UTA on Demand by Via

This article, originally published in @theu, February 11, 2020, was written by Claudia TrochezCommuter Services

Thanks to UTA’s Ed-Pass, students, faculty and staff can ride the bus, TRAX and FrontRunner for no additional fee, making public transit the obvious choice for commuting to campus. Depending on where you live exactly, UTA service can either be an invaluable resource or a not-so-convenient option that doesn’t work well with your schedule.

For residents in southern Salt Lake County where UTA service is less abundant, accessing public transit is more challenging. To help bridge the gap, UTA launched its microtransit pilot program, UTA on Demand by Viawhich intends to enhance connectivity to TRAX and FrontRunner lines for commuters in the southern part of the valley by providing on demand rides to and from TRAX stations.

What is UTA on Demand by Via? 

UTA’s microtransit pilot program serves about 65 square miles in southern Salt Lake County, serving the cities of Bluffdale, Draper, Herriman, Riverton and South Jordan. The service area includes seven TRAX and FrontRunner stations with designated pickup and drop off locations, making connections to campus more accessible than ever.

Via’s technology matches multiple riders headed in a similar direction into a single van, with quick and efficient routing, avoiding lengthy detours. After requesting a ride, the app will display the pickup location where the vehicle will meet you. Via is a corner-to-corner service, meaning riders will be picked up and dropped off close to their destination.

How does it work? 

Riders may hail a van by using the Via app, available on the App Store and Google Play. The microtransit service operates Monday through Friday from 6 a.m. to 9 p.m. and is available to students, faculty and staff at no additional fee. University affiliates with a valid uNID should use their Ed-Pass, in lieu of paying fare, by hitting the ‘UTA Pass/Ticket/Transfer’ when signing up.

ADA riders may request an accessible van by selecting ‘wheelchair accessibility’ in their profile.

For example, if you live in Draper and work on campus, you can get a lift to the Draper Town Center or Kimball Lane TRAX stations by requesting a UTA on Demand ride through the Via app. At the end of the day, you can be picked up at the TRAX station and return to where you started near your home, the grocery store or anywhere within the service area (see map below) for no charge. The service will also be useful for patients traveling to and from the South Jordan Health Center.

Why should I ride UTA? 

A perk of the U community, all current students, faculty and staff members may ride UTA services, including the microtransit program, without paying fare. Choosing UTA over driving allows you to save money on car-related expenses including gas, maintenance and parking permits.

In addition to saving some green, you can also be green by choosing UTA over driving. Salt Lake City’s poor air quality is undeniable during inversion season. According to a recent study, “at least 85% of harmful emissions come from fossil fuel,” meaning the CO2 produced by cars is the lead contributor to the air quality problem Utahans face. Riding UTA will continually help reduce emissions and help keep our air clean.

Driving to the university campus from southern Salt Lake County may take anywhere from 30 to 80 minutes or more, depending on traffic and weather. While riding UTA will not likely decrease your commute time, it will certainly ease its difficulties and be safer, too. You’ll be able to start your workday sooner, catch up on emails, read or watch Netflix, instead of sitting behind the wheel in traffic or on icy, dangerous roads.

Share your thoughts

UTA on Demand by Via is a pilot program and UTA wants to hear from you. Take this survey to share your thoughts and help UTA study effective ‘first-and-last mile’ connections to our bus and rail services.

For more information on UTA on Demand by Via and all other services, visit call 801-RIDE-UTA.

Are you a space heater user?

This article, originally published in @theu, February 5, 2020, was written by Kate Whitbeck, communications manager, Sustainability Office

Take part in our space heater exchange program to help reduce energy consumption and greenhouse gas emissions while keeping you comfortable. For every personal space heater brought in as part of this program, University faculty, staff and interns can choose between an energy-efficient electric blanket or plush non-electric blanket. Blankets are also available for purchase without trade-in.

Personal space heaters are energy drains and greenhouse gas emitters that affect the air we breathe. By switching to an electric throw, you’ll make an immediate difference.

These electric throws use 90% less energy than a typical portable electric space heater! Energy savings also result in fewer greenhouse gas emissions. Using a typical portable electric space heater for 8 hours produces carbon dioxide equivalent to driving 20.7 miles in an average passenger vehicle. To put this in perspective, by switching from a space heater to an electric throw, you’ll save the emissions equivalent of a trip from the University campus to the border of Idaho – every week!

Our exchange program is open to all faculty, staff and interns who wish to trade in the portable electric space heaters they use on campus. Throws are free with trade-in of space heater, or can be purchased: $20 for non-electric and $30 for electric. To participate in this exchange program, please submit the form below.

 

Slow Your Commute

How shifting your commute can add to the journey (and clear our air)

By Kate Whitbeck, Communications, Sustainability Office

We have all heard of slow food and fast fashion, and how we want to seek out the first and avoid the second. What about slow transportation? It’s a concept that suggests getting to your destination as quickly as possible shouldn’t be your primary goal. Your commute can serve many different purposes. Slowing your commute can add to the journey (and clear our air).

