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.

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

Humans of the U: Piper Christian

This article was originally published in@theu on November 14, 2019.

“At the age of 16, I had the opportunity to travel to Paris during the COP 21 climate accords. As a junior correspondent for a Utah news station, I was tasked with reporting the events of the accords back to my home state. I wanted to know, ‘How are ordinary people confronting environmental threats in meaningful ways?’ To answer this question, I interviewed dozens of strangers throughout the city.

By the end of my project, the stories I gathered spanned six continents. My favorite story came from Melati Wijsen, a student who, with her younger sister, Isabel, convinced the governor of Bali to ban plastic bags when she was only 12 years old and Isabel was 10.

When I returned to Utah, I collaborated with students statewide to pass a climate change resolution through the Utah State Legislature, in 2018. Utah was the first predominantly Republican state in the country to acknowledge climate change in this capacity.

As an adolescent, I was troubled by the fact that Utah’s leaders were not speaking about climate change despite the threat it posed to our state. As we experience warmer winters, our yearly snowpack is shrinking, which not only hurts our world-renowned ski industry but also reduces our water supply that we depend on as one of the driest states in the country.

As a student, I believe that I, and others, can and should pressure our leaders to take action since ultimately my generation and generations to come will carry the greatest burden of climate impacts.

Looking to the future, I hope to pursue environmental law, serve as a city planner or study environmental economics.

Currently, I am the vice president of a new club on campus called Utah Climate Advocates. Our club focuses on projects pertaining to climate action and environmental justice. We have been meeting with congressional staffers to discuss climate policies, and we are exploring environmental justice projects in the Salt Lake area.

This semester, I helped organize the University of Utah’s involvement in the Global Climate Strike. On Sept. 20, more than 100 U students walked out of class to demand global action to address climate change. We guided students to the City and County Building, then marched with a crowd of over 2,000 to the state capitol.

While I’m daunted by the future of our planet, it is the stories of my fellow climate activists that help me persist.”

—Piper Christian, U student double majoring in Environmental Studies and Political Science

We’ll be featuring Humans of the U and sharing their stories throughout the year with the university community. If you know someone with a compelling story, let us know at ThisWeek@utah.edu.

Greening your office

This article, originally published in @theu on November 7, 2019, was written by Kate Whitbeck, communications, sustainability office. 

Every office has that one person who pulls things out of the trash and puts them in the recycle bin. The same person goes around and turns off the lights that aren’t being used. Sometimes it is a couple of people and sometimes those people make up the majority of the office.

These people are part of a growing force that is transforming our campus. They recognize that the choices we make in our work environment impact the natural environment, our health and our future quality of life. They also recognize that these are issues that are important to our students. These values also happen to fit into the university’s broader mission to promote responsible stewardship of our resources, reduce the impact of the U on the environment, and ensure the long-term success and viability of the institution.

There are currently 45 offices, centers and departments that are either Green Office certified or in the process of getting the certification. Coordinated by the Sustainability Office, the Green Office program helps provide the tools, support and guidance to institutionalize these changes. Departments and offices on campus represent a large portion of energy and material use and waste production on campus. Working through the Green Office checklist is an easy way to reduce energy, waste and emissions through smart purchasing, transportation choices and simple changes to common office practices.

So, how do you go about getting Green Office Certification? We talked to a local expert who has shepherded her office through the process. Ally Marringa is the Academic Advising Coordinator for the College of Social & Behavioral Science.

Why did you initiate the Green Office program in your office?

I really didn’t know much about sustainability when I first started working at the U. I quickly noticed that it is super important to my students. We wanted to make sure that we were upholding our students’ values. If we are trying to be role models and teach them that you can make a difference no matter what you are doing then this is a small way we can start.

What are some of the unique things you have done in your office to make it greener?

We have incorporated green office practices into how we advise—using laminated sheets and dry erase markers rather than a single paper sheet for each student. We use online fillable tracking sheets so students can plan out courses a semester by semester. We try to make the process as paperless as possible.

