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About Utah: Resort goes into action on emissions

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PARK CITY — As director of environmental affairs for Park City Mountain Resort, Brent Giles is a man full of startling statistics.

Such as:

Scientists have determined that the temperature along Utah's Wasatch Mountains is going up a half to a full degree every decade.

At that rate the persistent wintertime snow level — that's the altitude where snow sticks and stays — will rise to 9,500 feet by 2075, or about 2,500 feet above where it is right now.

And by the year 2100 it will be at 10,200 feet — 200 feet higher than PCMR's highest point on Jupiter Peak.

That might not scare you, but it does Brent. And not just because it will mean he won't have a ski resort to work for anymore.

"If the ski resorts are gone, that is the least of our problems," he says. "We're talking about the whole ecosystem here."

Brent isn't some flower-child generation Vegan who wears nothing but hemp, either. He's a native Utahn, born and raised in Heber City and an employee at the Park City resort since 1979 who speaks with a soothing voice that sounds sort of like Merlin Olsen.

When he says things are heating up it gets your attention because it's not shrill, it's not Sheryl Crow and it makes so much sense.

"There's no magic here," he says as he trots out figures about rising temperatures and satellite images of the snowpack. "These are real numbers. They tell us what's going to happen if we do nothing about greenhouse gases."

Ask Brent why he talks about snow level forecasts for 2075 instead of an earlier date — sometime when the majority of us might still be alive — and he says, simply, "it takes 50 years to get greenhouse gases to disperse. We've already done the damage for 25 years from now. We've already screwed that up."

The question is if we're going to screw up the next generation as well.

"It's not too late to do something," says Brent, "there's plenty we can do."

As an example of what can be done, he's not bashful about using Park City Mountain Resort as exhibit A.

And no, the resort is not shutting down. That would be tantamount to throwing the baby out with the bathwater.

What the resort is doing is conserving energy consumption everywhere it can. That includes changing from incandescent light bulbs to CFLs (compact fluorescent lamps) to purchasing more efficient snowmaking equipment to placing timers on heaters to purchasing higher priced windpower (1.8 million kilowatt hours this past ski season) to filling the company truck fleet with biodiesel fuel.

Giles says that in the past year, PCMR's conservation efforts have prevented 3,739 tons of carbon dioxide.

That's the equivalent of planting 89,500 trees, or not driving 8.5 million miles in your car.

Individual homeowners can't prevent as much pollution as a 3,300-acre major ski resort, of course, but that doesn't mean they can't make a huge difference.

To illustrate just how huge, Giles trots out the startling stat that if every household in America — there are 110 million of them — would change just five of its most-used incandescent lightbulbs to the more efficient CFLs, we would collectively save a trillion pounds of carbon dioxide.

That's the equivalent of taking eight million fossil fuel-using cars off the road, or shutting down 20-plus power plants for a year.

Or — my favorite — a trillion-pound CO2 reduction would mean halting the growth of carbon emissions in the U.S. entirely.

"The lightbulb example always gets to people," says Giles, who says he often has people at his speeches tell him they're going straight home and changing their lightbulbs.

"I hope they really do," he says.

In the course of trying to save a ski resort, Brent Giles is doing his bit to try to save the world as well.

Lee Benson's column runs Sunday, Monday, Wednesday and Friday. Please send e-mail to benson@desnews.com and faxes to 801-237-2527.