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Slow down! SUVs, speeding and meat take hits at enviro conference

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OREM — Giving up a gas-guzzling sport utility vehicle, implementing energy-savers in the home, driving 55 miles per hour or even cutting back on meat aren't popular choices for many Utahns.

But these options could conserve energy and resources and eventually mean more money for the individual, as well as a better future for the planet, Ron Tobler said.

He was one of several presenters during Utah Valley State College's two-day 21st Annual Environmental Ethics Conference, which ended Wednesday.

"We have the power to choose," Tobler said. He is program manager in environmental health for the Utah County Health Department and also an adjunct professor at UVSC, instructing an environmental health class.

Students, faculty and members of the public attended the conference.

"We live in a population that is just not going to give up anything," said Marsha McLean, vice chairwoman of the Sierra Forum in Utah County.

"We don't have to give up everything," McLean said. "If we all give up the part we can, we will see a lot of success."

Tobler acknowledges SUVs are "cool." But what people should consider is what type of vehicle fits their lifestyle, such as city driving vs. off-roading and hauling large items.

"Possessing a huge energy hog just because it's cool is a horrible waste of energy," Tobler said.

Some audience members asked why the government doesn't restrict the speed limit to 55 mph to conserve gas.

"Drive a little more like a granny and less like a 17-year-old boy," Tobler said.

In the late 1970s and early 1980s, states did lower the speed limits to 55 mph as was federally mandated, to save gas, said Ken Connaughton, director of communications for the Utah Department of Transportation. He spoke in an interview with the Deseret Morning News Thursday afternoon.

However, Utah isn't planning to lower its freeway speeds any time in the near future, Connaughton said.

"To arbitrarily change the speed limit wouldn't change the way people drive," he said. "People can drive 55 mph right now if they want to ... There are multiple lanes. Just stay to the right."

When it comes to conserving energy in the home, Tobler isn't talking about using the TV remote control. There are myriad options, from solar cells for the roof to subsurface drip irrigation systems for the yard.

"We need to find better ways of having our homes work in unison with the environment, rather than against it," Tobler said.

As the population grows, people will need to think about where their water, food and energy come from and make wise choices accordingly, he said.

Tobler said for every 1,000 calories of meat a person's body can use, a person could consume 10,000 calories of grain instead.

Although he isn't a vegetarian himself, Tobler encouraged people to eat meat sparingly. Consider meat "a delicacy, like dessert," he told the audience.

Randy Parker, chief executive officer of the Utah Farm Bureau Federation, however, said people need to take Tobler's advice with a grain of salt. "It is his personal perspective. He is not an expert," Parker said, in an interview.

Further, Parker points out cattle are generally fed with forage on public lands or pasture. They eat hay and grasses that aren't for human consumption. Cattle are fed grain toward the end of their growing process, to add flavor and tenderness to the beef. However, most of this grain isn't edible for humans.

In a follow-up interview Thursday, Tobler countered that, in his opinion, land where cattle graze would be better served growing grain.

E-mail: astewart@desnews.com