Don Gale: Climate change gives us a world on thin ice

We used to ice skate in April. Now we play golf in December

Courtesy | Utah State Historical Society Ice skating at the Liberty Park pond in 1917.

It was long ago ... or only yesterday, depending on how many winters you remember.

In the 1940s, we rushed home from school, picked up clamp-on ice skates and headed for Liberty Park. The lake froze in November and remained frozen through March and even into April. We played steal the flag, ran races, had jumping contests and showed off limited skating maneuvers.

At sunset, parks department personnel turned on floodlights and opened the turntable — 78 rpm records, one song per side. Teenagers built a fire in the pit on the west bank. Couples paired up to skate cross-handed or dance. One or two couples jitterbugged on ice. (Ask Grandma.) In late March or early April, the ice broke into large blocks. Skating from block to block without getting wet challenged even the best skaters.

This year, city dwellers play golf in December. Has the climate changed? You bet!

And some of us remember when miles between Sugar House and Draper were filled with fields and orchards. Did humans contribute to climate change? Not much doubt about that, either. (If you deny climate change, you never rode a sled down Harrison Avenue.)

Folks who know tell us we must do something about the changing climate or we’ll end up with no ice on the lake and no water in the lake. Our corner of the planet is drying up.

Science proves that carbon dioxide in the atmosphere causes climate change. Most CO2 comes from automobiles, buildings and electric power plants. We’re already replacing gas-burning cars with electric autos. California plans to complete the change in 15 years or less. Other states — and the world — will follow.

Electric cars need charging almost daily. Half a century ago, we converted homes and buildings from coal heat to natural gas. We’re now moving to electric heat, a natural adjunct to electric air conditioning. We’re also rapidly converting coal-powered generating plants to natural gas. But that’s only a first step because natural gas also produces CO2.

The question is: How are we going to generate all the electricity we need for cars, buildings, electronics and everything else that make life better today than it was when Liberty Park Lake froze over?

Some say we can depend on “renewables,” but that power source is not reliable over a 24-hour consumption span. Besides, we could cover the state with solar panels and windmills, and it still wouldn’t provide enough electricity to handle predictable needs.

Batteries won’t help. Batteries are dangerous. The Energizer Bunny comes with his own variety of deadly tularemia. We’ll soon be flooded with dead batteries from cars, phones and other gadgets. The next environmental crises may center around disposal of depleted battery components.

We need more research to find new technologies to generate reliable power. Nuclear power will certainly be part of it, especially during transition decades. (Utah cities and counties that withdrew from a promising nuclear power source in Idaho will come to regret their decisions.) Some fear nuclear power, but Navy ships have been powered by small nuclear plants for decades. Surely, we can find ways to safely adapt that technology to create safe neighborhood power sources.

And we’ve been talking about “cold fusion” for years — a nonradioactive power source. Half a century ago, Utah-born television inventor Philo Farnsworth proposed cold fusion. Some Utah “believers” were embarrassed by cold fusion’s failure 30 years ago, but that doesn’t mean today’s scientists can’t put disappointment behind us.

Chances are no one will ever again ice skate at Liberty Park. But until we find answers to climate change and power supply, the entire world is skating on thin ice.

Don Gale.

Don Gale, a longtime Utah journalist, has written about science for decades. He remembers the “old days” but prefers today’s power-enhanced “new days.”