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New Report Underscores Familiar Message Especially For Fast-Warming West: Quit Fossil Fuels Or Else

Inciweb/Bald Mountain-Pole Creek Fire
A special report out of the United Nations Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change says a dramatic decline of fossil-fuel use is needed to slow the trend. Mapping soil-burn severity in post-fire at the Bald Mtn-Pole Creek Burn scar Oct. 2.

A new report from the United Nations says mankind must act fast to slow global warming, a message that is particularly urgent in Utah and throughout a scorched Mountain West that saw a devastating fire season and patches of severe drought.

The special report, released by the United Nations Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, presses the importance of doing whatever is possible to slow the pace of warming over the next two decades to prevent the harshest impacts to the environment and society.

This holds especially true in Utah, where the rate of warming is already twice as fast as the global average. A global average temperature exceeding pre-industrial levels by more than 1.5 degrees Celsius [about 1.8 degrees Fahrenheit] would mean more extreme weather, rising sea levels and the risk of irreversible changes like ecosystem collapse, according to the report.

Scientists from 40 countries assembled and reviewed the report, which is based on 6,000 scientific references from thousands of experts worldwide.

“If we want to put the brakes on global warming, we need to make changes and we need to make them quite quickly,” said Jim Steenburgh, a University of Utah atmospheric scientist who led a statewide assessment of climate change more than a decade ago. “The longer we wait, the more we are committed to more warming and larger impacts on society.”

The report says the effects of 1 degree Celsius of global temperature increase is already visible worldwide, from dying coral reefs to melting Arctic ice. In the Mountain West, visible signs include longer wildfire seasons and shrinking snowpacks.

“As we warm more in the future, the impacts of those changes are going to become larger,” said Steenburgh, who led an assessment of climate change in 2007 that was requested by former Utah Gov. Jon Huntsman. “We need to make massive change. We need to make it quickly.”

Mayors in cities throughout the five Mountain West states - including Salt Lake City; Denver; Bellevue, Idaho; Bozeman, Mont.; and Jackson, Wyo. - have pledged to reduce the pollution blamed for climate change. But state and federal leadership has lagged.

“The good news is that some of the kinds of actions that would be needed to limit global warming to 1.5ºC are already underway around the world, but they would need to accelerate,” said Valerie Masson-Delmotte, a French energy scientist, in a news release.

Some interesting data from the 2018 Yale Climate Opinion Maps suggests that Mountain West residents would like to see more action from their state and national leaders. The national average for wanting leadership from governors is 56 percent while 62 percent want Congress to step up:

  • In Utah, 48 percent of Utah adults say Gov. Gary Herbert, a Republican, should be doing more about global warming. And 55 percent of Utahns say Congress should take a bigger role.
  • In Idaho, 50 percent of Idaho adults say GOP Gov. Butch Otter should be doing more and 55 percent say Congress should be more engaged.
  • In Montana, 44 percent of adults say Gov. Steve Bullock, a Democrat, ought to be doing more and 54 percent say Congress, should be doing more about climate change.
  • In Wyoming, 40 percent of adults say Republican Gov. Matt Mead should be doing more. Forty-seven percent would like to see Congress step up its efforts.
  • In Colorado, 54 percent of adults say Gov. John Hickenlooper, a Democrat, ought to be doing more. Some 62 percent of Coloradans say Congress should be doing more to address global warming.
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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