Before I started working at the university, I was a slave to my vehicle, racing off each morning to drop my kids at school then driving 25 minutes to my office—which was in a public transit desert—and then racing back to pick up my kids, fitting in a few errands and driving home. I arrived home stressed from dealing with traffic, frustrated that I hadn’t fit in any exercise and anxious that I hadn’t had time to finish my work at the office.

When I started working at the university I had the great fortune to became a regular public transit user. There were a number of factors that made it work: 1) I live within a few miles of the campus; 2) There are at least three bus routes that travel to the U within about 4-5 blocks of my house; and 3) All my children could get to school using the same bus route. It didn’t hurt that my university ID also covered my fare.

Admittedly, for me it does take longer to get from place to place using public transportation. At first, I struggled thinking that this was wasted time that I could spend doing other things until I realized that my commute brought me home at the end of the day without the frustrations of dealing with traffic and had allowed me to fit in my 10,000 steps, connect with my children in a relaxed way and saved me money. This is when I shifted my attitude around my commute and embraced slow transportation.

Slow transportation is about rejecting speed as the objective and reimagining our transition from one place to another as an opportunity to check off other boxes.  Your morning commute (in something other than a single-occupant vehicle) can serve as the following:

Exercise Time: Depending on what your commute looks like it can take the place of a trip to the gym.  The bus route that runs to the U most frequently is further from my house. It also drops me further from my office. This could be viewed either as an impediment or as an opportunity to get in more steps.  Biking or walking to work serve that same purpose.

Work Time: Taking the train and the bus can allow you to put in extra work time. An uninterrupted hour at the beginning and end of the day can allow you to use your time in the office more effectively.

Relaxation Time: Taking TRAX, FrontRunner or the bus allows you to listen to your favorite podcast, catch up on the news, or scroll through social media. If you own a good set of noise-canceling headphones you can turn your transit commute into a meditation session. Doing absolutely nothing but staring out the window and letting your mind wander can also feel incredibly liberating. You arrive feeling refreshed and ready to get to work.

Connection Time: In my case, my commute allows me another 15 minutes of uninterrupted, undistracted time with my children. I am not fighting traffic, thinking about where to park, or battling unsafe road conditions. I get that not everyone’s lives allow for this intersection, but it can allow for connection of a different sort.

Slowing down your commute, especially by walking or biking, allows you to connect to your city and its inhabitants in a new way. When you walk the last few blocks to your destination you notice things that you wouldn’t see when whizzing by in a car. You notice the new businesses that have opened, those that have shut down. You notice that the neighbor two blocks away painted their house blue. You begin to recognize other slow commuters. You interact with strangers giving directions or chatting at the bus stop. These interactions help us feel grounded and connected to our community.

Sometimes I think we weren’t meant to move so quickly from one place to the next. When we are dependent on our own two feet to get places, we are far from the fastest species on the planet. For the majority of the millennia our species has inhabited this planet it took time to get from one place to another, enough time to mentally transition so that when we arrived at our destination we were present in a different way. Maybe we haven’t yet evolved to travel so quickly from one place to another.  Maybe we all need to try a little slow transportation.

 

Throughout February, consider slowing your commute. Take action on air quality by tracking your commute behaviors with the Clear the Air Challenge, a statewide competition that aims to reduce emissions from vehicles by promoting alternative transit options. Join the U team at travelwisetracker.com/s/university-of-utah.

Mark your calendar for Winter Bike to Work Day – February 13th, 4-6 pm. Cyclists are invited to stop by our two pop-up locations on Guardsman Way and the Legacy Bridge for hot drinks and free resources on their commute home.

Australia on fire: What are the impacts?

This article, originally published in @theu, January 16, 2020, was written by Lisa Potter, science writer, University of Utah Communications

Charred koalas, acres of burning forest, families hiding in the ocean—images of the Australian bushfires are disturbing. The latest estimates say that over 25 million acres have burned. For context, the famous “Black Saturday” bushfires in 2009, one of the worst in Australia’s history, burned 1.1 million acres. The widely reported 2019 fires in the Amazon basin burned approximately 17.5 million acres. At least 28 people have died.

Mitchell Power, curator of the Garrett Herbarium at the Natural History Museum of Utah and associate professor of geography, is a paleofire scientist. He looks at thousands of years of history through sediment records to see how fire has shaped plants and animal communities for millennia. @theU spoke with Power to help wrap our heads around the Australian bushfires.

Fires are a regular part of Australia’s ecosystems. How are these different?

The fact such a large area burned in Australia in just a few months is remarkable. Several of my colleagues at the University of Utah have worked closely with Indigenous Australian peoples and learned how fire has been used as a tool for millennia to optimize their own subsistence and cultural practices while minimizing the negative consequences of large-scale destructive fires.

