Of all places, the American West should take climate change seriously
The current megadrought has persisted much of the past 20 years. Utah should invest more in water management and innovation
The current megadrought gripping the western United States (Utah’s precipitation has averaged below historical expectations for much of two decades now) ought to give emphasis to the dire warnings scientists issued in the latest report from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change.
As we have said before, the time for using global climate change as a political weapon is over. Anyone watching the struggling agriculture industry or listening to nervous water managers in Utah as they eye shrinking reservoirs knows the situation is dire, whatever one chooses to call it.
The public and private sectors need to cooperate to find solutions and make the investments necessary for the best possible usage of this precious resource. That is especially true considering that Utah is the fastest growing state in the nation. Its economy cannot continue to grow without adequate water.
Care must be given to ensure the Great Salt Lake — a weather generator of enormous importance to Wasatch Mountain Range snowpack — does not shrink any further. Governments should find ways to incentivize people to do their part to conserve water through smart landscaping choices. Water banking and other solutions for agricultural runoff should be expanded. Algae blooms should be mitigated.
The IPCC report, a 3,000-page effort by 234 scientists worldwide, was the most dire one in the 30-plus years of the organization. It presented five possible future scenarios, depending on how successful the world is in minimizing the planet’s average temperature increase. Under each scenario, the world is projected to exceed the 2.7 degree Fahrenheit increase that was the stated limit of the Paris agreement of 2015. It already has climbed 2 degrees Fahrenheit since then.
The 2.7 degree mark should become reality by the 2030s. And while the scientists did not predict a worst-case climate catastrophe, the report is clear about what rising temperatures mean. Expect worse heat waves, droughts and floods. Expect more extreme weather of all kinds. Expect sea levels to rise as Arctic ice melts.
The American West was singled out as a spot where multiple disasters — fires, drought and heat — are occurring at once.
Heat waves that once happened only once every 50 years are now happening once every 10 years.
Yes, climate is a constantly changing phenomenon, and much of that occurs naturally. A large majority of scientists, however, believe the dramatic rise in temperatures is unequivocally caused by humans. They have made advances in calculating how fast temperatures climb for every ton of carbon dioxide emitted.
The situation is not hopeless. Reductions in carbon emissions can slow the trend and minimize long-term effects. But agreements such as those in Paris have proven to be ineffective and difficult to enforce.
Clearly, the problems must be solved in ways that do not harm economic output or reduce living standards, and that come with natural incentives. Humans remain the world’s most important resource, and their capacity for innovation and invention is endless. Solutions can be found.
We understand that words like global warming and climate change can be trigger words in our politically charged world. Yet all of us can be engaged in preserving the world we live in. We all have a stake in being good stewards of the earth. And here in the American West, where settlers are used to humbly battling nature, we can make the sacrifices necessary to both preserve and enhance the quality of life for all, and be an example to others.