Grace Olscamp: The smoggiest time of the year — and what to do about it

We can’t control the weather, but we can take steps to reduce air pollution along the Wasatch Front

(Francisco Kjolseth | The Salt Lake Tribune) Winter inversion conditions settle into the Salt Lake valley obscuring the landscape on Monday, Dec. 7, 2020.

As if we didn’t need one more thing to add to our plates in 2020, the Wasatch Front is entering the smoggiest time of the year: inversion season.

While we can’t control the natural weather pattern that creates the inversions, which trap pollution in the valley, we can take steps to help reduce the pollution entering our air. The best part is that we can do this without having to break the bank — or touch it at all.

Building emissions are about to surpass those from vehicles, but cars and trucks are still the biggest contributor to our wintertime pollution. But by adopting slightly different habits in our cars, we can cut down tailpipe emissions.

• Idling: At a drive-thru or picking up our kids from school or other activities, not idling your car saves our air from needless emissions. Simply turn the key and be idle free.

• Trip chaining: Getting all your vehicle trips done in a row prevents the need to cold-start your car, a process which emits significantly more emissions.

• Alternative transport: If you’re able to bike, walk or take public transportation to a destination and cut your car entirely out of the process, all the better.

• Cleaner cars: When shopping for a new car, make sure you look at the smog rating and commit to buying one with a higher rating. Here’s a guide to get you started.

We are all spending a lot more time in our houses and apartments these days. The more energy-efficient habits and decisions we can adopt now, the better off we’ll be in the future.

• Thermostat: As temperatures drop, heaters are cranked up. But by throwing on a jacket and turning down your heat by even a few degrees, you can cut your home emissions — and save money.

• Light: By using natural light as much as possible and remembering to turn off lights when you leave a room are easy ways to reduce home energy use and emissions.

• Gadgets: You can also unplug electronics that aren’t in use and keep your refrigerator and freezer at regulated temperatures without having to spend a dime.

• Upgrades: If you are in the financial position to buy or replace things in your home, exchanging light bulbs with LED ones, using Energy Star-certified appliances, and optimizing the insulation can all make a big difference.

Finally, you can help improve the air without even leaving your couch. By contacting your legislators and urging them to enact more aggressive policies to reduce emissions, you can ensure tangible action is taken.

• Reach out: Find your state legislators here. You can email, call and even text them to express your concerns with our air quality and ask them what they plan to do or share your own ideas of how to address pollution.

• The legislative session: When the legislative session begins Jan. 19, you can urge your legislators to oppose or support bills related to air quality. Following and volunteering for groups like HEAL Utah can help you stay in the loop.

• Go national: You can also reach out to your congressional representatives and ask them to support better federal air quality measures and hold regulators accountable.

Cleaning up our air is a collective effort. It will take adopting new habits and new policies to get the job done. We know that poor air is a serious threat to our public health — including the fact that exposure to pollution can make people more vulnerable to respiratory illnesses like COVID-19 — and we no longer have time to waste. Let’s get started today and clean up our air, together.

Grace Olscamp

Grace Olscamp is the communications and outreach associate for the Healthy Environment Alliance of Utah, where she also works on state-level air quality policy and federal climate policy.