Tribune Editorial: Clean air is everyone’s responsibility

Francisco Kjolseth | The Salt Lake Tribune Pool air quality blankets the valley, obscuring visibility and increasing health concerns. A sizable source of emissions, comes from "warming up" your car, a widespread practice in Utah.Last month Salt Lake City police found 600 unattended, idling vehicles in the space of three hours, even though itÕs completely unnecessary. For modern cars, all idling does is release a lot of emissions.

O God, thy sea is so great and my boat is so small.”

Breton sailor’s prayer

In Utah, it is our sky that is so big and our cars, trucks, lawn mowers and fireplaces that are so small. But the prayer that sat on the desk of President John Kennedy, who once commanded a very small boat indeed, has meaning here.

The quality of the air along the Wasatch Front is among the most important issues we have to confront. Even though there have been significant improvements in recent years, due largely to federal regulations mandating cleaner-burning fuels in cleaner-running automobiles, few would say that we have solved the problem.

Especially during our winter atmospheric inversions, when warm air above traps cold air closer to the surface, our air and our lungs are peppered with impurities that can limit outside activities, make us sick, even shorten our lives.

A hurdle to improving the conditions has been that it is easy for individual households and businesses to feel they have little to know no power to improve the situation. And feeling powerless is the surest way to be powerless. The last thing we should do is to excuse ourselves from any responsibility for our common air quality just because we live in a geological bowl that traps air pollution. All that does is make every individual effort that much more important.

Envision Utah, a nonprofit planning agency, has put together a website with a long list of steps that local governments, businesses and individuals can take to clean up our air or, at the least, keep it from getting any dirtier.

The Your Air Your Utah page notes that significant portions of the chemicals and particles that pollute our air still come from motor vehicles and buildings, including homes, apartments and small commercial structures. So cutting down on the pollution emitted by each of those sources can make a significant difference.

For it to matter, though, those efforts have to be widespread and sustained. A conservative/libertarian state such as Utah is unlikely to even attempt to mandate cleaner behaviors, but Envision Utah, the state, various cities, churches and activist groups have done their part to encourage them.

Much of the old advice still applies. Drive less. Don’t idle your car’s engine. Take public transit, walk, bike, telecommute. Get a cleaner car and run it on cleaner fuel. Get an electric car. And an electric lawn mower and electric snowblower.

Don’t use your wood-burning fireplace during inversions.

Upgrade the energy efficiency in every old building and build all new buildings to state-of-the-art standards. It not only helps to save the air, but also saves you money.

Even if there is merit in the argument that more of the responsibility should be put on big industrial sources of pollution — mines, refineries, etc. — that doesn’t mean the small things don’t matter.

It is all too easy for individuals to decide that anything they could do is too small to make a difference, so they don’t do anything. For any one individual, that might be true. But for all of us together, it can make the difference between life and death for ourselves and our neighbors.

Do your part.