TRAX air quality study expands

This article, originally published in @theu, February 26, 2020, was written by Paul Gabrielsen, Science Writer, University of Utah Communications

For more than five years, University of Utah air quality sensors have hitched rides on TRAX light rail trains, scanning air pollution along the train’s Red and Green Lines. Now the study, once a passion project of U researchers, has become a state-funded long-term observatory, with an additional sensor on the Blue Line into Sandy and Draper and additional insights into the events that impact the Salt Lake Valley’s air, including summer fireworks and winter inversions.

In a new study published in Urban Science, researchers including Daniel Mendoza and Logan Mitchell report the latest from the TRAX Observation Project, including data validation studies that bolster the data’s value for other researchers and three case studies from recent events showcasing the abilities of the mobile air quality sensors.

What’s new: Blue Line and data validation

UTA’s TRAX system consists of three light rail lines: red, green and blue. Up until November 2019, U sensors measuring ozone and particulate matter were installed only on the Red and Green Line trains, because both lines used the same train cars. These two lines travel through downtown Salt Lake City, the central I-15 corridor and the valley’s west side. With an additional sensor on the Blue Line, however, air quality measurements now extend into the Salt Lake Valley’s southeastern quadrant.

“That’s a really important area of the valley,” Mitchell says. “There’s a lot of people down there.” The Blue Line also goes up and down in elevation, just as the Red Line does as it ascends from downtown Salt Lake City to the U campus. “Since elevation is such a key part of the air quality and understanding the depth of the inversion on different days, under different conditions,” he says, “it’s going to be a really important piece of the dataset for us.”

Extending into the south valley also allows researchers to learn more about how air masses move back and forth between Salt Lake and Utah counties, through the narrow Point of the Mountain passage.

“That’s actually really critical because we sometimes have very different meteorological phenomenon going on between the two valleys,” Mendoza says. “We can now examine in our basin an exchange of air masses.”

The other major development in the TRAX Observation Project is the validation of the data coming from the mobile sensors. This is an important step in a pioneering project such as this, and serves along with quality assurance and quality control protocols as a certificate on the archived data now being made available to other researchers. It also assuages any concerns that the air turbulence caused by the moving train might skew the readings.

The experiment involved a stationary particulate matter sensor placed about 10 feet (3 m) from the rail line that would take readings whenever the TRAX trains were within 500 feet (150 m) of the sensors. Comparing the mobile and stationary readings, Mendoza says, showed 96% accuracy. “That really gives us a great deal of confidence that our TRAX sensors are actually performing really well compared to regulatory sensors and can be used for health studies, policy and so on,” Mendoza says.

Watching the fireworks

With five years of continued observations, the TRAX Observation Project has captured many air quality events. Mendoza, Mitchell and their colleagues document three particular events in their paper: an elevated ozone event from August 2019, a cold air pool inversion event in November 2019 and the fireworks on July 4, 2019.

The fireworks event was unique—it wasn’t a phenomenon caused by an atmospheric event or by the geography of the Salt Lake Valley. It was an incidence of multiple point sources of particulate matter air pollution, allowing observation of how those plumes of particulate matter moved through the valley.

Following generally good air quality, hotspots of elevated pollution started appearing in the TRAX data between 10-11 p.m. on Independence Day. By midnight, the majority of the valley was experiencing moderate to unhealthy air quality.

Mendoza says that the train data shows not only the dispersion of the smoke—something you don’t see in wintertime inversions, which have low atmospheric energy—but also the evening winds coming down Emigration Canyon on the valley’s east side, which washes out some of the air pollution.

“These are examples of the kinds of things that we’re seeing that you couldn’t see with stationary monitors,” Mitchell adds. “It’s helping us understand where the gradients are in the valley, how they evolve through pollution events such as during the Fourth of July or an inversion or an ozone event. You can see the air masses moving around. You can see where the pollution is and how it moves from different parts of the valley.”

