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John Curtis discusses climate change with BYU professors, students

By Ashley Stilson daily Herald - | Aug 15, 2018
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U.S. Rep. John Curtis, far right, and BYU professor Ben Abbott, center, listen to BYU professor Zach Aanderud during a discussion on climate change near Squaw Peak Overlook on Wednesday, Aug. 15, 2018. Curtis spent an hour listening to professors, students, and community members discuss the impacts of a changing climate.

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U.S. Rep. John Curtis, center, speaks during the discussion on climate change near the Squaw Peak Overlook on Wednesday, Aug. 15, 2018.

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BYU professor Sam St. Clair speaks during the discussion on climate change near the Squaw Peak Overlook on Wednesday, Aug. 15, 2018.

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BYU professor Sam St. Clair shows Cheatgrass during the discussion on climate change near the Squaw Peak Overlook on Wednesday, Aug. 15, 2018. Cheatgrass is invasive in Utah.

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BYU professor Ben Abbott speaks during the discussion on climate change near the Squaw Peak Overlook on Wednesday, Aug. 15, 2018.

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BYU professor Sam St. Clair and U.S. Rep. John Curtis talk as the group makes their way on the Squaw Peak Back Trail on Wednesday, Aug. 15, 2018. The group was meeting to discuss climate change and the impact that it is having and will have on Utah.

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U.S. Rep. John Curtis, center, speaks during the discussion on climate change near the Squaw Peak Overlook on Wednesday, Aug. 15, 2018.

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An attendee of the discussion on climate change looks over the handout at the Squaw Peak Overlook on Wednesday, Aug. 15, 2018.

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Attendees of the discussion on climate change with John Curtis introduce themselves at the Squaw Peak Overlook on Wednesday, Aug. 15, 2018.

More than a dozen community members, Brigham Young University professors and students spent time with U.S. Rep. John Curtis on Wednesday to discuss a few impacts of climate change in Utah County.

“I would love for us, as a first step, to talk about the science,” said Ben Abbott, a BYU assistant professor of ecosystem ecology. “I hope that we can have a non-political discussion about the effects of climate change.”

The group met near Squaw Peak Overlook in Provo to hike and talk about the air quality, water infrastructure and loss of snowpack in Utah County.

The discussion was organized by RepublicEN, a conservative climate change community, and Audubon, a nonprofit environmental organization. The Utah Valley chapter of the Citizen’s Climate Lobby also helped plan the event.

“The goal is to de-politicize climate change and to start taking care of our environment. That’s everything we talked about,” said Nick Huey, spokesperson for RepublicEN and a BYU student who started the Climate Campaign, a nonprofit raising awareness about climate change.

All four BYU professors present expressed concern over the quality of life that could alter due to climate change, including longer or hotter summers, less snowfall and degrading air quality and lands.

“If our severity of droughts become more frequent or the droughts themselves become more severe, it’s hard for us to recover in a changing world where we have less water and more people,” said Zach Aanderud, a BYU associate professor of ecosystem ecology.

One particular problem is invasive plants, particularly cheatgrass, said Sam St. Clair, a BYU associate professor in plant and wildlife sciences.

He spoke briefly about a project to strengthen Utah plant life by coating native grass seeds with pepper dust to discourage rodents from eating the seeds.

“If we can build more resilience by getting native communities and stop those fires that’s one thing we can do to really help,” St. Clair explained.

After an hour of listening to the discussion, Curtis suggested the group reconvene at a later date to talk about solutions, not just the problems of climate change.

“All I hear, and I’m sorry if this offends anybody, is if you would just admit that man is changing the climate, everything would be better,” he explained. “We live in a culture that teaches and believes in being good stewards. So you have to ask the question why are they not connecting? Until we ask that question, we can talk all day long about climate change and you’re not going to get people to change behavior.”

Much of the dialogue in Congress focuses on the frustrations of climate change and not on problem-solving, Curtis continued. He encouraged the group to start with small solutions, like inviting people to change to efficient light bulbs or carpooling together.

“I would invite you all to get back together again and talk about how we close this gap,” he concluded. “Setting an example ourselves is critically important, but how we turn the dial up on that so it moves quicker is a conversation I’d love to have with you.”

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