Ultimately, the key difference between prehistoric fires and those seen today is scale. The traditional use of fire, which has likely been in place for over 65,000 years, still occurs in large regions of northern Australia where Indigenous communities practice cool-season burning to create patchy landscapes buffered against large-scale fire events.

Reading and listening to discussions by fire ecologists, anthropologists, climatologists and geographers in Australia makes one thing clear—the 2019-2020 bushfires are likely on a scale not experienced for millennia.

How have the fires impacted animals?

The latest figures out for the number of animals being impacted is estimated at over 1.3 billion animals. Estimations from Chris Dickman, an expert on Australian biodiversity at the University of Sydney, suggests the number of species affected may be much higher.

A recent estimate from the Australian environment minister suggests that over 8,000 koalas were killed in just the New South Wales fires, and that estimate is likely to grow. Animals like rodents and reptiles that can burrow or outrun the flames may face peril later as food, water and other resources necessary for their survival and reproduction success, are unavailable. Reptiles, which tend to burrow in soils and may potentially survive the initial wave of flames, will discover the resources they depend on may not be available after the fires have passed.

What circumstances led to these wildfires?

In a single word: climate. The combination of multiyear trends of record heat and unprecedented drought in a region that’s already dry, has led to the extreme fire conditions. 2019 was the hottest year on record for Australia with temperatures 1.52°C above the 30-year average based on data from 1961 to 1990. The fires burning in New South Wales, for example, are in response to a region that broke high-temperature records set in 2018 by 1.95° C warmer than normal. In comparison, the second hottest year since 1900 records began in Australia was 2013, followed by 2005, 2018 and 2017, consecutively. In terms of drought, 2019 also made new records, with 40% lower precipitation than the long-term average.

Is Australia able to fight the fires?

Fighting or attempting to suppress the current bushfires is difficult if not impossible. The magnitude of the problem is beyond what most wildland firefighters are trained for. When extreme weather occurs, including higher-than-average temperatures and lower than average moisture, paired with extreme winds and unpredictable fire behavior, the firefighting toolkit becomes obsolete.

An additional challenge is seasonality. As in the United States, Australia firefighting is organized around the concept of a “fire season,” which suggests a predictable time of year to maximize resources. As much of the world experiences rapid changes in our climate system, anomalous warm days in the winter months and extreme drought in the wet season are now common conversations. The ability to predict the time and place of extreme fire conditions is being tossed out the window.

Can the ecosystems recover?

Ecosystems recover—the Earth has a way of healing after large-scale disturbances. The challenge comes when humans further reduce the biological diversity and confine that diversity to increasingly small refugia. The problem in extreme fire conditions is when the seeds stored in soils—the habitats available for animals to reproduce and survive in—are lost or significantly reduced.

There is some optimism emerging from the Australian fires. Just weeks after bushfires have passed, many habitats are beginning the slow process of recovery. Most of these systems have evolved with fire, so plants and animals know how to take advantage of the disturbance. Photographs of seedlings emerging from the charred landscape give hope after the smoke has cleared. The disconnect between destruction and recovery is really a human construct. Our lifespans are often too short to see an ecosystem completely recover.

It is unclear if vegetation and animal communities will return to normal in Australia, and it is unclear how normal will be defined. The reality is that species are going extinct at unprecedented rates all over the world. Our climate system is beginning to express itself as a runaway train, and we all have a tremendous amount of work to do if we want to give earth and its ecosystems the ability to recover after these extreme disturbance events.

Taking action to improve air quality

This article, originally published in @theu, January 7, 2020, was written by Nick Thiriot, communications director, Kem C. Gardner Policy Institute

The Kem C. Gardner Policy Institute has released a breakthrough report designed to inform Utah’s efforts to improve air quality and address a changing climate. The report, called “The Utah Roadmap,” was requested by the Utah Legislature and includes seven priority strategies to reduce air emissions in Utah. If followed, these strategies will protect Utahns’ health, encourage economic development (particularly in Utah’s growing tech sector), advance Utah’s Olympic bid and support Utah energy economies in transition.

“Utahns feel a sense of urgency to improve air quality,” said Natalie Gochnour, director of the Kem C. Gardner Policy Institute. “The strategies in this report build from the Utah Legislature’s House Concurrent Resolution 7 in the 2018 General Legislative Session to recognize the dual benefit to Utah’s air shed and the climate as we reduce air emissions in Utah, all in a way that protects our health and strengthens our economy.”

“The Utah Roadmap” includes the findings of a six-month expert assessment involving input from representatives of Utah’s research universities; federal, state and local government; industry; health care; and the nonprofit sector.

