Experts urge Utah toward sustainability to curb climate change

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Aluminum cans are recyclable through Provo City’s recycling program, one of many actions Provo has taken to be more sustainable. (Ashley Pun Eveson)

Environmental experts are urging Utah County to become more sustainable after the 2021 United Nations Climate Change Conference that took place in Glasgow in November.

The United Nations Conference, known as COP26, the 26th Conference of the Parties, occurs once a year. The United Nations decides on goals countries should implement to tackle climate change.

In 2021, more than 200 countries came together to discuss climate change over a 13-day period, engaging in debates and negotiations. 

Former Provo mayor and congressman John Curtis attended the conference representing Utah District 3, which includes part of Salt Lake City, West Jordan, Orem, Provo and other smaller cities. 

“My district is the youngest in the country, and so people of this age and demographic care deeply about this, and I’m hearing it loud and clear from my constituents that this is important,” Curtis said. 

Curtis worked to give Republicans a voice at the conference. His involvement in sustainability throughout the years has been evident through his work as the Provo mayor, when he created the Sustainability and Natural Resources Committee in 2011. 

“John Curtis was the first mayor in Utah county to establish a volunteer sustainability committee,” mayoral advisor Don Jarvis said. “Leadership requires both vision and courage, and Congressman Curtis has never lacked either.”

Provo has a board of 19 volunteers who help make Provo a more sustainable city, following guidance from scientists as well as conferences like COP26. Jarvis advises the mayor on important decisions to make regarding the environment. 

“We’re working on many of the things that were important to COP26, like reducing greenhouse gasses,” Jarvis said. “One of the things we are doing is building and finishing an all-electric city hall in Provo.” 

Bremen Leak, BYU’s Sustainability Office Director, talked about the importance of the next 30 years in regard to targeting climate change.

“Everything that we do will have to change dramatically in the next 30 years for us to meet these targets set by the UN climate change conference,” he said. “The way we consume, the way we travel, the way we manufacture, the way we plug in, the way we energize and power our lifestyles.” 

As Provo City and BYU work on implementing goals from COP26 at the federal and local level, students may wonder how to get involved with the environment efforts.

“We’re extremely lucky to be in such a beautiful place, but it also brings on this responsibility of taking care of it,” Leak said. 

There are many actions students can take to help, starting with voting. Heather Phipps, an environmental science major, stressed the importance of voting for representatives who care about the environment. 

“As a citizen, it comes down to how you vote and where you spend your money,” she said. “So, if you want to look, become an educated voter and see who’s making real change and efforts toward climate change and what their platforms are.” 

Don Jarvis agreed, saying, “It’s a serious problem and we all need to work on it both personally. As Tom Friedman said, it’s more important to change your politicians than your light bulbs.” 

In addition to getting involved politically, people can act at the local level through joining the LDS Earth Stewardship, the Student Sustainability Initiative at BYU, or the Environmental Science Club.

Above are tips for sustainable living in Utah. (Made with illustrator by Ashley Pun Eveson)

Other small individual choices can help with air pollution and climate change, such as walking to class, riding a bike or taking public transportation. 

“There are about half a million people in Utah County,” Curtis said. “Imagine if every person said ‘I’m going to take one less trip per week in my automobile.’ That’s a half a million vehicle trips! These small things add up, and I think it’s really important for individuals to participate and not just look to somebody else to fix this.”

Provo’s clean air toolkit, developed by the Sustainability and Natural Resources Committee, offers citizens different ways to help with air pollution. More information on the COP26 Conference can be found on their website.

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