Facebook Twitter

Opinion: Can shifting taxes from potatoes to pollution save paragliding?

Windier weather may be the result of climate change. Clean the Darn Air wants to replace Utah’s grocery sales tax with a carbon tax to help the climate

SHARE Opinion: Can shifting taxes from potatoes to pollution save paragliding?
A paraglider flies high near Francis Peak as an airliner passes overhead.

A paraglider flies high near Francis Peak as an airliner passes on Sunday, April 26, 2020.

Scott G Winterton, Deseret News

My kitchen sink may be the best sink on the planet for washing dishes. That is because when you face the sink you are also facing — via a very large window — the west side of Grandeur Peak.

Grandeur Peak is not the most striking mountain in the central Wasatch, but its sinusoidal limestone cliff band, coyotes, scrub oak, fir, elk, aspen, ravens, golden eagles, morning clouds and evening alpenglow make it one of the most beautiful. The other thing that adds magic is the mountain’s paragliders; a community of mostly young adults that use the slopes’ thermals to launch and soar high over the peak.

The number of paragliders flying above Grandeur Peak has grown steadily over the past 15 years, so much so that they have become part of the mountain. I’ve grown used to seeing dozens of them over the course of a single day. But this past year they have largely vanished. Their numbers are few and starkly intermittent. The ones I have talked to, when our paths crossed, told me that the wind has been too strong to fly.

Wind that is too strong! Is this another character of our changing climate? Is paragliding destined to join skiing as a Utah sport negatively impacted by a warming planet?

The science on the effect of global warming on wind remains undecided. Some climate scientists argue that the Western U.S. will experience reduced rather than elevated wind. Others suggest it will face stronger winds, at least during the coming decades. What is definitely true is that the past couple of years have been substantially windier than usual in Utah.

For me, a biologist with only a limited understanding of atmospheric science, it is easy to believe that our future will be gustier: higher temperatures means more energy in the atmosphere, more atmospheric energy means stronger wind, at least in my mind. To these thoughts, I add the observations that this year is shaping up to be by far the hottest ever recorded and that the measured rate of planetary warming keeps exceeding the climate scientists’ forecasts. I can’t help but worry that the future of paragliding in Utah is not bright.

I write this as a call to arms to the brave souls who leap off Grandeur Peak and brighten my day with your beautiful wings. I write to the whole community of Utah paragliders to ask you to join Clean The Darn Air, a grassroots effort to fight climate warming and air pollution that I am proud to be part of. We are championing a pocketbook-friendly carbon pricing ballot measure for the 2024 Utah election. The measure, if approved by Utah voters, would eliminate the state sales tax on grocery store food and replace it with a carbon tax on fossil fuels: gasoline, electricity generated from fossil fuels, and natural gas.

The intent is not to levy more taxes — many individuals and families would end up paying less — but to give all of us a greater incentive to reduce our use of fossil fuels. There is a lot more to it, but shifting tax from potatoes to pollution is the heart of the measure.

Our ballot measure is a long-shot attempt to take flight, a leap off the proverbial cliff by a small group of Utah citizens who are determined to take action against the demonstrated health hazards of Utah’s polluted air and the dire consequences of our warming climate. So, paragliders, join us. Now is the time for stewardship. If we succeed, then Utah — one of the reddest states in the country, a state that claims coal as its state rock — can show the nation and the world a flight path for confronting climate change. 

David Carrier is head of organizational outreach at Clean the Darn Air and a professor in the School of Biological Sciences at the University of Utah.