Think Globally, Act Locally

Air pollution horribly afflicts our western valley in the winter. For the past month, we’ve had the dubious distinction of having the worst air in the nation. Hurray!

But, this situation is also fraught with possibilities for change–the hacking, coughing, foul odor, and lack of visibility contribute to an acute and obvious problem. It should be a non-political issue that transcends traditional Republican/Democratic framing. A family values issue. In fact, a local mom was so concerned about the health affects of pollution on her daughter that she started Utah Moms for Clean Air.

“Mothers are in a special moral position to advocate for clean air. Our intent is simple: to ensure that our children, whose lives are entrusted to us, have a healthy environment in which to grow and flourish. Cooping them up indoors to avoid toxic air outside is not the solution.”

Utah Governor Gary Herbert has touted the Utah Clean Air Partnership as his voluntary solution to the dirty air.

Other groups, such as, Utah Physicians for a Healthy Environment, are pressing for mandatory measures such as cutting industry emissions, more mass transit and bikes, working to eliminate wood and coal burning and battling destructive land use practices–sprawl.

Our local air pollution is also linked to the larger issue of global climate warming, caused by burning fossil-fuels. Hence, by acting to alleviate our own problem we can help the planet. Right?

Not so fast. Just because we have an obvious problem does not mean that we have the wherewithal to fix it. Like every other urgent crisis in our country, air pollution is ultimately a political problem. And like all the other political problems we face, there are powerful economic forces that do not want to change. The oil and gas industries, the coal industry, nuclear power, and land developers all find the status quo to be quite profitable, thank you very much. And, of course, our state legislators are much more responsive to these powerful economic actors than to we the people. Imagine that.

And, it’s not just powerful economic actors. There are ideological opponents. Our local Madame Defarge, Gayle Ruzicka, president of the conservative Utah Eagle Forum, said her study of climate change on the Internet led her to conclude “everybody disagrees” that the changing climate poses serious risks.

Ah, the Internet. Where everything you read is true. With Gayle, or other conservatives, if there is an issue that liberals are against, she must be for it, or if liberals are for it, she must be against it. Go team Red.

Global warming is also seen by conservatives as a backdoor assault on capitalism. Therefore global warming is a liberal plot to bring about Marxism. Or something.

However, change is afoot. Renewable energy, funded by federal and state subsidies has the potential to radically change the traditional fossil-fuel economic paradigm. This potential for radical change makes renewables threatening to the fossil-fuel status quo.

“Right-wing groups funded by the fossil-fuel industry and the billionaire Koch brothers are rolling out a nationwide assault to repeal state Renewable Electricity Standards (RES), a key component, along with such federal tax incentives as the wind production tax credit (PTC), in driving renewable energy growth in the United States.”

To have this sort of new economy based on renewable energy, you need government subsidies and government regulations.

“Having the standards is what enables the market to grow rapidly,” said Robert Pollin, a University of Massachusetts economics professor and co-director of the Political Economy Research Institute. He said that if states were to overturn these renewable standards, they would be “shooting themselves in the foot” because wind is roughly already at cost parity with coal and “a huge market opportunity.”

But, you know how much conservatives and corporations hate government regulations. Almost as much as they hate environmentalists.

“Pollin said that the standard argument from the right is, “Well, if you do these environmental things it’s bad for economic growth, it’s bad for jobs.”

“The tactic, is to pay for a bogus study that shows that the costs are prohibitive and it’s actually a job killer rather than job creator. Then find a champion in the state legislature who is more interested in supporting fossil-fuels and keep hammering away at that message.”

So, what can we do?

We have to participate. By acting locally to reduce our air pollution, we have the capability to help minimize global climate change. Ride your bike, utilize public transportation, and carpool.

Get involved. Visit: Utah Moms for Clean Air and Utah Physicians for a Healthy Environment. And call the Governor.

Utah Governor Herbert Contact Information: 800-705-2464

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