sustainability division director for Salt Lake City at the opening session. “And there’s been so many advances and successes — and that’s what gives me hope.”
Brenda Ekwurzel highlighted the severe economic impacts the U.S. can avoid by implementing climate change solutions, referring to the findings of the Fourth National Climate Assessment, Volume Two.
Without more significant global effort to reverse climate change, she said, “climate change is projected to impose substantial damages on the U.S. economy ... the main point is that annual losses every single year on average are going to be hundreds of billions of dollars by 2090.”
Ekwurzel also noted that in lower elevations of Utah there would be 30-50 additional days with temperatures exceeding 90 degrees Fahrenheit.
“Some of these (climate change solutions) are not sacrifices,” said Erkwuzel. “There’s going to be more money that we aren’t wasting on paying an electric company or paying at the gas pump that we are reinvesting in our children and activities that our families want to do and that we cherish.”
Hawken, leader of a project called Drawdown and author of a book by the same name, highlighted the solutions happening globally that — if combined — could lead to “drawdown,” which is the point when the concentration of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere peaks and then starts to decline.
“What (the project) is is us holding up a mirror to the world about what it knows — what we know,” Hawken said. “It’s a smaller we talking to a bigger we saying ‘we know this, and we know how to do it because we’re doing it, and this is what happens if we keep doing it and accelerate the rate.’”
“Drawdown” ranks these solutions by the magnitude of their impact.
Some of the project’s findings were surprising, even to Hawken’s own team of more than 200 researchers.
Climate change solutions that might come to mind first, like rooftop solar (No.10), were outranked by solutions like educating girls (No. 6) and refrigerant management (No. 1).
If combined, educating girls (No. 6) and family planning (No. 7) outrank any other single solution.
“Actually, in this schema, the No. 1 solution would be the empowerment of women,” Hawken said. “There’s 1,000 reasons to support the education and empowerment of girls and women, but the outcome of that is a tremendous reduction in impact on the planet by 2050.”
When girls around the world are able to earn the equivalent of a high school diploma, their reproductive rate falls from five children to two. Changes like these could mean there are a billion fewer people living on the planet in 2050, Hawken said, referring to a United Nations report.
However, one or two or even 10 solutions likely won’t be the answer.
“The tendency, especially in America, is to go to the big solutions and say that’s where we should work ... and I would just say take a pause on that,” Hawken said. “It’s a system that causes global warming, and it’s a system that will heal it and cure it, and so everything is important. I mean your thyroid is a really small gland in your body — take it out and see how you feel.”
In addition to being attended by summit participants, Hawken’s keynote speech was broadcasted to students at DaVinci Academy, Utah Valley University, Utah State’s Moab Campus, Southern Utah University and Dixie State University.