What does the UN climate report mean for Summit County?
In the face of a damning report from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change earlier this month, the media conversation around the issue quickly turned apocalyptic.
The dire tone wasn’t unwarranted. The international consortium of climate scientists commissioned by the United Nations released its unusually strongly worded report on Oct. 8, stating that the clock is ticking for humanity to implement “rapid, far-reaching and unprecedented changes” in as few as 12 years in order to mitigate — not prevent — some of the most damaging effects of global warming. The report says the effort needs to limit the human-caused warming of Earth to 1.5 degrees Celsius, which is more ambitious than the Paris Agreement’s original goal of 2 degrees, through a radical overhaul of how global society emits carbon in all forms.
Both Luke Cartin and Lisa Yoder, who lead Park City and Summit County’s sustainability offices, respectively, called the report “dire.”
The difference between an increase of 1.5 and 2 degrees is tremendous. The planet has already warmed by 1 degree, and scientists say the effects can be observed in the increasing intensity of climate phenomena both cold and warm.
At the federal level, President Donald Trump pulled the U.S. out of the Paris Agreement early on in his term and has promoted a resurrection of the coal industry. In turn, hundreds of local and state governments including Park City and Summit County have taken it upon themselves to implement regulations and goals to lessen the scale of the effects of climate change.
The report hasn’t altered Summit County’s goal of reaching 100 percent renewable energy usage for government operations and the broader community by 2032, Yoder said. According to Cartin, though, Park City will evaluate its already-aggressive target of having a net-zero carbon output alongside total renewable energy usage by the community by 2032 as a result of the news.
The local officials say the Wasatch Back’s economic resources, temperate climate and an infrastructure built for large numbers of people make it a prime test bed for sustainability initiatives.
“We can figure pieces out that can get adopted on a larger scale,” Cartin said, citing the Electric Xpress bus system as evidence. “We can show directly how major cities are looking to our performance data to increase their fleet makeup of electric vehicles.”
The city of Los Angeles, for instance, has set a goal of replacing its entire fleet of buses with electric vehicles by 2030.
The emphasis on community means that people don’t need to hold their breaths for those at the top of the federal government to take aggressive action on the issue, Yoder said.
Officials and advocates point out that climate change is bad for business, too.
Bryn Carey, a Parkite who is the CEO of ski rental and transportation firm Ski Butlers, called last winter’s paltry snowfall — a 167-inch total dwarfed by the previous season’s depth of 404 inches — a “wake up call” for those who are still on the fence about adopting environmentally focused initiatives. Carey, who has lobbied for environmental initiatives both at City Hall and in Washington, read the IPCC report in full soon after its release.
Ski Butlers relies both on consistent snowfall and on its fleet of vehicles to do business. Carey said that, while the technology and knowledge exist to fulfill his company’s climate goals, like eliminating the purchase of gas-powered vehicles by 2025, the regulatory and business realities of the U.S. makes it difficult to walk the walk.
The Park City branch of the company currently includes two electric vehicles out of its fleet of 55 to transport skiers and their gear; one Tesla and an electric van that needed to be imported from Europe — a process Carey said was painful.
“If they had electric vans here … that we could purchase right down in Salt Lake, our entire fleet would be electric,” Carey said. “Here we are with all of our vans, polluting the Earth, and we would love not to be.”
While Park City sits at elevation, far away from any rising bodies of water, Yoder and Cartin said the area isn’t safe from the consequences of global warming. The economy would suffer as winters become feast-or-famine, and the inconsistent snowpack would leave Summit County even more vulnerable to fire, they say.
And less predictable climate patterns could lead to a major restructuring of how economic drivers like resort owners do business, since season pass sales rely on an expectation of powder.
Even as early October snowfall caps the peaks of Summit County, Carey said residents need to take the crisis seriously if the Park City ski resort economy is going to survive.
“The miners never thought there wouldn’t be mining in Park City,” he said. “I don’t think our community thinks that there might never be skiing. And the truth is, if we don’t act, there might never be skiing.”
In the face of the climate science community’s dire predictions and questions about whether the global economy is built to address them, Cartin said losing hope isn’t useful.
Yoder is optimistic, as well. In her view, it’s inevitable that humanity will find a way to avert catastrophe.
“As people experience the changes and have to react and respond differently, they’re going to — they have to — deal with it.”
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