Some major findings

  • Success stories: Utah is making significant progress in curtailing emissions. Of particular note is the conversion to Tier 3 fuels; investments in renewable natural gas, wind and solar; conversion to electric-hybrid buses; and investment statewide in electric vehicle charging infrastructure.
  • Air quality/climate link: There is a link between improving air quality and reducing greenhouse gas emissions. By reducing auto dependency, improving energy efficiency, and advancing innovative energy solutions, Utah can address both challenges simultaneously.
  • Utah’s CO2 footprint: Utah’s per-person CO2 emissions, at 19.3 metric tons, are higher than the national average of 16.0 metric tons and are higher than Idaho, Nevada, Colorado, Arizona and California. Utah’s reliance occurs because of the state’s coal-fired power plants, which are all set to convert to natural gas, hydrogen or close within the study’s timeframe. Utah’s overall CO2 emissions are small on a national and global scale, representing 1.1% of the national footprint and 0.2% of the global footprint.

The institute selected seven priority actions for gubernatorial, legislative and individual action. At the top of the list is a recommendation that the state adopts—by resolution or statute—a goal to reduce criteria pollutant air emissions by 50% and CO2 emissions by 80% by 2050.

“These goals will inform our individual as well as collective actions,” said Tom Holst, senior energy analyst for the institute. “Much like a map provides direction, ‘The Utah Roadmap’ provides a guide to Utahns and state decision-makers as we travel along the path to cleaner air and responsible global citizenship.”

Taking action

“The Utah Roadmap” encourages the following actions, many of which are already underway:

  • Lead by example: State government to convert to an all-electric/compressed natural/renewable natural gas fleet where practical, adopt energy efficiency goals in state buildings and establish telework targets.
  • Create premier air quality/changing climate solutions laboratory: State government to establish and fund a premier state-level air quality/changing climate research solutions laboratory to improve the monitoring network, advance new technologies and convene entrepreneurs and experts to innovate.
  • Accelerate quality growth efforts: Utah to redouble quality growth efforts, including investment in transit, critical land preservation and the linking of economic development with transportation and housing decisions.
  • Position Utah as the market-based electric vehicle state: Utah to expand the state’s network of EV charging stations and incentivize EV/CNG/RNG use (particularly for older vehicles and large fleets).
  • Provide significant economic transition assistance to rural communities: The state to prioritize economic development assistance in energy-transition areas such as Carbon and Emery counties.
  • Participate in the national dialogue about market-based approaches to reduce carbon emissions: The state to become a leader in national discussions about how to harness the power of market forces and new technologies to reduce carbon emissions in a way that protects health, sustains economic development and offers other benefits to Utahns.

These priority actions are accompanied in “The Utah Roadmap” by 55 other high-impact, low-cost options to reduce emissions.

In addition to convening technical experts in a collaborative process, the institute conducted roundtable discussions and focus groups with public interest groups, legislators, businesses and college students to garner feedback. Two focus groups were hosted in rural Utah (Richfield and Duchesne).

The current draft of “The Utah Roadmap” is publicly available through Jan. 27, 2020, at gardner.utah.edu/utahroadmap. A final version will be submitted to the Utah Legislature by the end of January 2020.

“The Gardner Institute was given a challenging assignment by the Utah Legislature to prepare a roadmap on this complex issue, in a short time frame, on an emotionally charged topic,” said Gochnour. “Utahns have a long and proud history of leading on challenging topics, whether it be refugee resettlement, immigration reform, anti-discrimination statutes, quality growth or religious freedom. ‘The Utah Roadmap’ presents another opportunity for Utah to lead.”

Technical Advisory Committee

Tom Adams, Governor’s Office of Outdoor Recreation
Scott Baird, Utah Department of Environmental Quality
Vicki Bennett, Salt Lake City Department of Sustainability
Kip Billings, Wasatch Front Regional Council
Bryce Bird, Utah Division of Air Quality
Josh Brown, Rio Tinto
Andrea Brunelle, University of Utah’s Department of Geography
Thom Carter, UCAIR
Becky Close, Utah Division of Air Quality
Jon Cox, Rocky Mountain Power
Brett Crable, Dominion Energy
Josh Craft, Utah Clean Energy
Royal DeLegge, Salt Lake County
Jenny Esker, Rio Tinto
Robert Gillies, Utah State University
Andrew Gruber, Wasatch Front Regional Council
Thomas Holst, Kem C. Gardner Policy Institute
Benjamin Horne, lntermountain Healthcare
Ben Huot, Utah Department of Transportation
Liza Kasavana, University of Utah Health’s College of Nursing
Kerry Kelly, University of Utah’s Department of Chemical Engineering
Michelle Larsen, Utah Transit Authority
GJ LaBonty, Utah Transit Authority
Brian McInerney, National Weather Service
Shauna Mecham, Mountainland Association of Governments
Daniel Mendoza, University of Utah’s Department of Atmospheric Sciences and Pulmonary Division
Logan Mitchell, University of Utah’s Department of Atmospheric Sciences
James Owen, Rocky Mountain Power
Cheryl Pirozzi, University of Utah Health’s Pulmonary Division
Binod Pokharel, Utah State University
Tyler Poulson, Salt Lake City Department of Sustainability
Michael Shea, Salt Lake County
Brian Shiozawa, University of Utah Health
Glade Sowards, Utah Division of Air Quality
Juliette Tennert, Kem C. Gardner Policy Institute
Brooke Tucker, Governor’s Office of Energy Development
Sarah Wright, Utah Clean Energy

