Scott Williams: Climate change is not all gloom and doom

(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, to announce the Subscriber Solar initiative. Biskupski has set a 2020 goal to have 50% of municipal operations powered by renewable energy, and 100% by 2032.

Last week, the Trump administration officially started the process to withdraw the United States from the Paris Climate Agreement, the 2015 landmark agreement where nearly 200 countries agreed to reduce their carbon emissions in light of the world’s climate crisis.

Leaving the accord is a big deal, not only environmentally, but also symbolically, especially as the United States is now one of the only countries that is not part of the agreement. But what does it mean for the planet? Is all hope lost for fighting climate change?

Practically, it means that all levels of government have to work across the aisle to keep pushing local, statewide, and federal climate policies forward.

And the good news is that many communities across the country, including here in Utah, are already doing that, giving us hope in what could otherwise be a gloomy situation.

For example, cities and counties in Utah have been developing and establishing renewable energy goals and, thanks to HB411, Utah’s Community Renewable Energy Act passed in 2019, these plans are able to become a reality.

A majority of these local plans seek to reach 100% net renewable energy by 2030, an ambitious yet achievable goal. From now through the end of the year, even more cities will be considering renewable energy resolutions, and each of us can reach out to our city councils to urge them to join this effort.

The state of Utah is also starting to show a commitment to better climate policies. By committing $29 million to air quality last year and working across the aisle to pass legislation like HB411 and HCR007, Concurrent Resolution on Environmental and Economic Stewardship in 2018, we are proving to the rest of the country that these issues can and should be approached in a bipartisan manner. After all, we all breathe the same dirty air no matter our political affiliation.

Some of Utah’s federal lawmakers are stepping up to the plate too. U.S. Rep. Ben McAdams voted on a resolution to keep the United States in the Paris Agreement and, most recently, U.S. Sen. Mitt Romney joined the newly formed Senate Climate Solutions Caucus, saying, “This caucus will serve as a starting point for a productive bipartisan dialogue so we can begin to come up with solutions for addressing climate change.”

Polls show that 62% of Utahns believe that climate change is indeed happening and anywhere from 48% to 53% of Utahns believe that their lawmakers at various levels need to do more to act on climate.

So let’s keep the climate momentum moving forward and encourage our lawmakers to do more while also thanking them when they do speak up or take action. Even as our country pulls out of the Paris Agreements, hope isn’t lost.

Scott Williams, M.D., is executive director of the Healthy Environment Alliance of Utah (HEAL Utah).