Next steps

Next, Mitchell says, the team hopes to add sensors that measure oxides of nitrogen and carbon monoxide, both important components of atmospheric chemistry. They’d also like to expand the study to light rail trains in cities such as Portland or Denver.

“It would be really interesting for us to be able to compare the spatial patterns we’re seeing here with another city that has different topography around it and a different mix of emission sources,” Mitchell says, “so that we can understand how cities, in general, are being affected by these things and how that’s similar or different from what’s going on in Salt Lake City.”

Find the full study here.

Media Contacts

Logan Mitchell | research assistant professor, Department of Atmospheric Sciences

Daniel Mendoza | research assistant professor, Department of Atmospheric Sciences; pulmonary fellow, Division of Pulmonary Medicine, School of Medicine
Office: 801-585-6861 | Mobile: 801-505-8253 | 

Paul Gabrielsen | research/science communications specialist, University of Utah Communications
Office: 801-585-6861 | Mobile: 801-505-8253 | 

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.

Converting my commute

This article, originally published in @theu, February 11, 2020, was written by Andy Lambert, MA Student, Atmospheric Sciences

As a graduate student in Atmospheric Sciences, many of my discussions and much of my research fall under the umbrella of air quality and climate. Conversations with colleagues and others inevitably turn to the topic of driving improvement within these realms, whether that’s collectively or individually. And yet, after almost six years as a student at the University of Utah, I had not commuted from my home in Bountiful by any other means than a personal vehicle.

Of course, through my education, I’ve come to understand quite deeply the sources of pollution and its hazardous health effects. But there were a number of things preventing me from actually commuting in a cleaner way: My trip from home to campus was already quite long and frustrating, and public transportation seemed like it might make both of those things worse. There didn’t seem to be any reliable options for public transit from where I live in Bountiful. Finally, could I really count on public transit when getting to or coming from work/school was time-sensitive?

Three weeks ago, through a combination of personal climate guilt, impactful discussion with colleagues in a climate change communication course, and invitations from a number of peers, I decided to finally test out the public transit system on my commute.

It was scary. I mapped out my trip on several web applications the night prior for fear of not being prepared or getting lost and eventually decided to just go with Google Maps. Then I grew even more indecisive when it came to picking the best route. “Do I walk 7 minutes this way and take the 470?” “No, maybe I should walk 9 minutes the other way and take the 455.” “Oh wait, but then I would have two bus changes to make for that route.” All of it was a little overwhelming for someone who had never done this before. Eventually, I just picked the one that took the shortest amount of time. Turns out, it was a good choice.

The morning arrived and it came time to head out. It felt weird leaving the house with my backpack and walking through a neighborhood to go to work instead of getting in my car. But it went quickly, and the bus was right on time. I got on, sat down, opened up the New York Times on my phone, and read the news. Then it hit me. “This is actually pretty nice!” Normally, my morning routine includes roughly 30 minutes of news and social media time before I can actually leave the house. But with public transit, that 30 minutes can just be moved to time on the bus. How’s that for convenience and efficiency? To make things even better, the whole trip only took 45 minutes. I’m cheap and normally park far away from my building because it’s free, so the trip using public transit was actually faster than my normal commute!

Now, the trip home took a bit longer because of heavy traffic, but it still wasn’t bad. Besides, I was able to enjoy some social media and gaming time on my phone on the way. Since then, using public transportation for my commute has not become a daily habit, but it does remain a surprisingly convenient and efficient way to travel that I will continue to utilize. For anyone who has the same concerns and roadblocks I did regarding commuting via public transportation, I say give it a try. Like me, you may be surprised by how silly those concerns actually were! And now, as I continue my research and conversations with others in the realm of air quality and climate, I do feel a little bit better about myself and a great deal more motivated to find other ways to contribute to solutions toward these important local and global issues.

Throughout February, consider a car free 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.

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.

