Commentary: Let’s not be afraid to talk about climate change

In this Sept. 20, 2017 photo, a woman covers herself with a plastic bag as she makes her way to work as Hurricane Maria approaches the coast of Bavaro, Dominican Republic. (AP Photo/Tatiana Fernandez)

The horrifying images we have viewed on our screens over the past several weeks illuminate the unprecedented series of extreme weather that has cost lives, hundreds of billions of dollars in devastating property damage and the disruption of millions of lives. The extreme nature of recent hurricanes and wildfires are driven by many factors, but are exacerbated by human-driven climate change.

We all come from a different place of understanding, but simply stated, pollution from burning coal, oil and gas acts like a blanket in our atmosphere and traps heat, resulting in warmer temperatures and warmer oceans that have optimized the impact of tropical storms, increasing the risk for more costly and deadly weather events in Utah and communities across our nation, and indeed the globe.

The relationship between rising temperatures and recent record-breaking rainfall, flooding, hurricanes and wildfire events, has long been forecast by scientists studying climate change. Sadly, the people of Puerto Rico, Texas, the Caribbean, Florida and the Pacific Northwest are experiencing the impacts of human-driven climate change firsthand. Here in Utah, record breaking temperatures have exacerbated our summer ozone pollution issues, with ozone levels exceeding national air quality standards 26 times this past summer. And, the financial cost to taxpayers across the nation continues to rise as we spend more on disaster relief.

While we are providing aid to victims of Hurricanes Harvey, Irma and now Maria, it is time to take a step back, and talk about the role climate change played in these disasters and what we can do about it. Utahns are both pragmatic and innovative, and we have the opportunity to come together to advance solutions. By starting a dialogue about the risks that climate change poses to our quality of life, security and our economy, we open the door to common-sense actions that will help us prepare for and mitigate those risks.

The good news is that while addressing climate change may appear daunting, the solutions are closer than you might think. When Utah Clean Energy started working on clean energy solutions over 15 years ago, renewable energy and energy efficiency were costlier, but this is no longer the case. The global consulting firm, DNV GL, recently found that the world is rapidly approaching a transition to renewable energy resources and that we can achieve this shift “without increasing energy expenditures.”

Did you know that Utah has more than a gigawatt of large-scale renewable energy projects? That’s enough clean energy to power the equivalent of over 40 percent of Utah’s homes. Utility solar prices are now equal to or less than the costs of traditional fossil fuel resources. Local investments in energy efficiency prevent millions of pounds of CO2 emissions every year. And from 2015-2016, Utah was ranked first nationally in electric vehicle growth, instantly reducing pollution from our tailpipes. These solutions are affordable, available and will help us tackle both Utah’s local air quality challenges and deliver the long-term benefit of a stable climate.

We have made great strides here in Utah, but in truth we have only scratched the surface of what can and must be done to leave a healthy climate for our children. The first step is to acknowledge the risks and talk about it. Utah’s pragmatism and innovation can lead the country and we can foster a common-sense dialogue that leads to lasting solutions that improve our air quality, our quality of life and our economy, while creating a healthier climate. While there is no silver bullet to address climate change, we can come together to find solutions that will work for Utah and beyond.

Sarah Wright is the Founder and Executive Director of Utah Clean Energy. Dennis Haslam is a business consultant, former president of the Utah Jazz and a current board member of Utah Clean Energy.