Summit County’s climate event will focus on human impacts
As Summit County’s elected leaders have consistently taken an aggressive approach to address climate change and exploring ways to mitigate local impacts, it makes sense that the county would host an event geared toward examining the effect of humans on a shifting climate as part of Utah’s Climate Week.
Lisa Yoder, Summit County’s sustainability director, said the discussion comes at an important time because of the political situation and what she sees as a lack of leadership at the federal level when it comes to understanding the shifting climate. That stands in contrast, she said, to a local understanding of the issue and a desire to practice environmental stewardship.
The county will host an event called the Three Tenors of Climate Change at the Salt Palace Convention Center in Salt Lake City on Thursday, Oct. 4, from 7 to 9 p.m. The event is free, but pre-registration is encouraged. The Utah Climate Action Network created Climate Week to spark discussions about climate change issues. It takes place between Oct. 1 and Oct. 7. Climatologist Ben Santer will be joined by filmmaker Chip Duncan and global health expert Hernando Garzon. The event was moved to Salt Lake City in anticipation of significant attendance.
“Summit County wants to demonstrate its leadership and make this information more broadly known by using these three gentleman to help educate our local residents,” Yoder said.
Santer, Duncan and Garzon are expected to touch on a range of issues, from basic theory surrounding climate change to its health impacts on populations in low-lying areas and what can be done to mitigate the worst consequences of a shifting climate.
Santer has been studying the nature and causes of climate change for nearly 40 years. He said in an interview from California that his life changed dramatically about 23 years ago when he was an author on the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change report in 1996 that found “the balance of evidence suggests a discernible human influence on global climate.”
“It’s critically important to have this conversation, not only in Utah, but everywhere,” he said. “There are no sanctuary cities, states or countries. We are all being affected by it now and we will be affected by it significantly going into the 21st century.”
People around the world are being affected by a warming planet, Santer said. He hopes the event on Thursday will act as a “stone in a pond.”
“I have no idea who will be in the audience. It could be policymakers and others who could shift the needle to make some life-altering change,” he said. “This stone in the pond generates the complex ripples that will hit the banks of the pond.”
Santer is hoping Garzon and Duncan will be able to bring life to the scientific data and computer models that he presents. Garzon, whose training is in emergency medicine, has been deployed to nearly 20 different natural disasters to establish programs, including tsunamis in Southeast Asia, infectious disease outbreaks and hurricanes that have hit the U.S.
“I don’t have the scientific expertise,” Garzon said in a phone interview from California. “But, I do bring case history about what can really happen to populations when climate change affects this world. If you look at the health literature, these things are being worsened and are increasing in frequency because of climate change. I have seen it firsthand.”
Garzon thinks everyone agrees that climate change is real. But, he said the political question surrounds whether it is a result of human practices.
“It is overwhelming believed in the scientific community that it is because of man,” he said. “So, if you say we are responsible, then we need to do something about it now. It’s urgent. It’s not like it’s coming and is going to affect us. It is more immediate and present. This is already here and it is already affecting. We need to do something now before it is too late.”
Duncan, a filmmaker from Wisconsin, began documenting glaciers in 1991. He said in a phone interview from Wisconsin he has been able to witness the decline of glaciers across North America over the last few decades.
“In my case, it is all about documentation,” he said. “I have been able to witness the decline. In talking with scores of glaciologist and hydrologists, I have become more verse in the overall dialogue around what is happening to glaciers.”
Through clips from Duncan of the decline of North America’s icy landscapes, Garzon’s firsthand accounts of climate change on poor and low-lying communities and Santer’s scientific research, the three hope to instill a sense of urgency among those who attend the event on Thursday.
Yoder said she hopes the event will inspire those in the audience to take action locally and recognize the urgency of climate change.
“It is critical that we all participate in taking climate action in whatever capacity that may be,” she said. “A lot of times we are missing the health impacts of climate change. But, if people can’t relate to it on the environmental or scientific level, we will have the physician’s perspective. Hopefully, people can relate to one of these three different perspectives and it will inspire them to take action as soon as possible.”
Nearly a dozen Park City and Summit County officials sat on a public panel Wednesday to outline the way forward on wildfire management and to answer questions from residents.