Utah Sen. Mitt Romney has said some encouraging things lately about climate change. If you’re among the majority of Utahns who believe climate change is real and poses an urgent risk, you’ll agree he should be congratulated for a very thoughtful approach.
Recently he posted a video to Twitter in which he says he’s been meeting with scientists and innovators to understand the issue better and explore potential solutions. These actions should be applauded, but if Romney is serious about protecting Utah from the impacts of climate change, he needs to move from meeting and talking toward quickly taking specific actions.
Romney is in an excellent position to have real impact on federal climate policy. As a respected politician who’s proven he can move beyond petty politics, he can count on the support of the majority of Utahns, 66% of whom believe climate change is real.
Utahns know we aren’t immune to the reality of climate change; in fact, we’re on the front lines. Longer and more intense wildfire seasons threaten us and send choking smoke into the air. Severe weather threatens tourism, agriculture and water supply while more than 55,000 Utahns are vulnerable to extreme heat events.
Concern about climate change is particularly evident among younger generations. Republican pollster Frank Luntz recently found that 58% of Republican voters under 40 are more concerned with climate change than there were just one year ago, calling climate change action a “GOP opportunity.”
I also hear serious concern from younger Utahns in my work at the University of Utah. They know climate change is an urgent issue and that we can address it while increasing opportunity and growing our economy. Over 40,000 Utahns already work in the renewable energy and energy efficiency industry, and we’ve got incredible potential for more.
In his video, Romney calls for “breakthrough technology” to help solve the climate crisis. This is encouraging because it indicates he appreciates the seriousness and urgency of the problems we face and is open to ideas big enough to have an impact.
But Romney shouldn’t be too quick to dismiss obvious existing solutions like moving toward a cleaner energy economy, significantly reducing carbon pollution emissions and preparing our communities for associated health and economic impacts. These actions need to be taken immediately as we also invest in research and technological advances.
Romney should strongly oppose the growing list of actions by the administration to dismantle federal efforts to address climate change, like rolling back the Clean Power Plan and Clean Cars Rule at the EPA. This is a dangerous approach that will leave Utahns breathing increasingly harmful air and feeling the health and economic consequences of climate change.
Romney should also push back against the administration’s drastic cuts to science. He should advocate for the full inclusion of sound science in federal funding and policy decisions.
Romney should support the International Climate Accountability Act that would ensure the U.S. honors its commitments to the Paris Climate Agreement. Senator Romney acknowledges that the U.S. alone can’t solve the climate crisis. He’s right, the U.S. needs to lead the world, and we can only do that if we rejoin the international community.
Romney can be a leader on climate; standing up to Washington DC insiders and advocating for climate solutions that are vital to the future of Utah. If he takes an honest, open, and urgent approach, he’ll find many thousands of Utahns willing to stand with him and work for action to address the climate crisis.
Myron Willson is the former deputy chief sustainability officer at the University of Utah. He worked with students, faculty, and administration to help plan and incorporate sustainable practices on campus. Prior to that role, he worked as an architect and planner.