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Panel discusses effects of climate change on Utah

By Katie England daily Herald - | Nov 29, 2018
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Ben Abbott, an assistant professor of ecosystem ecology at Brigham Young University, speaks during a panel discussion concerning climate change in Utah held Wednesday, Nov. 28, 2018, at the Orem Public Library. Isaac Hale, Daily Herald

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Kent Purdy, of Elk Ridge, poses a question to the panel during a discussion concerning climate change in Utah held Wednesday, Nov. 28, 2018, at the Orem Public Library. Isaac Hale, Daily Herald

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Panelists introduce themselves during a panel discussion concerning climate change in Utah held by the Utah Valley Earth Forum on Wednesday, Nov. 28, 2018, at the Orem Public Library. Isaac Hale, Daily Herald

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Alan W. Clarke, a professor of integrated studies at Utah Valley University, listens with other panelists as Tim Garrett, a professor of atmospheric sciences at the University of Utah, speaks during a panel discussion concerning climate change in Utah held by the Utah Valley Earth Forum on Wednesday, Nov. 28, 2018, at the Orem Public Library. Isaac Hale, Daily Herald

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Tim Garrett, a professor of atmospheric sciences at the University of Utah, speaks during a panel discussion concerning climate change in Utah held by the Utah Valley Earth Forum on Wednesday, Nov. 28, 2018, at the Orem Public Library. Isaac Hale, Daily Herald

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Rob Davies, an associate professor of professional practice in Utah State University's physics department, speaks during a panel discussion concerning climate change in Utah held by the Utah Valley Earth Forum on Wednesday, Nov. 28, 2018, at the Orem Public Library. Isaac Hale, Daily Herald

Is there time to change course and reverse climate change?

A panel of experts at the Orem Public Library addressed the topic Wednesday night, saying that while climate change already affects Utah, steps need to be taken at both a local and global level to address it.

The panel, sponsored by the Utah Valley Earth Forum, was held less than a week after the release of the fourth National Climate Assessment, a report produced by the U.S. government that says climate change is outpacing former projections and is human-caused.

The report paints a dire picture, predicting climate change could potentially have billions of dollars of economic impact on the United States, negatively affect Americans’ health and have negative effects on infrastructure.

Utah, along with the rest of the western United States, has already seen an increase in wildfires caused by climate change.

As the climate warms, wildfire activity is expected to increase, driving up costs associated with health effects, loss of homes and infrastructure and fire suppression, the climate assessment says.

“Warmer and drier conditions have contributed to an increase in the incidence of large forest fires in the western United States and Interior Alaska since the early 1980s, a trend that is expected to continue as the climate warms and the fire season lengthens,” according to the assessment.

But according to panelist Alan Clarke, a professor of integrated studies at Utah Valley University, the global impacts of climate change will be affecting Americans in ways many would not expect.

A former civil rights lawyer, Clarke says the U.S. already houses thousands of climate change refugees, and can expect many more if climate change continues on as predicted.

Sea levels rising could displace as many as a billion people, Clarke said, which would lead to conflict, even war.

Already, farmers in Iowa and surrounding areas are experiencing the effects of climate change, Clarke said.

“So you’re gonna have inflow into Utah at precise point where water is becoming more and more difficult, where you’re gonna have drier and drier climate,” Clarke said.

But the solution to climate change, which is primarily caused by greenhouse gas emissions, is not as simple as becoming a vegan or making another similar lifestyle choice.

Things that make impact on greenhouse gas emissions, such as making housing more dense to encourage people to walk and bike, require a shift in the typical American mentality, said Ben Abbott, a professor of ecosystem ecology at Brigham Young University.

“Transitioning from the idea that, to have a good life, we have to have a separate house in the countryside, actually moving together can do us a lot of good,” Abbott said.

Science and technology aren’t what are holding society back from making substantial changes, said Rob Davies, with the Utah State University Ecology Center.

“We have to change our entire culture, and that is what we clearly don’t yet know how to do,” Davies said.

Tim Garrett, professor of atmospheric sciences at the University of Utah, sees climate change as a normal part of a cycle: everything that exists is born, grows, then ultimately collapses.

“This is just a normal part of life cycles,” Garrett said. “Our lives collectively are fantastic right now, but they are fantastic at expense of our environment, an environment we depend upon, and that will ultimately lead to our demise.”

Abbott took a slightly more hopeful view, referencing two types of Biblical sorrow: the type of sorrow that leads to discouragement and inaction, and the type of sorrow that leads to change.

“It is in our hands, it is expected of us to do all we can,” Abbott said. “There will be a reckoning, either in this life or if you believe in the life to come.”

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