SALT LAKE CITY — Dozens of Utah’s most influential people — including politicians, businesspeople and faith leaders — joined in an online event Wednesday to acknowledge the dangers of climate change and air pollution as well as committing to change.
The first-of-its-kind Utah Climate and Clean Air Compact asks all residents to commit to several fundamental principles as Utah seeks to become a “pragmatic” leader in climate solutions among conservative states.
The virtual signing featured a bipartisan coalition in the state’s congressional delegation, with Reps. Ben McAdams and John Curtis voicing support.
“Utah has always been a leader in the fight for a healthy climate and clean air, particularly with our innovative clean energy sector,” Democrat McAdams said. “And I’m going to continue to work collaboratively to ensure the goals of this compact are met at the federal level.”
Curtis, a Republican, touted local stewardship.
“Utahns want to take care of this Earth; they want to be good stewards, and this gives them the pathway to do that,” he said in a prerecorded message.
The compact emphasizes six concepts: climate and air quality, the economy, reenergizing Utah, rural Utah, and leadership and “the Utah way.”
The document states that poor air quality has an immediate, negative impact on people’s health and that “climate change poses a large and growing threat to the health and prosperity of Utah communities and beyond.”
It asks people to cut back on greenhouse gas emissions by reducing “auto dependency, improving energy efficiency and advancing innovative energy solutions,” declaring that the next 10 years are critical in the fight for sustainability.
Agriculture, tourism and technology all would benefit, the compact states, calling for “the Utah way” to lead out on this important issue as it has on immigration reform, anti-discrimination and religious freedom.
It acknowledges that rural areas will experience challenges as the state becomes less dependent on fossil fuels and asks government leaders to invest in and develop those parts of the Beehive State.
The document also encourages businesses and citizens to adhere to the mileposts enumerated in the Utah Roadmap: Positive Solutions to Climate and Air Quality.
U.S. Sen. Mitt Romney, R-Utah, called the “warming of the planet” one of the three great challenges of the first half of this century, and the only one the Beehive State can directly impact and work to solve.
Romney introduced New York Times columnist Thomas Friedman, who delivered an address on “COVID-19, Climate and Our Opportunity.”
“There’s a vice presidential debate happening in Salt Lake City today — that’s a pretty big thing,” Friedman said. “But you know what I think? I think it’s the second most important thing happening in Salt Lake City today. I think your compact is really the most important thing. It’s something that’s going to last.”
He said he realized just recently that for the past 20 years of his career, he has been covering myriad “pandemics,” though not all have been biological. He covered a geopolitical pandemic during the events and fallout of 9/11, a financial pandemic with the recession of 2008 and now a biological pandemic in COVID-19.
“And coming to a theater near you is an atmospheric pandemic called climate change,” he said.
What he’s noticed about all four “pandemics” is that warnings precede the catastrophe.
“In 1993, you’ll recall that a man called Ramzi Yousef tried to blow up the World Trade Center in New York,” he said. “That was the warning heart attack, and on 9/11, we got the full coronary.”
Friedman called the collapse of the Long-Term Capital Management hedge fund in 1998 the warning before the 2008 recession, just as the SARS virus in 2002 was the warning before COVID-19.
People are now living through the events that will herald future climate disasters, he said.
“Everyday we are getting warning heart attacks about climate change, whether it’s wildfires, whether it’s extreme weather,” he said. “It’s telling us that this is going to be the next pandemic, and beware, with this pandemic, there is no peaking. Coronavirus peaks; climate change doesn’t peak ... There’s no herd immunity to climate change. There’s just an endless pounding on the herd.”
He suggests a six-step process to help change people’s behavior and mitigate the effects of climate change:
- Name it: One of the largest problems with going “green” is that the word carries a negative connotation in many people’s minds.
“One of the problems with the word green, over the years, is the people who named it actually were people who kind of hated it.”
Friedman has since tried to change the connotation of the word to “geostrategic, geopolitical, capitalistic, innovative, patriotic.”
“Green is the new red, white and blue.”
- Frame it: To get people from all ideologies working together, Friedman suggested framing the issue of climate change in a context that everyone can agree on: economics and financial opportunity.
“Who here believes that America can still be the world’s leading economy, let alone the world’s most powerful nation, if we don’t lead the next great global industry?” he said.
“Clean energy, energy efficiency, clean water, clean air, clean transport, clean power has to be the next great global industry. ... Otherwise we’re going to be a bad biological experiment.”
- Scale it: “There’s, in my view, only one thing as big as Mother Nature and that’s father greed — the marketplace,” Friedman said. “The only thing that can actually rival the power of Mother Nature is the market. And if you aren’t leveraging the market to give you the scale you need, then you will never, ever, seriously be able to address climate change.”
- Shape and bend it: Friedman suggests incentivizing the market to reward companies that value clean air and climate friendly solutions.
He wants the larger countries of the world to focus on the “zeros”: zero net-energy buildings, zero waste manufacturing, zero carbon grid and zero emissions transportation.
All of these can be leveraged with the right incentives and correct standards, he said.
“The technologies are already here to do it,” he said. “It is now cheaper to save the Earth than destroy it. And it’s also going to be more profitable.”
- Conserve it: Remaining conscientious of nature and wildlife will be a key to sustainability in the future, Friedman said, regardless of the increase in renewable energy sources.
- Inspire it: Friedman said he wishes that U.S. leaders would devote more of their campaigns to the climate and sustainability.
“If I had any wish for President Trump or Vice President Biden in this race, if I had been running, my agenda would have been built around clean energy,” he said. “We don’t need a space race now. We need an Earth race. We are in an Earth race. Which country, which state in America can develop the most climate friendly policies and clean tech solutions?”