Consultants and staff

Samantha Ball, Kem C. Gardner Policy Institute
Kirsten Dodge, Wilkinson Ferrari & Co.
Natalie Gochnour, Kem C. Gardner Policy Institute
Meredith King, Kem C. Gardner Policy Institute
Siobhan Locke, The Langdon Group
Dianne Meppen, Kem C. Gardner Policy Institute
Dianne Olson, The Langdon Group
Jennifer Robinson, Kem C. Gardner Policy Institute
Paul Springer, Kem C. Gardner Policy Institute
Brian Wilkinson, Wilkinson Ferrari & Co.

Media Contacts

Nicholas Thiriot | communications specialist, Kem C. Gardner Policy Institute

The Intersection of Tribal and Environmental Law

by Amber Aumiller, graduate assistant, Sustainability Office

While many of us are aware of some of the federal environmental protections that became law and policy in 1970 thanks to pressure from an increasingly aware and concerned citizen population, as well as the recent rollbacks of environmental protections attempted under the Trump administration, not many people are aware of the role tribal nations can and are playing in environmental protections.  Tribes are generally free to develop their own governments unless they have been restricted by the federal government via treaties, statutes, or dependence. American Indian land has also historically suffered some of the heaviest pollution, like the legacy of uranium mining on the Navajo Nation.  The development of sovereign tribal environmental law provides an opportunity to not only address holes in federal regulations surrounding things like pollution due to resource extraction, but can also bolster protections for indigenous sovereign rights, and provide a systematic structure for addressing a future made unpredictable by climate change. Our laws are an expression of what we value and sovereign tribal environmental law is helping to push the boundaries of environmental protection and conservation to support values beyond economic profit.

S.J. Quinney’s College of Law School Dean Elizabeth Kronk Warner’s lecture, “Tribal Environmental Law” on Tuesday, January 14th, from 4 – 5 p.m., in ASB 210, will examine the intersection of tribal law and environmental law and look at ways tribal law is helping to innovate beyond federal environmental law. The talk will also explore opportunities for fields and disciplines other than law to engage in the development of tribal environmental law.

Kronk Warner, a citizen of the Sault Ste. Marie Tribe of Chippewa Indians is both the first female and the first Native American dean at the University of Utah’s S.J. Quinney College of Law. She grew up with the challenges of reservation life and cites her parents, both attorneys, as inspiration for her career trajectory. “I saw all the positives there were to being a lawyer and the difference you can make being a part of your community and that was very inspirational to me,” she says.  After earning a B.S. in Communication from Cornell University, Kronk Warner earned her Juris Doctorate at the University of Michigan, both schools appealing to her for their strength in American Indian programs.  She practiced environmental, Indian and energy law for years before serving in faculty positions at Texas Tech University, the University of Montana, and as the Associate Dean and Professor of Law for the University of Kansas Law School.  She was also the Director of the Tribal Law and Government Center and a leader in developing diversity, equity, and inclusion efforts in both curriculum and among staff and students at the University of Kansas Law School.  With her natural leadership skills, a long list of accolades following hard and passionate work, and her vision for possibilities and constructive solutions she is already building a foundation for an inspiring and impactful future at Utah’s S.J. Quinney College of Law.

As a nationally recognized expert on where environmental and tribal law converge, she speaks to the need for the tailoring of solutions to places. “Many of our environmental protection laws were developed in the 60’s, 70’s and 80’s, and there hasn’t really been any notable innovation in federal law since then,” says Kronk Warner. “There are some real environmental issues which have come to the forefront more recently, like the effects of climate change, so tribes all over the country have been addressing the issues on a local scale.” Climate change affects specific locations differently from others and tribes, as sovereigns, can enact and enforce tribal environmental laws that are suited to the needs and ethics of the tribal community as well as the situational circumstances of the historical present with an eye toward the future. “Tribes are out front in terms of developing mitigation and adaptation plans to deal with climate change and its effects,” she reminds us.

To learn more about the sovereignty of tribes, the laws being implemented, and the exciting possibilities for furthering environmental protections come to ASB 210 on Tuesday, January 14th for Dean Kronk Warner’s lecture, “Tribal Environmental Law” as part of the GCSC seminar series.  As always, there will be coffee and treats so bring your mug and enjoy!