How did you get started?

When we got the check-list, half of it was done already. So that was the easiest part. In terms of stuff, we needed to put more time into what we purchase. Like when we need swag for tabling we find recyclable material to use now. When we need to get T-shirts for students or materials, it’s just thinking about taking the extra time to look at whether the product is sustainable, where it comes from, and all of those different things. Some of it can be pricier. So, it’s being choosy about what we get to buy.

We brought in plates and mugs for people to use in our breakroom (they have a dishwasher). They were all pretty for it.  It was pretty easy for us. It is mostly just slowly getting other people to buy in and share ideas on how they can do things differently.

What was surprising to you?

We checked off half of the things on the checklist just because we are in a LEED-certified building. So it was making little tweaks. In our meetings we have presenters send out flyers electronically instead of providing printed handouts.  That way we can post on Canvas, listservs or other tools instead of using physical handouts. Sometimes you just need one copy to hang in a central location.

What is your next goal?

We want to hit Gold. One of the next goals is to increase our supply of reusables or work with Chartwells to use reusable china so that our larger events are zero waste. Holding green events would have a big impact on students. We need to make sure these practices are visible—that we are modeling these values.

What would you tell an office that is considering certification?

It is super easy. I think most offices are doing these things. It’s just seeing what other people are doing, what other universities are doing, and how the Sustainability Office can help makes it easy. It’s just talking to your team. “This is something we are considering doing. Do you agree? What are the non-negotiables and what can we do differently?”

Oh, and I love the webpage. I use it a ton. The info is good. Use the library guide. Be sure to sign up for the Sustainability Office’s newsletter and follow social media (Facebook, Instagram, Twitter).

For more information on the Green Certification program, email Karren Fultz at karren.fultz@utah.edu.

Print & mail recognized

This article, originally published in @theu on August 9, 2019, was written by Corinne Smart,
University Print & Mail Services.

In an industry based on using paper, sustainable practices are an ongoing challenge for organizations like University Print & Mail Services. But taking that challenge on has proved successful for the department, which has just been awarded bronze certification in the Sustainability Office’s Green Office Program.

Conscious of the resources that it uses daily, Print & Mail felt compelled to follow best practices for sustainability and help support the university’s mission and goals. This commitment started the department down the path toward achieving the Green Office Certification and completing the requirements was the next step. ­

The Sustainability Office observes how campus work environments negatively impact our natural environment. To instigate change, they created the Green Office Certification, a program to teach campus ways to integrate sustainability practices into the workplace through sustainable choices. The Green Office Program has three tiers of certification: bronze, silver and gold. Once departments register, they receive a Green Office Checklist as a guide for success. To celebrate certifications, the Sustainability Office advertises the newly certified department’s achievements on their social media outlets.

Over the course of many months, the Print & Mail team worked to identify areas of improvement and correspondingly, began to check off boxes from the sustainability certification list. Some items were as simple as posting stickers to remind colleagues to turn off office lights at the end of the day; others took more effort, requiring continuous dedication from the entire Print & Mail team to carry the effort forward.

The Green Office Program has done more than just help Print & Mail conserve energy and reduce waste, it has influenced Print & Mail’s team to adopt a more sustainable lifestyle. Team members have been seen bringing in office plants, making special trips to the recycle bin, using multi-use water bottles instead of disposables and taking public transit to work instead of driving.

For those considering joining the certification program, Print & Mail’s Green Office Educator Wendy Covert has some advice: “Come up with a Green Team. It is much easier to get buy-in from the department as a whole if other people are invested.”

At Print & Mail, every team member had a part to play in being more sustainable, from the department purchaser being willing to buy green supplies to printing staff remembering to put scraps in recycling bins. The support and willingness of Print & Mail’s entire team were vital to the department’s success in acquiring bronze certification.

