Park City • Climate change is often framed as a partisan issue, but it doesn’t have to be that way. That was the message agreed upon by a group of Summit and Wasatch County leaders, local academics and students who discussed climate change at a panel at the Park City Library on Wednesday.
“Climate change is way too important of an issue to be debated for the next 20 years,” said Mia Vinding, a high school student and environmental advocate from Park City who spoke on the panel. “We don’t have 20 years.”
The Mayors’ Town Hall on Air and Climate Solutions was sponsored by the Wasatch chapter of the Citizens’ Climate Lobby, a nonprofit, bipartisan advocacy organization dedicated to addressing climate change. Midway Mayor Celeste Johnson, Heber Mayor Kelleen Potter and Park City Mayor Andy Beerman answered community questions and shared the environmental goals of their respective towns.
The mayors were joined by Brigham Young University Professor of Humanities and the Environment Christopher Oscarson, University of Utah Professor of Atmospheric Science Logan Mitchell and Vinding.
Mitchell studies greenhouse gasses and air pollution and advises local communities on how to implement policies for better air quality. He said there are overlapping environmental policies to reduce emissions that even climate skeptics can be moved to support.
“People who may not agree that the climate is changing, well it turns out they’re still part of the population of one 100% of us who still breathe and are affected by air condition,” he said.
Mitchell also pointed out the potential economic benefits of renewable energy, which he said are surpassing fossil fuels in affordability and practicality. American investment in renewable energy will help the country stay competitive in the global economy over the next decade, he added.
As a professor, Oscarson believes climate change is becoming an increasingly bipartisan issue for younger generations. But for those who doubt climate change, scientific facts are often not enough to change their deeply held beliefs, he said. It is important to listen to the concerns of people on both sides of the issue so that they feel as though they are being taken seriously, said Oscarson. When people feel that they are being heard, they are more likely to listen to what you have to say.
Johnson said she believes bipartisan, grassroots movements are an important way to tackle climate change. Local leadership does not have enough time to act on all the issues at hand, so Johnson says she loves it when residents take initiative on the topics they care about and then come to the city for support with their projects.
But the city has plans too. Midway residents voted last November to support a $5 million bond to purchase the development rights for land and preserve it for agriculture or open space, said Johnson. This means that landowners who are pressed for cash no longer have to sell their farms for development.
Park City’s Beerman said the resort town is working with Summit County to become 100% net zero emissions as a municipality by 2022 and communitywide by 2030. All new city projects will be net zero emissions, said Beerman. He also boasted about Park City’s increasingly electric bus fleet, and said the city is working to preserve open space.
Many people in Heber still are skeptical of climate change, said Potter, which makes community support more difficult to obtain. But she said the city has the advantage of owning 75% of Heber Light and Power, which it shares with Midway and Charleston. The city is looking to increase renewable energy sources in its portfolio and is offering rebates for energy efficient appliances and light bulbs.