Building Climate Change Resilience

by Amber Aumiller, graduate assistant, Sustainability Office

Growing our climate literacy empowers us to take steps to help ourselves, help others, and broaden our impact toward sustaining our world, but learning about the complex multitude of mounting problems can also tumble us into deep feelings of stress, fear, anxiety, and grief.  A growing part of our population is experiencing “ecological grief.”  Psychology Today defines it as “a fairly recent psychological disorder afflicting individuals who worry about the environmental crisis.” It can be characterized by elevated rates of depression, anxiety, anger, hopelessness, despair, and a feeling of loss. 

It is neither a surprising nor an inappropriate response given the magnitude of the problem. Massive species extinctions are occurring at unprecedented rates due to human activity. On land, amphibians and reptiles are suffering the most, we’re down 3 billion birds in North America since 1970, and the oceans are acidifying and losing oxygen-giving plankton. In Utah, we’ve lost 41% of our snowpack since 1980. 

We face problems with water supply, environmental degradation, severe weather, and the overlapping implications for our physical health, mental health, and community health due to living out of balance with the ecosystems that contain us. It is no wonder that we feel overwhelmed, frustrated and powerless. 

So how can we address these feelings? While we mourn the mistakes and losses, there are ways we can take care of ourselves, heal, and maintain our ability to keep facing issues with vibrant and creative solutions. Research tells us that one of the best ways to combat eco-anxiety, depression, and grief is to start with building social cohesion. A developing sense of isolation and not belonging spirals the feedback loop of loss faster. Nurturing our relationships and connections to each other not only enhances our personal feelings of resilience but also constructs networks across knowledge and skills that can contribute to creative solutions. 

Communities aligned by common goals can reduce the severity of the impact of climate change. Simply helping each other out in neighborly ways can boost feelings of empowerment and ease our anxiety and depression according to a report published by the American Psychological Association. The report also noted a decrease in depression when healthy lifestyle choices were adopted, like walking, biking, or taking public transit. Green spaces in cities help, too. During the Chicago heatwave, there was a reduction in deaths in parts of the city that had green spaces. Going to the park, working in the garden, or going for a hike in the mountains can lift your spirits and increase your chances of survival during climate stress events.

Here at the U, there are countless people focused on preparing us to adapt and withstand the changes wrought by a changing climate. We have faculty and students conducting cutting-edge research on climate-related issues and dedicated individuals focused on implementing solutions at the local level. Getting involved can be as easy as volunteering through the Bennion Center or joining one of the student clubs addressing environmental issues on campus. One such organization, the Future Clinicians for Clean Air, founded by graduate students in the health sciences, aims to use research and evidence to advocate for clean air policies in the Utah legislature, bridging the current gap between science and policy. They have two events coming up in January that provide a way to get involved: one focusing on air quality and health, and the other on advocacy training and air quality bills coming up in 2020 with policy experts from HEAL Utah

The counseling center at the U has many resources for mental healthcare including a Mindfulness Center, featuring free facilitated drop-in meditation and free workshops for coping with anxiety and depression. The Huntsman family also recently donated $150 million to the U to establish The Huntsman Mental Health Institute. This much-needed investment will increase access to mental health services for college-age students as well as the broader community.

Another great resource is the Good Grief Network, co-founded by U alumn LaUra Schmidt. The Good Grief Network offers a unique 10-step program that guides groups through eco-anxiety and climate-grief in a community setting with reminders of the importance of practicing gratitude, showing up, and resting when needed. Their model has inspired local community building internationally and their website also features resource links to articles, documentaries, books, and poetry that educate and inspire action.

While coming to terms with climate change can be overwhelming, it’s okay to start small, focus locally, bring your skillset to the table, and remember to be kind to each other, because together we become more powerful in our ability to take care of ourselves, each other, and the planet.

 

Is your New Year’s Resolution to get more exercise?

Do you want to improve your health by getting more exercise in the new year? Is it difficult to find the time to exercise during your busy day? Activate your commute and you’ll do both!

Make walking or biking a part of your commute to the U and your physical health will improve – and help clear our air. As you experience the benefits of walking or biking, also known as active transportation, you are contributing to a healthier community – both physically, socially and economically. Continue reading for more ideas on activating your commute… NEED LINK With active transportation a part of your lifestyle you save money on fuel, spend less time in traffic congestion and integrate physical activity into your daily commute. You also help reduce vehicle emissions that contribute to Utah’s poor air quality while reducing traffic congestion and demand for vehicle parking on campus.

University survey data indicates a majority of us live eight miles or less from our campus destination. Riding a bike is a great way to commute over short distances and keep you active during the day. Bicycling to campus means you have a free parking space, right next to your campus destination. Take your bike to the Campus Bike Shop for repairs, and make sure you ride on February 14th – it’s Winter Bike to Work Day and we want to celebrate with you!
 