Despite its roots in printing, Print & Mail has shown that even in the paper business, being sustainable is more attainable than you think. Beyond their commitment to helping the planet, the team is dedicated to helping the campus community by serving as an excellent resource for eco-friendly paper. Print & Mail prints university business cards on 100% PCW recycled paper and can order recycled paper for your department. Visit Print & Mail online or call 801-581-6171.

Efficient Garff Building granted prestigious award

This article, originally published in @theu October 24, 2019, was written by Wes Mangum,
communications specialist, Facilities.

The University of Utah is serious about leading the way in energy efficiency and that’s garnering national attention.

The Robert H. & Katherine B. Garff Building was given an award recognizing effort in innovation and teamwork by Engineering News Record (ENR), widely regarded as one of the construction industry’s most authoritative publications. The collaborative effort on the Garff Building’s construction delivered a highly energy-efficient building, in line with the university’s aggressive sustainability goals. The ENR award was presented at a ceremony on Oct. 24.

The award comes just over a year after the Garff Building was dedicated by the David Eccles School of Business. The 150,000-square-foot building houses the university’s Online MBA, Full-Time MBA, Professional MBA and Executive Educations programs. It also supports a Career Services center for both graduate and undergraduate students. The Garff Building was made possible through the generosity of more than 350 donors, including a $12 million donation from the Garff family.

The Garff Building was the university’s first-ever all-electric building and is one of the most energy-efficient buildings on campus. The hearing and cooling of a building are often where most energy is consumed. The Garff Building took a new approach to solve this problem. The secret lies in the building’s air-cooled Variable Refrigerant Flow (VRF) system. This system works to heat and cool the building by extracting and diffusing outside air. The Garff Building’s VRF system is similar to a residential heat pump but on a commercial scale.

University Project Managers Mark Grabl and Michael Beck worked with VCBO Architects and Jacobsen Construction Co. to overcome a series of challenges in the design and construction phases. The Garff Building was constructed around the demolition of Milton Bennion Hall, the previous home to the David Eccles School of Business. In addition, the nearby construction of the Kem and Carolyn Gardner Commons provided a very limited staging area for construction teams.

“We challenged everything to try and arrive at the best decisions possible,” Beck said. “We left no stone unturned.”

University construction officials and Jacobsen Construction Co., along with the various subcontractors on the project, had to rely on an innovative inventory management approach called just-in-time delivery. Rather than delivering and stockpiling materials to be used as the project develops, just-in-time delivery calls for a lean approach that prioritizes the delivery of materials according to the project schedule. This approach required the team to keep an updated schedule and constant line of communication throughout the project.

“All of the partners within the design team and the construction team were flexible in their approach,” Beck said. “They knew that there were going to be changes on the fly that had to be incorporated.”

The Utah Division of Facilities Construction and Management (DFCM) assisted Beck and Grabl in meeting the university’s needs for the facility. Taylor Maxfield, a Project Manager for DFCM, listed the design and construction teams’ synergy as a vital element in the building’s success.

“The project was successful due to a very open dialogue between all parties,” Maxfield said. “The team wasn’t shy of calling each other out. We trusted each other and did everything we could to support each other. I believe we tried to understand each other’s processes and work with each other in mind.”

Grabl and Beck placed an emphasis on aligning the Garff Building’s budget value with the university’s values. State-of-the-art technology and an aesthetically pleasing design were important to not only attract top business students but to help propel them to success as they leave the doors of the Garff Building.

 

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A bright idea?

This article, originally published in @theu on September 6, 2019, was written by Paul Gabrielsen,
science writer, University of Utah Communications.

For low-income families, paying the energy bill every month can be challenging, as energy bills can account for up to twice the percentage of income as for families with median income. Further, converting to an energy-efficient lifestyle can come with a steep up-front cost, adding another financial barrier to saving energy.

But a recent pilot study, a partnership between the University of Utah and Utah Clean Energy, showed how to break through these barriers to empower Salt Lake City residents with energy saving technologies.

