Tom Clyde: We’re No. 1, or maybe No. 6
May 1, 2015
We’re Number 1! Or we were until they re-checked the scoring, which bumped Park City back to Number 6. This is a list of the mountain towns with the biggest carbon footprint, prepared by Teton Gravity Research. They are a company that makes great action movies, and actually does some research.
When the article was released, Park City topped the list with the highest carbon-footprint town among mountain towns. Somebody took umbrage, and the ranking was changed a couple of days later. After reviewing their methodology, it appears that they had ranked Snyderville instead of Park City proper. So Snyderville is really the mountain town with the worst carbon footprint. Salt Lake City rose to Number 1, and Park City fell to Number 6. Snyderville didn’t get mentioned because it is, you know, Snyderville.
It’s clear that there are problems with methodology. It’s done by ZIP code. In the ranking for Salt Lake, they arbitrarily used the 84121 ZIP code, which is the Holladay area. People there produce 58 tons of CO2 per household per year. Choosing another Salt Lake ZIP code would produce an entirely different result. The downtown area, where almost nobody lives, produces 31 tons per year. That seems odd because all those office buildings use a lot of power for air conditioning, spread over a relatively small population. But the typical apartment in downtown is smaller than the houses in Holladay, plus the commute.
A ZIP code-based system in Park City is also flawed because a person’s ZIP code doesn’t necessarily indicate where they live. The 84068 ZIP overlaps the 84060 geographically. 84068 isn’t on the map. So the data are flawed, and we probably aren’t Number 1, and maybe aren’t even Number 6.
What we are is an economy that exists on jet fuel and gasoline. We heat oversized houses with lots of natural gas. That heat gets moved around with fans or pumps that run on coal-fired electricity. Ski lifts, snow-making, driveway-heating, decorative walls of fire at luxury hotels, unused swimming pools that are bathtub warm all winter, SUVs, architectural lighting on our vacant edifices, and on and on — we use a lot of energy here. Throw in a tourist population who all arrive by jet, and a resident population of long-distance commuters, and it’s kind of quibbling to argue whether we are Number 1 or Number 6. We belong on the list.
The City and County both have "sustainability" departments, without the slightest sense of irony. It’s great to try to reduce energy consumption, and having somebody on staff looking at ways to conserve makes sense. But there is nothing sustainable about the way we live. We’re in a climate where the furnace runs nine months a year (and some people feel the need to air condition the other three). Our houses are ridiculously big. You really can’t use the word "sustainable" in the same ZIP code where heated driveways are becoming the norm.
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The resorts buy wind power credits to offset some of their power use. That’s great, and reduces the amount of coal burned. We’re busily swapping out last year’s compact fluorescent light globes for this year’s LEDs. I don’t want to know the ratio of energy saved in the light globes compared to the energy burned in my two trips to Home Depot to make the change. There is an active solar power movement here. We dutifully recycle our imported bottles, carefully sorting them by national origin. Idling your car is officially frowned upon, except when stuck in traffic. So we try, and we should continue trying. But when we tell ourselves that there is anything even remotely sustainable about living the way most of us do, we are fooling ourselves.
The big factors in the ranking were housing and transportation. We are kind of off the charts on both house size, heating load, and, of course, commuting. The rankings didn’t seem to account for vacationers’ jet fuel. The people who live here commute out for work, and the people who work here commute in. Snyderville, which has a higher proportion of commuters, has the higher carbon score. Oddly, the largest carbon footprint I could find in Utah (on the dubious ZIP-code-based map) was Peoa. There are probably about three jobs in all of Peoa, and everybody else commutes somewhere. Peoa produces 66 tons of CO2 per household, compared to 53 in the Kamas area, and 47 in Oakley. Oakley residents seem as likely as Peoans to commute to work, so I don’t get the difference.
I’m not about to quit skiing, commute by mule, or spend the winter in a darkened, 50-degree house. But I’m honest enough to recognize that I’m part of the problem, and a dozen LED light globes isn’t going to change much.
Tom Clyde practiced law in Park City for many years. He lives on a working ranch in Woodland and has been writing this column since 1986.
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