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UofU Symposium: Helping Cities Cope With Changing Climate

Judy Fahys/KUER
Professor Scott B. Jones, a soil scientist at Utah State University, studies how the mountains that provide urban Utah water are changing. Community discussions that include science like this are important to preparing urban Utah for climate change.

The 21st Annual Stegner Symposium got underway Wednesday with a keynote speech about the small ways communities can tackle the big environmental problems of our time.

Larry Susskind, an expert from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology on helping communities solve environmental problems, says people who prepare for disasters in their communities often become interested in dealing with the broader, underlying causes of those problems. He says organizing people to prepare for floods and droughts can evolve into an interest in dealing with global warming.

“A focus on adaptation makes real the everyday costs of coping with climate-change-related risks,” he says.

Susskind gave an example of preparing for a flood. A homeowner can pile up sandbags outside but also has to rely on a community-wide strategy to protect water and power systems.

“Whole communities need to act,” he said, “in order to ensure that those communities become resilient in the face of climate-related risks.”

The talk set the stage for the two-day symposium at the University of Utah’s S.J. Quinney School of Law.

Law professor Lincoln Davies helped organize this year’s program, which looks at how cities can cope with a changing world by dealing with anticipated stresses to services like water and power.

“Having those systems be resilient in a way that can deal with disaster – with drought, with the changing climate – are things that are really important to everyday life even though you may not think of those systems on day to day basis,” Davies said.

Other discussions will tackle energy and urban design as part of the broader focus on green building and sustainable cities.

Judy Fahys has reported in Utah for two decades, covering politics, government and business before taking on environmental issues. She loves covering Utah, where petroleum-pipeline spills, the nation’s radioactive legacy and other types of pollution provide endless fodder for stories. Previously, she worked for the Salt Lake Tribune in Utah, and reported on the nation’s capital for States News Service and the Scripps League newspaper chain. She is a longtime member of the Society of Environmental Journalists and Investigative Reporters and Editors. She also spent an academic year as a research fellow in the Knight Science Journalism program at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. In her spare time, she enjoys being out in the environment, especially hiking, gardening and watercolor painting.
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