Researchers report in the journal Sustainability that over an eight-month period an LED lightbulb exchange program in Salt Lake City’s west side exchanged 1,432 lightbulbs, reached 181 households and saved participating families a collective $18,219 per year in energy costs. It’s one of several initiatives to introduce efficient technologies in underserved Utah homes and include all income levels in community efforts to combat climate change.

“Through this project we believe that community members realized that efficiency is something that they can do. It’s something that has real benefits to them. And is has spurred interest in taking additional actions to cut energy waste,” says Kevin Emerson, director of the Energy Efficiency Program for Utah Clean Energy.

Why lighting?

The pilot study focused on LED lighting because of its accessibility. “Lighting was targeted because it was a simple action that can be taken,” says Daniel Mendoza, research assistant professor in the Department of Atmospheric Sciences at the University of Utah. “It’s something that anybody can do because it’s such a simple act. It’s also something that’s accessible to both owners and renters.”

Using LED lightbulbs donated in part by Rocky Mountain Power, Utah Clean Energy set up 23 community events in two ZIP codes on Salt Lake City’s west side. At the events, members of the community exchanged up to 15 older lightbulbs for new 9-watt LED bulbs, and received information about additional low-cost energy-saving strategies. The researchers also sent participants a follow-up survey to see how many had reached out to other local energy-saving programs.

The lightbulbs, Emerson notes, emit a warm, yellow light at a color temperature of 2,700 Kelvin, which is natural-looking and is less harsh than bluer lights. “We wanted participants to have a positive experience with energy-saving LED lighting so they would think well of energy efficiency and be more open to take additional energy-saving actions,” he said.

Because the pilot program involved an exchange of lightbulbs rather than just a giveaway, the researchers were able to calculate how much energy participants would save with the new bulbs. Assuming each LED bulb would last for 14 years, the project staff found that the exchanged lightbulbs would save, collectively, the energy equivalent of 19 homes every year. The energy-efficient bulbs also save 134 tons of carbon dioxide emissions, along with other air pollutants. Participants shaved, on average, $100 a year off of their energy bill.

“It does make a quantifiable impact in terms of CO2reductions from avoided electricity consumption, as well as the nontrivial amount of money they can save in terms of an electricity bill,” Mendoza says.

Taking action

The environmental benefits of the LED lightbulbs are well-established. Beyond that, the researchers hoped to learn more about how to influence Utahns’ behavior to engage with energy-saving practices.

The team extrapolated their pilot program results, which reached less than 1% of households in the target ZIP codes, to ask what might happen if an expanded program was able to reach more homes, up to 7.5%. Expanding to that scale would cost more, around $34,500 in the first year. But between the electricity savings and the social cost of carbon (a measure of the economic impacts of carbon emissions) such a program could save a combined $110,000 in that same year.

“It’s really a test case that can then be expanded to help facilitate additional energy efficiency actions being taken that wouldn’t otherwise be taken,” Emerson says. “And we see it as part of a larger transition toward a carbon free energy system.”

“We’ll be able to tell people what we can potentially deliver with additional resources,” Mendoza adds.

The follow-up survey asked participants if they’d taken any action to engage with five different energy-saving local programs. Responses varied, but 51% of participants said they had ordered or planned to order a Wattsmart kit from Rocky Mountain Power, 30% had set or planned to set appointments to seal their homes’ air leaks and 75% said they were more aware of how saving energy reduces pollution.

The pilot program was an overall success, the researchers report, and taught lessons about how to introduce sustainable practices at the community level, as well as additional steps Utah Clean Energy can take to make the program even more accessible to the diverse communities of Salt Lake’s west side.

Find the full study here.

Emerson suggests two ways to support Utah Clean Energy programs:

  1. Donate to Utah Clean Energy to support the cost of implementing energy efficiency community programs.
  2. Visit utahcleanenergy.org and learn about what actions you can take, regardless of where you live.