If you are a commuter that drives alone in your car, rethink your trip and try public transit. Notice how you benefit from taking the bus or train– this is your personal time to read, listen to music, socialize or just zone out during your daily commute. If you live in Salt Lake City, you can also rent a shared scooter to access the campus. Just like a bicycle, shared scooters must be parked adjacent to an outdoor bicycle rack. When operating a shared scooter, you are responsible for following the University operating guidelines for devices on campus sidewalks.
 
Safety is key with active transportation. Plan your walking or biking route with the campus map and observe where all sidewalks, bikeways and crosswalks are located. Be aware of your surroundings, wear clothing that is easily visible to motorists, slow your speed on campus pathways and always give pedestrians the right of way.
 
So get outside and walk to the bus or train, hop on your bike, push a scooter or skateboard, or if you drive alone in your car, park farther from your destination and take a brisk walk. These are all great ways to improve your physical health and help clear our air, every single day of the year.

Is climate change good for plants?

This article, originally published in @theu, November 25, 2019, was written by Paul Gabrielsen, science writer, University of Utah Communications.

In a world of rising levels of atmospheric carbon dioxide, plants should be happy, right? Experiments have shown that, yes, increased carbon dioxide does allow plants to photosynthesize more and use less water.

But the other side of the coin is that warmer temperatures drive plants to use more water and photosynthesize less. So, which force, CO2 fertilization or heat stress, wins this climate tug of war?

The answer, University of Utah researchers write in a new study in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, is that it depends on whether forests and trees are able to adapt to their new environment. The study, they say, incorporates aspects of a tree’s physiology to explore how trees and forests respond to a changing climate.

“It’s taking the physiology of individual cells and scaling it up in a computer to make projections of a continents’ worth of forests,” says study co-author William Anderegg.

Stemming water loss

To set the stage for this tug of war, it’s important to understand how trees and plants use water.

In a tree, water is pulled up from the roots through the xylem, the tree’s vascular system. The water moves to the leaves, where photosynthesis happens. On the underside of leaves, small pores called stomata open to admit CO2 for photosynthesis. Water vapor can escape through the stomata, though, so closing stomata is required to guard against water loss during dry or hot times.

During an intense drought, trees have to work harder to pull water into the tree and through the xylem. If the soil is dry enough, the tension on the water causes a bubble of air to form in the xylem, effectively reducing water transport and injuring or killing the tree. It’s akin to a heart attack.

A physiological model

John Sperry of the U’s School of Biological Sciences spent decades studying the physiology of tree water use, and in recent years has been joined by Anderegg and postdoctoral researcher Martin Venturas, along with other colleagues. Together, they’ve developed a model of how trees’ physiological traits, primarily the regulation of stomatal opening, influence photosynthesis and water loss in response to a changing environment, including drought.

This model, Sperry says, has now enabled a new way of predicting the outcome of the climate tug of war, quantifying the competing effects of CO2 fertilization and heat stress to find the balance point.

But it’s also enabled another advance in understanding: Anderegg says that the model allows them to simulate the ability of trees to acclimate to heat and drought—both at short time scales, by closing or opening stomata, or at long time scales, by extra tree growth or forest dieback. “We’re assuming the plants are adapted to be somewhat smart about responding to the climate and the environment,” Anderegg says.

Some acclimation was seen in previous experiments where trees were bathed in CO2-enriched air, Venturas adds, and is also seen in forests that are similar to each other but are located in slightly different climates.

“Our present-day models don’t do physiology or acclimation,” Anderegg says. “They matter absolutely enormously to the future of forests. We came up with ways to incorporate those.”

It’s all about the ratio

The model results, Sperry says, suggest that the winner of the tug of war doesn’t depend on the absolute amount of COrise or warming—just the ratio between the two.

“So you can have the same forest moving across big gradients in climate change if that ratio is at the neutral point,” Sperry says. “But anything that pushes that ratio to the warming side is going  to have the potential for serious negative impact.”

If forests aren’t able to acclimate, the researchers write, then the ratio must be above 89 parts per million CO2 per degree C of warming to avoid significant stress and tree die-off. Only 55% of climate forecasts show this scenario occurring. But if forests are able to acclimate, then they can tolerate a lower ratio: 67 parts per million CO2 per degree of warming, which occurs in 71% of forecasts.

Other tipping factors

But even with acclimation, other factors can tip the balance toward forest catastrophe. The model doesn’t take into account forest fires or insect infestation, Venturas says, only the physiology of the trees—although stressed forests are more susceptible to both fires and insects.

“It’s improving one piece of the puzzle, but we still need to learn a lot about the other pieces and how they’re integrated,” he says.

