Ben McAdams: What the world will see in Utah on responding to climate change

(Chris Detrick | Tribune file photo) Mayor Jackie Biskupski speaks during a press conference on top of the Salt Lake City Public Safety Building Tuesday May 10, 2016. Mayor Biskupski has set a 2020 goal to have 50% of municipal operations powered by renewable energy, and 100% by 2032.

At the end of the month, Salt Lake City will host the 68th United Nations Civil Society Conference, an event that attracts over 300 nonprofit organizations, representing 80 countries with the goal of “building inclusive and sustainable cities.” As the former Salt Lake County mayor and current representative of Utah’s 4th Congressional District, I am proud to see our state host such an important and collaborative event.

Addressing climate change is the greatest challenge of our time. I believe that there is no better leader to address the challenge than Utah. For example, Utah, overall, has installed capacity of solar-generated power of 1,660 megawatts, according to the Solar Energy Industries Association. That’s enough clean, renewable energy to power 322,000 homes.

Utah, and specifically the Wasatch Front, has experienced the worst effects of climate change first hand. Between increasingly destructive wildfires, hotter, drier summers and severe air pollution in our valleys, we see and experience the strain climate change puts on our health, our economy and our environment. Despite these challenges, bold solutions are on the horizon.

Salt Lake City has pledged to get to carbon neutral (no net release of carbon dioxide to the atmosphere) by 2040. Park City’s goal is net-zero carbon emissions by 2032. City agencies, small businesses, sport complexes and government buildings have taken important first steps. Infrastructure and transportation systems are being built more sustainably, and renewable energy sources are now both more available and affordable for consumers.

While these efforts are positive first steps, we still have much more to do. As an elected official, it is my job to pursue public policy solutions that enable and encourage innovation for a sustainable energy economy. That includes support for legislation that furthers solar energy research, demonstration and development. It includes more grants to purchase no- and low-emission buses and transit vehicles.

I am working with colleagues on both sides of the aisle to develop clean air legislation as well as a measure that will address our nation’s infrastructure and transportation systems in ways that build efficiency and climate resiliency into operations. Local communities are planning for future growth centered around work, shopping and recreation, served by transportation choices that include walking, biking and public transit.

We also need to ensure that we do not forget about the people who live and work in traditional energy communities. We must rapidly transition energy consumption to renewables while ensuring that the communities that have powered economic growth in the West for decades aren’t left behind. We can do this by supporting new industries and jobs in rural and urban communities alike. A sustainable energy economy must work for all our cities and towns, throughout the state. Everyone deserves a seat at the table.

There are not Democratic or Republican solutions. The effects of climate change don’t fall along party lines or skip over countries on the map. We will apply science and innovation to the search for solutions that benefit all of us on the planet. We cannot look to the typical partisan playbook of Washington dysfunction. We need collaborative approaches to swiftly and comprehensively take on the threats we face from a hotter climate. The challenge is bigger than Washington. It won’t wait for divided government to pull itself together. To address this challenge, we need to think and act together, with business, community leaders, faith leaders, educators, labor, health care professionals, nonprofits and all levels of government on board.

I am encouraged by the work we’ve done, by the science and data we’ve accumulated, and I remain optimistic that we can overcome the political divide and join hands to protect our air, water and lands that sustain us. Utah is a state where people cooperated to build communities and to thrive in a harsh, arid landscape. Americans have always faced the next frontier with determination and vision.

I look forward to the 68th United Nations Civil Society conference to commence, so we can roll up our sleeves, put our shoulders to the wheel and start implementing solutions to build a sustainable energy economy and move us and our planet past the climate crisis.

(Rick Egan | Tribune file photo) Rep. Ben McAdams

Ben McAdams, D-Salt Lake City, represents Utah’s 4th Congressional District in the U.S. House of Representatives.