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We can clean up Utah’s air and fight climate change

Smog covers Salt Lake City as an inversion lingers on Sunday, Dec. 9, 2018.
Qiling Wang, Deseret News

I recently participated, along with many Utah citizens and leaders, in signing the Utah Climate and Clean Air Compact. I believe this important initiative is one of the most meaningful things to happen in Utah this year.

The compact transcends partisan politics and the divisiveness that has characterized this political year. It brings Utahns together to do something great. And this initiative is not simply a symbolic gesture. I firmly believe it is possible to make real progress to both improve Utah’s air quality and to reduce carbon emissions and slow climate change.

We have an action plan. The signers of the Utah Climate and Clean Air Compact have committed to support the climate and clean air solutions and milestones laid out in The Utah Roadmap: Positive Solutions on Climate and Air Quality. The Roadmap was commissioned by the Utah Legislature and developed by the Gardner Policy Institute, with participation by experts from many disciplines.

Cleaning up Utah’s air, alone, is a very important reason to undertake this effort. But while Utah isn’t going to reverse the warming of the planet by ourselves, we certainly can set an example for the rest of the country and the world and show how to take on this great challenge.

And I believe we can do it without the heavy hand of government imposing draconian mandates that hurt businesses and rural Utah. I believe we can do much of it using incentives and common-sense free market principles.

We especially need to work on these issues in a way that helps, rather than hurts, rural Utah and the great people who live and work in remarkable communities throughout the state.

To achieve our clean air and climate goals without burdensome impositions will require a collaborative, shared effort. In short, it will require the Utah Way.

When the compact initiative was launched, we were pleased to have Pulitzer Prize-winning author and commentator Thomas Friedman join us to provide his perspective. The event was held the same day as the vice presidential debate in Utah. Friedman said the debate “is the second most important thing happening in Utah today. This (the launch of the Utah Climate and Clean Air Compact) is the most important event. ... What you’re doing in Utah is so important, and it comes not a moment too soon.”

He said climate change is like a pandemic — but there is no peaking, no herd immunity and no vaccine. With a billion more people to be added to the world population in the next decade, and with people in developing countries consuming far more energy, “we will destroy the planet,” Friedman said, without a global, concerted effort.

Still, he said, we can reverse climate change, and while the crisis must be attacked on a global scale, it is local initiatives like the Utah Compact, when replicated, that will make the difference.

Using advanced technologies to reverse climate change is going to be the “next great global industry,” Friedman said. It’s a monumental economic opportunity for those who recognize it and act accordingly.

The only thing big enough to combat climate change is the global marketplace, Friedman said. If we don’t incentivize and leverage the market to provide massive scale, we will never make a difference.

If we do leverage the marketplace, we can produce zero net energy buildings, zero net energy manufacturing, a zero carbon electrical grid, and zero emissions transportation. “If we do those four zeros, we can change the world and create great economic opportunity,” Friedman said. With new technologies, “it is now cheaper to save the earth than to destroy it — and more profitable.”

To be successful, Friedman said, citizens must be inspired to change and support the right policies. That’s the value of the Utah Compact. The fact that Utah, a red, Republican state, is embracing the battle can help the nation by setting an example, he said. Doing it for our children, for business, for clean air, for communities — that’s the right motivation, Friedman said.

I believe that in Utah we do have the motivation to lead the nation on this issue. With the Utah Roadmap, we also have an action plan. I hope all Utahns will join this effort by reviewing the compact, signing it, and following the roadmap to improve Utah’s air quality and fight climate change.

A. Scott Anderson is CEO and president of Zions Bank.