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

When it comes to air quality, stick with the simple, hard truths

This is one in a series of stories about a clean air symposium held at the University of Utah on Oct. 3, 2019.The article was written by University of Utah Communications and published in @theu November 13, 2019.

Here’s what Keith Bartholomew tells his students: When it comes to Utah’s air pollution, it’s your job to be simultaneously Chicken Little and Pollyanna.

That mixture of alarm and hopefulness about the future of Utah’s dirty air was clear at the recent symposium “The Air We Breathe,” at the University of Utah. The daylong event focused both on dire data and the need for collaboration between scientists, planners, academics and health professionals.

One of the realities about air pollution is that scientists still don’t understand the complex chemistry of smog, nor the complex mechanisms that lead from pollutants to disease. The flip side is that Utah provides unique “exposure opportunities” to measure those pollutants and study the people affected by it, noted participants in a Scientific Cooperation panel moderated by Diane Pataki, associate vice president for research and professor of biology.

The bad news: “If you live in a place where air quality is worse, your mortality is higher,” said Rob Paine, pulmonary and critical care specialist in the U’s School of Medicine, citing the Harvard School of Public Health’s Six Cities study. “We’ve looked at it a gazillion different ways, and the data is solid.”

Air pollution impacts disease in multiple organ systems—not just the lungs (lung cancer, COPD, asthma) but also bone metabolism, vascular disease, diabetes and depression. “Some seminal work from this valley has shown if you increase PM 2.5 levels by about 10 micrograms per liter, it increases the rate of heart attacks by about 4%,” Paine said. But how pollutants target organ systems beyond the lungs is still a mystery.

To effect change in public behaviors and public policy about air quality, the message should come back, always, to health, he added. “Stick with the simple, hard truths. And say it over and over again.”

Christopher Reilly, associate professor of pharmacology and toxicology, reported that his department has received two NIEHS grants that will focus on understanding the mechanisms that lead from dirty air to damaged health.

Most of the pollution in the Salt Lake Valley is created “secondarily,” after emissions enter the atmosphere, although the chemistry is still not understood, said Jon Lin, professor in the U’s Department of Atmospheric Sciences.

The hopeful news: At the national level, average air quality has gotten better, in large part because of the Clean Air Act. “It shows there is action you can take to improve air quality,” Lin noted.

At the macro and micro level, improvements to city planning and building construction can make a difference too, said Bartholomew, associate professor in the Department of City and Metropolitan Planning.

“Transportation is now the single largest sector of the economy leading to air quality problems,” he noted. On the macro level, increased housing density leads to a decrease in car use. On the micro-level, sheltered bus stops instead of the “pole in the puddle model” have led to twice the number of riders compared to a control group.

The U’s scientists need to work together to solve Utah’s bad air, the panel agreed, rather than working in their individual silos. “Gatherings like this,” said Reilly, “need to be a lot more frequent.”

Changing Behavior to Improve the Air

This article by University of Utah Communications was featured in @theu on November 19, 2019.

Sometimes even well-meaning people contribute to air pollution (exhibit A: the majority of attendees at the University of Utah’s “The Air We Breathe” symposium arrived by car). So how do you inspire people to change?

Take a look at the way obesity rates have risen even though people know that diet and exercise help, said Robin Marcus, and “we’re quite naïve to think if you just give people knowledge it will change their behaviors.” Marcus, professor in the Department of Physical Therapy and Athletic Training and chief wellness officer at the University of Utah, was part of the symposium’s Environmental Health Literacy panel, moderated by Beth Krensky, U professor of art education.

Of the people who commute to the U, 50% live within eight miles of the campus, she said, yet a very small percent use mass transit. “We’re bringing people to this campus every day contributing to the problem.” As the U’s wellness officer, Marcus said her staff is looking at whether incentives work to bring about change. “Do we incentivize people to not buy a parking pass? Or pay people $2 a day to not drive to campus?”

