Guest opinion: The ‘Super Bowl’ of climate change could spur action in Park City
Growing up in Park City, I was continuously inspired by the progressive, environmentally conscious community. Now here I sit, two weeks from graduating with a degree in energy engineering from UC Berkeley. Splitting time between Utah and California states, I’ve noticed a trend (likely universal across the U.S.) poignantly expressed here at home.
Most people, if pulled off the street and questioned, would say they care passionately about the environment: They may be avid recyclers, think about fuel economy when buying a new car, shop local or organic foods, or perhaps even limit how much meat they consume. However, when pressed about how they take environmentalism into their workspace or social circle, they may not have as much to show: Well-to-do folks will likely express pride at their new Teslas or office’s conversion to LEDs, but how often do we see inspirational environmental leadership in our friend group or company? Why don’t we talk or act about climate change like an overseas war? With very dangerous and wide-reaching consequences if we lose the fight against climate change (especially as Utah’s tourism is heavily dependent on snow sports), shouldn’t we be the most active and inspirational populace we can be?
In other words, we as a citizen base are more likely to be personally focused but not socially motivated to mitigate climate change. The reason, I believe, is because of the nature of climate change. Discussed on global scales and without media glamour, it is quite easy to believe that the most effective solutions will be accomplished by international, federal and state governments through policy and time. Rarely do people think these solutions can be accomplished by taking individual or local collective action. I believe this is a cultural problem.
While the Park City government has long been pushing a wonderfully needed city plan to become carbon neutral by 2030 (including a very helpful “For Home” and “For Business” step-by-step guide on how to take advantage of existing rebates, subsides and permitting programs), there’s much more we can do. Instituting a municipal composting or biogas production system and requiring any new home built to incorporate rooftop solar (similar to common natural gas building restrictions) would be great steps for the city, but these types of changes do not inspire cultural change.
Dean Kamen, inventor of the Segway and the first insulin pump, recognized a similar cultural issue as it related to young minds in STEM. Speaking to one of my courses as a guest lecturer, he explained how he felt it was downright silly that education (and society as a whole) spends so much energy on sports when the foundational values people use to validate sports’ emphasis in society (teamwork, ambition, exercise, etc.) could just as well be instilled from more societally productive arenas. Instead, Dean wanted to harness our innate human desire to compete in a manner that would help change the culture around science and technology for young minds. Dean envisioned STEM students seeing themselves as super athletes training for a Super Bowl. Thus, Dean launched the FIRST (For Inspiration and Recognition in Science and Technology) Robotics Competition 30 years ago, now engaging almost 680,000 students across 3,700 nationwide competitions, cumulating in a championship.
Thus, I believe there’s a potential solution similar to Dean’s: making carbon reduction a competition. Park City is home to entrepreneurs and thought leaders behind companies creating billions of dollars’ worth of value to society. We have the economic and political capital to trigger Pangea-sized avalanches worth of meaningful regenerative change. I propose a citywide competition to inspire us to greatness. Instead of points, the winner each year would be the business, institution or perhaps neighborhood with the most amount of reduced carbon emissions normalized by the groups’ total carbon emissions and size in dollar amounts. In this way, any size of business or group with assets local or international would have the same relative standard for competition. The winner would be honored and celebrated by the community, perhaps even enjoying a special float at the Fourth of July parade.
Sure, celebrating the Climate Kings and Queens may elicit some laughs at first, but believe me, our children and snowpack will thank us faster than we want or expect.
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