Davis Smith and Sarah Wright: Building back to a more sustainable Utah

(Francisco Kjolseth | The Salt Lake Tribune) The Natural History Museum of Utah at the Rio Tinto Center is officially introducing a new multiplayer game called Utah Climate Challenge, to help visitors consider issues of sustainability, biodiversity, population growth and urban sprawl. Located in the Utah Futures Gallery, the game is designed by Preloaded, a London-based company that specializes in designing games with a purpose to tackle complicated issues for a general audience.

In the face of a worldwide pandemic, individuals, businesses and governments everywhere have taken unprecedented action to help weather the storm.

In Utah, our communities have come together in extraordinary ways and businesses have offered a collaborative, solutions-focused approach. And we all have a role to play.

Early on in this crisis, Cotopaxi was proud to work with Gov. Gary Herbert and participate in making and distributing face masks for every resident who needs one through the A Mask for Every Utahn initiative, all while also raising $350,000 toward COVID response for our community.

Utah Clean Energy found ways to contribute by adding energy saving and money saving LED light bulbs to food supply baskets that the Salt Lake County School District were distributing to families in need. These are only two examples of how our community pulled together for the common good, showing what we can accomplish when working together.

The way Utah has responded to the coronavirus also reflects how the state can tackle other issues. Climate change too requires a unified and bold response in order to avoid the most devastating impacts. As Utah looks to rebuild and recover our economy, we face a crossroads. Do we want to go back to business as usual, or do we seize this moment and invest in solutions that not only create jobs and economic opportunity, but also ensure clean air and a healthy, safe and livable climate?

We’ve been impressed by the Utah’s Economic Response Task Force recognition of the potentially chronic impact of COVID-19 on the “whole person” and “whole community.” This impact stretches beyond the immediate virus case count and into the broader social, emotional, economic and medical impacts of the virus.

To the Task Force’s point, we face a moment in time where we can learn from this global crisis and rebuild in a way that is in our and our children’s long-term best interests. Reigniting our economy with an eye toward mitigating the climate crisis will ensure the next generation has the same opportunities and quality of life that we have enjoyed, if not better.

As our leaders set sights on economic recovery, we can seize opportunities to build a stronger, healthier, more resilient Utah with clean air and a healthy climate. The state has shown their leadership by listening to experts in developing our coronavirus response. Information from climate change experts also need to be incorporated into our decision-making. Just as public health officials warned us for years about the risk of a global pandemic, climate scientists too are warning about the irreversible consequences of inaction to our health and economy.

The good news is that climate solutions are at our fingertips, and they come with the added benefits of being affordable, improving air quality, creating jobs and introducing new economic opportunities. Goldman Sachs has identified clean tech as a major player in the upcoming economic recovery, estimating that “green” infrastructure investments could create 15-20 million jobs worldwide. Let’s reignite our economy with a focus on efficiency, clean transportation, new telecommute opportunities and clean energy.

Addressing climate change can seem daunting, but we’ve learned from this pandemic that we can respond quickly and dramatically when we have a shared vision and shared goals. We can accomplish extraordinary things for our health and prosperity when we come together. We agree that Utah needs to take action to alleviate the immediate suffering underway, but we also can avoid the looming threats of climate change by thinking bigger and bolder.

With forward-thinking leadership and continued community involvement, we can rebuild our economy and put Utah back to work creating a society even more resilient, with cleaner air, and a healthy climate.

Davis Smith

Davis Smith is founder and CEO of Cotopaxi.

Sarah Wright

Sarah Wright is executive director of Utah Clean Energy.