The researchers also write that exceptionally dry years can also tip the balance. “In those cases, if we drop below a soil moisture threshold, we could have the whole forest die,” Venturas says. Mortality can happen relatively suddenly. “You see this in your flower pot at home if you forget to water,” Sperry says. “It’ll look fine up to a certain point, but then you hit that moisture threshold and in a matter of days the plant can die. If you don’t get rain in that period, the system goes into a cycle where the soil is drying out too fast and sends the trees into vascular failure.”

Sperry adds that the study predicts a precarious tightrope of climate conditions for future forests to navigate. “The study by no means gives a green light to the status quo.”

Henry N. Todd, Anna T. Trugman, Yujie Wang and Xiaonan Tai are also co-authors on this paper.

Find the full study here.

What’s waste got to do with climate change?

This article, originally published in @theu, November 13, 2019, was written by Kate Whitbeck, communications, sustainability department.

Did you know that one of the easiest low cost and most effective ways to impact climate change is to change our consumption habits? An Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) funded study indicates that more than 40% of our climate impact in the U.S. comes from our stuff and our food. There is an energy and emissions cost to manufacturing, transporting, using goods and then eventually disposing of them. Simply reusing, reducing, recycling and buying used or recycled goods conserves energy and reduces emissions.

More than 40% of our climate impact in the U.S. comes from our stuff and our food.

Environmental Protection Agency

Millie Heiner, sustainability ambassador, presents a zero waste kit to President Ruth Watkins.

 

In an effort to promote a culture of waste reduction on campus, the Sustainability Office has launched the #UBYO campaign to encourage the U community to bring their own reusable bottles, mugs, containers, utensils and more to reduce plastic waste. We handed out thousands of reusable utensil kits at new student orientation events and the farmers market and gave away 12 zero-waste kits through an opportunity drawing. We even presented U President Ruth Watkins with a zero waste kit. Each kit contains a reusable hot/cold bottle, reusable silicone bag (plastic bag alternative), handkerchief (reusable napkin), reusable grocery bag, utensils and reusable silicone food container. Many of the items are available at the Campus Store or can be assembled from items you already have at home or can pick up at your favorite thrift store.

In order to start a conversation around waste reduction on campus and in honor of America Recycles Day, which takes place in November, the Sustainability Office is organizing a Hinckley Institute Panel entitled The End of Recycling? Life After National Sword on Wednesday, Nov. 20, from 12-1 p.m. The panel will explore how policy changes in China have affected our local recycling practices and what we can expect for the future. Panel participants include Beau Peck, director of sales and marketing from the Pro Recycling Group, Jennifer Farrell from Salt Lake City Waste and Recycling Division and Joshua James, University of Utah recycling manager.

It is important to understand the link between climate change and waste reduction, and the energy and emissions savings we can gain from reducing and recycling. According to the EPA, recycling aluminum cans saves 95% of the energy needed to make new cans from raw materials. Recycling steel and tin cans saves 60-74%; paper about 60%, and plastic and glass about 33% compared to making those from raw materials. While these energy savings are significant, we also need to recognize that recycling has its own carbon footprint related to collection, transportation and processing. Reducing, reusing and sharing should always come before recycling.

An environmentally friendly kit made for U. Available now at the Campus Store.

Some people are intimidated by the concept of zero waste. While zero waste is generally defined as diverting 90% or above from the landfill, it can still feel like an unachievable goal. Fortunately, the reality is that many people making a concerted but imperfect effort has a much greater effect than one person reaching zero. Zero doesn’t have to be everyone’s goal. Making good choices when possible can be the goal.

The other good thing about changing consumption habits is that it’s within everyone’s reach and can save you money. Not everyone can afford an electric car or has the ability to make major changes to our power grid or transportation system. The movement isn’t about buying. Choosing to borrow, reuse and share keeps money in your wallet and keeps your carbon footprint low.

The University is taking a close look at its waste habits and focusing on some new strategies to divert more from the landfill.  See the text box below for some highlights and take action by joining the #UBYO Campaign or get your office certified through our Green Office Program.

Waste wins at the U

  • The U has identified some new priorities for managing its waste based on a recently completed study. These include an overhaul of signage, a food waste collection pilot program and the development of a more effective system to incentivize waste reduction and recycling.
  • Since the launch of the Green Office Certification program in 2017, ecofriendly purchasing of general office supplies has increased from 35% to 53% and ecofriendly paper purchasing has increased from 38% to 79%.
  • Each year, the Sustainability Office coordinates U Recycle Day, an electronic waste drive which diverts tons of waste from the landfill.
  • The annual housing moveout donation drive (aka WAGACA – What Goes Around Comes Around) diverts food, clothing, blankets, and more from the residence halls each May.
  • The University Carpenter Shop is committed to creative reuse. They reclaim materials from buildings that are being demolished or remodeled and repurpose them. The desks below are made of marble from OSH and wood from basketball courts and harvested from trees (sycamores) displaced by new construction.
    wooden table made from reclaimed wood with U logo on the top in a conference room