“We need experts on our campus who are implementation scientists,” she added.

“There’s a big gap between attitude change and behavioral change,” said Danielle Endres, professor in the U’s Department of Communication. Technology alone won’t solve the problem either, she said.

Some of the things Endres wonders about: “How can our decisions about air quality be as democratic and just as possible? How can we foster broad public participation in air quality decision-making?” She urged conference attendees to remember that “there are many communities outside of academia that have vast stores of expertise.”

One way to change hearts and minds might be to let people see more clearly how bad the air is, and how undemocratically it’s spread across the Salt Lake Valley. That can include providing low-cost PM2.5 sensors to individuals and public schools, said Kerry Kelly, assistant professor in the U’s Department of Chemical Engineering.

“We need dense measurements” that complement existing, sparser measurements supplied by the state, she said. These “community-engaged measurements” can also be a way to bolster STEM education, she added. In one experiment, young students were taught to build their own pollution sensors out of Legos, LED lights, photo detectors and computer fans as a low-cost hands-on way to measure light scattering.

Not everybody absorbs information identically, noted Whitney Tassie, senior curator at the Utah Museum of Fine Arts. “Not everybody is inspired by graphs in the same way.” One solution: Art that is visceral—for example, adding smog to whipped egg whites, “so you can taste it.” Tassie is in the research and development phase of a six-month exhibit that will open in January 2021 that she hopes will bring air and air pollution to life.

New Directions for Environmental Justice

By Nicholas Apodaca, graduate assistant, Sustainability Office

Many of us who care about climate change and environmental justice take action in our daily lives to do our part: we recycle, use sustainable products, use public transportation or eat locally grown food. Yet often environmental problems play out at a larger scale, and while our personal actions can help in small ways, it is important to understand the forces at work in creating environmental hazards and injustice from the start. If we know where injustice begins, we can begin to make a change for the better.

Professor David Pellow of the University of California, Santa Barbara, is exploring new directions in environmental justice in his research. On April 16 from 4 – 5 p.m. in ASB 210, join him for his lecture, “Toward a Critical Environmental Justice: Exploring State Violence & the Settler Colonial Conflicts.”

Pellow began his research in Sociology and Environmental Justice in the 1990s when he completed his Ph.D. dissertation in Sociology,  “Black workers in green industries: the hidden infrastructure of environmental racism,” at Northwestern University. He has since taught at Colorado, UC San Diego, and Minnesota, before arriving at UC Santa Barbara in 2015. There he is the Dehlsen Professor of Environmental Studies and Director of the Global Environmental Justice Project.

In his lecture, Pellow will explore new directions in the theoretical side of environmental sociology.  He breaks it down into multiple approaches. First, he is attempting to further build on existing research that focuses on the intersection between environmental hazards and class, income, race, gender, citizenship and nationality. He sees these intersections as critical for developing nuanced solutions to the complex interactions that produce injustice. “[I am] trying to ask bigger questions about the role of government or the nation-state in producing and exacerbating environmental problems and environmental justice issues in the first place,” Pellow explains. The contradiction is one of “relying on some of the same institutions that are arguably creating the problem in the first place.”

Pellow is also concerned with questions of scale in environmental justice research. He sees environmental justice as an issue that affects us  individually as well as globally. “Environmental hazards regarding academic and policy analysis must be approached as multi-scalar,” argues Pellow. “What happens at the micro scale is almost always revealed to be linked the community or national scale.” As no environmental issues exist in a vacuum, local and regional issues are just as “global” in consequence as environmental injustice outside of the United States. Often, we can find problems in our own neighborhood. Pellow’s recent research on oil refineries located in residential areas of Richmond, California illustrates this well, showing how global economic dynamics can lead to visible environmental impacts on real people.

