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Utah Has A Roadmap To Act On Climate. Does It Go Far Enough?

Photo of air pollution
Brian Albers / KUER
The 2020s will be critical to steering Utah away from the most serious impacts of climate change, according to a Utah State University professor.

Earlier this month, Utah researchers unveiled their plan to help the state fight climate change. They called it the Utah Roadmap and laid out seven key “mileposts” the state should pass to improve air quality and address the impacts of climate change.

The roadmap is a clear message that the environmental threat is growing, especially in a politically conservative state like Utah. But for one local academic, it doesn’t go nearly far enough to address the seismic shifts needed to avert the most serious impacts of climate change. 

 

Robert Davies, a Utah State University physics professor who focuses on science communication around global environmental change and sustainability, said humans are on a collision course with disaster. And the kinds of changes needed are transformational, not incremental. 

 

“Our current food, energy and economic systems are utterly unsustainable,” he said. “They will collapse within several decades on their current trajectory. The physics on this is pretty damn clear.”

 

Take transportation, for example. The roadmap recommends statewide incentives to get more electric vehicles on the road. But even replacing every gas car with an electric one would not be enough, Davies said. Instead, the state would need to vastly expand its public transportation network to get people out of cars altogether. 

 

While many of the necessary transformations are outside any one person’s control, they also come down to the individual. That means dramatically cutting down on consumption — everything from air travel to eating meat. 

The good news is that the United States has made dramatic shifts before. Davies pointed to the collective effort made during World War II. The entire country chipped in, rationing everything from sugar to gasoline.

“We didn't just say that we can continue to live our lives as we usually do,” he said. “There was serious belt tightening.”

 

It’s also becoming much more difficult to deny the effects of climate change, he said, as large swathes of Australia burn and Puerto Rico lies in ruins after Hurricane Maria. And while there’s no one event like the attack on Pearl Harbor to help mobilize the public, it’s becoming clearer that climate change is having tangible effects on the planet. 

 

Still, he said understands that the researchers involved in the roadmap were in a difficult spot. Climate change, despite the urgency needed, is still politically and economically sensitive. 

 

“In an emergency, you have to always keep your eye on what's necessary,” Davies said. “The trick then is making what's necessary politically feasible. So if this report is a step in making what's necessary politically feasible, then great. If people view it as we've done our thing and that's it, then it's not enough.”

Jon Reed is a reporter for KUER. Follow him on Twitter @reedathonjon

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