 

What inspires environmental action?

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 8, 2019.

There’s nothing like a crisis to motivate people to change their behaviors.

But when it comes to improving Utah’s air quality and slowing down climate change, action can be taken now to protect the state’s public health, economy and quality of life, according to a panel of University of Utah professors speaking on environmental change.

The panel was one of several presented at the symposium “The Air We Breathe: A Multidisciplinary Perspective on Air Quality.” The symposium took place Oct. 3, 2019, at the U.

Utah has serious air quality problems that “many people try to ignore on a day-to-day basis,” says Tabitha Benney, assistant professor of political science. She said behavioral studies show that a crisis can be “very useful in bringing about environmental change…. Do we want to get to that point? Hopefully, we won’t have to before we make decisions that help us in the long run.”

She is studying what would motivate Utahns to make changes to improve air quality by surveying almost 1,000 people across the state. The goal is to better understand perceptions and misperceptions about air quality, to explain behaviors Utahns take or don’t take to reduce air pollution, to motivate environmental actions and spur policy.

Benney has hypothesized that political orientation, socioeconomic background, religiosity and other factors affect Utahns’ environmental values and beliefs. Preliminary results show that roughly one-third of respondents believe air pollution in Utah isn’t caused by human behavior. And about half of the respondents were unsure if the government should implement policies to solve environmental problems.

While individual actions are important, government policy is seen as key to improving Utah’s air quality and reducing greenhouse gas emissions. That’s why the U’s Kem C. Gardner Policy Institute is studying science-based solutions to both those problems at the request of the Utah Legislature.

Logan Mitchell, U research assistant professor of atmospheric sciences and a member of the institute’s technical team, said the three drivers of air pollution emissions are electricity production, vehicles and buildings. The community should be focused on implementing policies in those three areas, including accelerating the transition to renewable energy and building homes and offices that run on electricity instead of natural gas, he said.

Mitchell said the advisory panel’s final recommendations are due Dec. 13. For individuals who want to take action, he said: “The most important thing as a citizen is to look at those things and let your legislator know you care … and that you’d like to see urgent action that will engender systemic change.”

Panelist Cheryl Pirozzi, a pulmonologist and assistant professor of internal medicine, said the health effects of air pollution would worsen as the temperature climbs due to an increase in wildfires and because warmer temperatures lead to more ground-level ozone. These effects should factor into the cost-benefit analysis of changing policies. She and other U researchers have found that during typical inversions, older adults are about 2.5 times more likely to have pneumonia and three times more likely to die in the hospital with pneumonia.

Still, it was the economic figure in her study that made an impact. The study estimated that reducing air pollution to healthy levels would save more than $800,000 in direct medical costs. The dollar amount “caught more attention than the health outcomes,” she said.

Stephen Bannister, associate professor (lecturer) of economics, agreed that economics is a good motivator for spurring change. “The one incentive that really changes everybody’s behavior is large price differentials,” he said, adding that there needs to be a massive decrease in the cost of clean energy technologies to reduce reliance on fossil fuels.

Selling the public—and the auto and petroleum sector—on the money to be made by moving to clean energy would be a good motivator, according to the panel. Benney said her survey has shown that Utahns, regardless of their age or political party, are more willing to take environmental action when they know one key element: the positive economic benefits of change.

Panelists: Stephen Bannister, associate professor (lecturer), economics and director of the MIAGE Program, College of Social and Behavioral Science; Tabitha Benney, assistant professor, political science, College of Social and Behavioral Science; Logan Mitchell, research assistant professor, Department of Atmospheric Sciences, College of Mines and Earth Sciences; Cheryl Pirozzi, assistant professor (clinical), Division of Pulmonary Medicine, University of Utah School of Medicine.

Moderator: Brenda Bowen, associate professor, Department of Geology & Geophysics, College of Mines and Earth Sciences, and director of the Global Change and Sustainability Center.

 

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.”