Lastly, Pellow will explore the ethics of environmental injustice research.”The kind of environmental research I’m doing seeks to question the expendability of ecosystems, of habitats, and of marginalized human populations,” Pellow says. Pellow believes that environmental sociology shouldn’t simply seek to expose injustice, but should fight these notions of expendability. “It’s really about declaring, loudly, the indispensability (of marginalized people). It’s about saying every voice counts. Otherwise, it’s not a democracy.”

Should you too believe that every voice counts in the fight against environmental injustice, and have an interest in the cutting edge of environmental sociology research, come to ASB 210 on April 16 at 4 PM for David Pellow’s GCSC Seminar Series lecture, “Toward a Critical Environmental Justice: Exploring State Violence & the Settler Colonial Conflicts.”

HUMANS OF THE U: NAIMA DAHIR

Originally post on @theU on March 9, 2019.

“I grew up in a family that never discussed environmental issues or sustainability. That was not something known to us. My parents have been through a lot—war and things like that—so sustainability and environmental justice hasn’t been a focus. We weren’t privileged enough to know about those issues or to have the resources or knowledge to know how our actions related to climate change.

When I first started college and learned about environmental racism, such as the water crisis in Flint, MI., I was taken aback at how these environmental injustices are happening in communities of color that don’t have the resources to fight back against things that are affecting them. It became personal to me as a person of color, who comes from a community that has a large refugee community with a low socioeconomic status.

I’m a big believer that we need to make sure we take care of our environment and our world. The earth has resources that are finite and can’t sustain us the way we have been using them.

When I found out the U offered free bus and TRAX passes I was excited. I use TRAX to get to and from school every day. I also use the bus sometimes as well when I need to get to places outside of campus. It’s easier than driving and I’m able to do homework, read and get things done.

But more important, I am reducing my carbon footprint and that was important to me. It makes me feel empowered just to be able to do something as easy as taking TRAX to help the planet. It’s the little things we do in our communities that really add up at the end of the day.”

— Naima Dahir, junior, International Studies and Environmental & Sustainability Studies

HEALTHIER CAMPUS INITIATIVE

Originally posted on @theU on March 8, 2019.

By Shawn Wood, communications specialist, University of Utah Communications

The University of Utah has adopted guidelines to promote better health on campus through nutrition, physical activity and programming over the next three years through the Healthier Campus Initiative sponsored by the Partnership for a Healthier America.

President Ruth V. Watkins signing the Healthier Campus Initiative.

L-R Jerry Basfor, Robin Marcus, President Watkins and Alexis Pearl Lee.

“I’m impressed with the work being done on campus,” said President Ruth V. Watkins, who signed the initiative on March 7, 2019. “I fully support doing whatever we can to encourage and educate our students, staff and faculty about the importance of engaging in healthy habits and the difference eating well, exercising regularly and taking care of their overall wellness will make throughout their lives.”

The Healthier Campus Initiative partners with 73 colleges and universities across the nation to advance healthy living. Each partner commits to meeting a majority of the guidelines developed by Partnership for a Healthier America in collaboration with some of the nation’s leading nutrition, physical activity and campus wellness experts.

By joining the initiative, the U has agreed to meet at least 23 separate guidelines in three categories: food and nutrition, physical activity and overall wellness programming.

A new campus wellness committee will guide the U’s work over the next three years. Members are charged with identifying and organizing campus activities that promote living well for students, staff, faculty and visitors. Supporting a One U approach, the broad-based committee will develop recommendations and direction of campus wellness initiatives and promote healthy living on campus and in the community.

The leaders on campus are Robin Marcus, chief wellness officer, U of U Health, and Jerry Basford, associate vice president, Student Affairs. They will steer the committee to support innovative projects led by students, staff and faculty across campus, ranging from sustainable gardens to food-focused courses and cooking workshops, to outdoor recreation trips and active transportation.

“We are thrilled to partner across our campus to continue our move toward the healthiest campus,” said Marcus. “The habits formed in college—including what they eat and how much physical activity they get—can last a lifetime.”

Committee members will include representatives from: