Shireen Ghorbani: We’ve been given the tools, but will we fix climate change?

2020 will undoubtedly be a year talked about for generations to come. We face no shortage of historic events changing the world as we know it, like a global pandemic, Black Lives Matter and the U.S. presidential election. And in both Salt Lake and the Siberian Arctic, high-temperature records bode of a future dominated by climate change.

Our kids have been demanding climate change action for years; what will we tell them when they ask if we did what we could for their future?

While Americans have focused on immediate threats to their lives and livelihoods during the pandemic, this presidential administration has been stripping away the country’s environmental laws and regulations. But, last week, hope reemerged that science and reason will be restored to our environmental policies.

The House Select Committee on Climate Action (SCCC) released a report “Solving the Climate Crisis: The Congressional Action Plan for a Clean Energy Economy and a Healthy and Just America.” This bold vision for the future details how we can build a prosperous clean energy economy that provides safe, good-paying jobs, reduces harmful emissions and provides protection from the health hazards of pollution inextricably linked to racial justice issues.

What would this clean future look like? Let’s imagine together:

Your kids ride to school every day in a clean-running, quiet school bus powered by renewable electricity that doesn’t spew hazardous pollutants into the air. By providing help to school districts and large fleet operators, trucks and buses can be retrofitted with cleaner or electrified engines.

You save money on your monthly housing costs because we prioritize energy efficiency and clean buildings. We incentivize homeowners to use cleaner technologies. We adopt updated building energy goals and help commercial building owners upgrade their facilities.

You fly over Utah’s Hill Air Force Base and see how climate resilience and preparedness help us have a strong national defense. The Pentagon recently named Hill Air Force Base one of the most at-risk vital military installations in our country from the negative impacts of climate change. Building in resiliency to our bases will help keep our military ready.

Your bank is protecting you and our economy from the financial risks of climate change and is investing in a greener future. Instead of subsidizing fossil fuel heavy industries, banks and Congress could focus on creating solutions to protect the economy and mitigate climate risks.

You see communities of color, tribal communities and low-income communities have a say in projects and developments, providing fair outcomes for all, with more organizations and communities working toward environmental justice and sustainability.

Each year when you pay your taxes, oil and gas companies are paying their fair share, too. Currently, taxpayers like you and me subsidize oil and gas companies, even while they make billions because the U.S. tax code has given them significant tax deductions and incentives. We could reexamine these tax breaks and give cleaner energy sources a chance to compete.

You see me, your Salt Lake County Councilwoman, advocating for a local clean jobs’ economy so that you and your neighbors can have good jobs that move us towards a greener future. State and local communities are best positioned to help their workforce transition to a clean jobs economy so that no one will be left behind in the shift away from fossil fuels.

This future may seem far away, and it’s easy to doubt that these changes could make a difference in Utah. As our summers get hotter, our snowpack gets smaller, and communities suffer higher rates of respiratory illnesses because of pollution and COVID-19, it has become glaringly obvious that what we’re doing isn’t working. We are at a pivotal juncture – are we going to learn from the mistakes of the past?

We must demand that Utah’s federal representatives support these ambitious policies laid out in the report. And we have to develop similar solutions at the state, county, and city levels. Between the SCCC report and the Kem C. Gardner Utah Roadmap released in January that contained state-specific solutions, we already have the blueprints to take tangible, meaningful action to build a more just and economically stable future.

Shireen Ghorbani

Shireen Ghorbani, Salt Lake City, is a member of the Salt Lake County Council.