SALT LAKE CITY — Let's get this out of the way right off the bat: This column is neither Trump-supporting nor Trump-bashing, nor is it seeking to promote a liberal agenda or a conservative point of view.
This column is about climate change.
I'm not casting about for political consideration from one side or the other, nor attempting to persuade you, dear reader, toward any opinion other than an acceptance of the following: You have the greatest impact on the life you're living and therefore a vested interest — the greatest interest — in the conditions present for you to live a happy life together with your family.
Inside the newsroom this week we hosted Brenda Ekwurzel from the Union of Concerned Scientists, a national nonprofit organization founded 50 years ago by scientists and Massachusetts Institute of Technology students who seek to use science "to address global problems and improve people’s lives."
She was among the thousands of scientists who helped produce the Fourth National Climate Assessment, 1,524 pages of fascinating (mostly) information assessing risks and looking at mitigation and adaptation efforts.
The report, which was released last year the day after Thanksgiving, is mandated under the Global Change Research Act of 1990 to give a report to the sitting president of the United States and Congress every four years.
Ekwurzel was part of the team that produced Chapter 29, "Reducing Risks through Emissions Mitigation" in Volume II of the report, which focused on "the human welfare, societal, and environmental elements of climate change and variability for 10 regions and 18 national topics."
In other words, the report is looking at each region of the country as well as specific topics that include changing climate, water, energy, forests, ecosystems, the coast, oceans, agriculture, air quality and much more.
In Ekwurzel's section she and her fellow scientists offered the following sobering assessment in its executive summary:
"Climate change is projected to significantly damage human health, the economy, and the environment in the United States, particularly under a future with high greenhouse gas emissions."
Here's the kicker and the most unexpected part of our conversation with her at the Deseret News. After spending a few minutes discussing extreme events like the devastating fires in California the past two years, the current flooding underway in the Midwest and the arctic chill that descended on America during the winter, we asked, "Do you have hope?"
Her answer: "I do."
She is optimistic for a bright future and pointed to the report as a basis for her sunny outlook. "Many actions at national, regional and local scales are underway to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, including efforts in the private sector."
Ironically, if effort is slowed to fight greenhouse emissions on the federal level, that can have a strengthening effect on the state and local level as individuals feel a greater responsibility for doing their part to make positive changes. Page 1,354 of the report shows a map of all 50 states with the number of mitigation-related measures states are taking. Some are motivated by federally mandated regulations. Others are not.
Utah sits at better than half the country in the mitigation measures it is taking, greatly motivated by a desire for clean air. Water availability also promises to be of key concern in this growing state over the next 30 years. But it's that local focus, multiplied by every state in the nation, that allows for optimism. And the more that is done in America helps "buy time" to help the rest of the world with emissions strategies.
Ekwurzel said she's not a fan of those who cry "Save the Planet," noting almost matter-of-factly that "the planet will be fine." Our concern and motivating strategy is to understand how we want to live on the planet, understanding the risks of a rural-urban interface, building in a flood zone, and understanding not just the physical (medical) risks to ourselves, but also the economic risks.
There is plenty to fear in the report, but there are also reasons for optimism. As I began studying various aspects of its findings, which the Deseret News continues to study and report, I began printing a hard copy for ease in making notes and plans for future coverage. It took until about page 597 and a full ream of paper to realize the contradiction of burning through ink and paper to print out a report on the environment, which I can easily use in its digital format.
I cut off the printer and tried to mitigate the foolishness of my actions. Will it make a difference? Perhaps not to the planet this week, but it did to me personally.
Understanding our preferences and our behaviors is necessary to making the small changes that are now required to live the happiest lives we can. As Ekwurzel noted, it's not about saving the planet, it's about saving ourselves on the planet.