In Utah, we love our mountains.

We thrill at winter powder days on the ski slopes, we hike through filtered sunshine beneath summer trees. we marvel at reds, oranges and browns in the autumn canyons, and we watch with giddy anticipation for new spring greens.

Utah has made a home out of a beautiful piece of planet Earth.

How will we protect our beautiful spaces from a changing planet that continues to grow hotter from greenhouse gases?

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According to a recent 2022 “State of the Air” report by the American Lung Association, Salt Lake City area, including Provo and Orem, ranks in the top 10 worst areas for ozone air pollution — or ozone smog — in the country. We should be concerned about bad air for many reasons: it damages our plant and animal life, it exacerbates our drought problem, it poses a health risk to our own delicate lung tissues as each of us breathes it in.

Last week, the Supreme Court ruled that the Environmental Protection Agency does not have the right according to Congress’ Clean Air Act to put caps on carbon emissions from power plants. This ruling places federal climate change policy in the hands of Congress to write new laws on how climate regulation should work. And in the meantime, things aren’t getting better for our planet. But while Congress squabbles, state and local governments and individuals can act too.

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You’re one in a million — but your efforts still matter

How would you act differently if you believed that your personal actions really impacted the environment?

Even if we feel that our individual choices are small, the mindset of trying can make a powerful difference in our ability to act further. If we can each find a way to reduce our environmental impact and put passion and persistence into it, our efforts can strengthen our personal motivations to protect our environment.

When I was in college, I wanted to do something to live more sustainably. I began swapping out plastic for reusable alternatives. I invested in reusable sandwich bags and food storage containers, and I kept reusable grocery bags in my purse for shopping. I found that my little actions to reduce plastic waste motivated me to do even more. I got a small travel utensil set to use while away from home to avoid single-use plastic utensils. I bought more bulk foods to reduce plastic packaging. I started having “bring-your-own-plate” picnics with friends.

The more personal action I took, the more connected I felt to my role as a steward of the environment.

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Even though my small contribution of reduced plastic waste may seem small, it has widened my perspective as I notice other ways where I can reduce waste in my life. And it has established in me a core value for living sustainably and believing that even little efforts matter in this fight.

If each of us makes one change, what would be the benefits of our expanded mindsets toward sustainability?

As voting citizens and members of the community, we can take individual action to reduce our carbon footprints in various ways, whatever best fits with our diverse lifestyles:

  • Drive less often — which has an unintended incentive right now with the way gas prices are.
  • Use public transportation, bikes and our own two legs when possible.
  • Find manageable ways to reduce plastic waste with reusable bags or skipping the straw.
  • Limit your meat consumption by starting with one meatless day a week or reserving meat for dinners only.
  • Eat locally grown foods and consider growing a garden in the summers if your climate permits it.
  • Reduce your home’s energy usage by turning off lights, turning down heat and replacing older, energy wasting appliances with more efficient ones.
  • Choose sustainable clothing companies and consider thrifting or buying higher quality clothes that will have a longer life.
  • Elect officials who will push for more government action to reduce carbon emissions and act on climate change.

What we choose to do matters. Even if our choices make small impacts, wouldn’t we rather live the life that makes an impact for good than one that does nothing? It is time for each of us to choose responsibility and care for the mountains, valleys, oceans, forests, deserts, lakes, rivers, fields and canyons we call home.

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Small changes can affect the state and local government

We are all citizens with great power if we choose to get behind an issue. If we put in our personal effort, we will find the drive to take it to our state and local governments.

We would not be the first state to take matters into our own hands.

Voters in an Ohio city have passed a carbon tax for themselves to incentivize greener choices. The state of Hawaii has implemented portions of the Paris Climate Accord in its legislation to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. Colorado has a goal to get 940,000 zero-emission vehicles and 500 electric transit vehicles on the roads by 2030. These places have passed these laws because their citizens are passionate about the planet — and they have seen that their changes really do matter.

Utah itself has a Utah Roadmap for climate action created by researchers — though some argue this plan isn’t enough. The Utah Legislature has a bipartisan Clean Air Caucus that meets to discuss new solutions, and Salt Lake City is working with Rocky Mountain Power to transition to net-100% clean electricity by 2030.

Climate change is here. Is Utah ready?

This is a start, but we can do much more to combat climate change. Now is our moment, and we can’t let it pass.