Environment • Officials hope to use power of social media to get word out about pollution.
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Mothers sat holding up iPhones and small children Saturday morning at the Rocky Shores Theater of Hogle Zoo.
The bloggers gathered for the kickoff news conference for the fourth Clear The Air Challenge. The challenge encourages Utahns to "drive down your miles" and track their progress online from Aug. 1 to 31.
The monthlong event emerged in 2009 in an effort to improve Utah's air quality. Salt Lake City ranked seventh worst for 24-hour particle pollution out of 277 metropolitan areas, according to a 2012 American Lung Association report.
Mayor Ralph Becker said since the challenge began in 2009 Utahns have saved over 3.6 million vehicle miles and nearly 9,000 Utahns have participated. This year challenge leaders set a goal of eliminating 300,000 vehicle trips and 2 million miles on Utah roads.
Gov. Gary Herbert, Becker and Rachael Herrscher, CEO of Today's Mama, a blog for moms, addressed more than 50 self-proclaimed "blogger mamas" and their families Saturday morning, encouraging them to take part in the challenge and spread the word via social media.
In an effort to expand the scope of the annual challenge, Salt Lake City Director of Sustainability Vicki Bennett said she opted to make Utah bloggers the center of social media efforts.
"They know how to make this happen," Bennett said.
Herrscher encouraged bloggers Saturday, pointing out their influence. Utah leads the nation in social media use and boasts the highest number of blogs.
"We are the motherland of social media," Herrscher said. "With these numbers comes a lot of social influence."
Becker encouraged the crowd to limit driving and opt for other modes of transportation. He said his office would challenge any other office or team during the event.
"This is what I call healthy competition," Becker said.
Herrscher rallied moms to join her Today's Mama team and challenge Becker.
"We can totally take him," she said.
Herbert said that the challenge would not completely clear Utah's skies of smog, but by teaching children, the mothers could create a key step.
"I'm old enough to remember when people got into their cars and didn't fasten their seat belts." Looking out at the theater of blogger moms and their little ones, Herbert said, "I know you wouldn't even think about getting into a car today without a seat belt. Just like that, it's a matter of cultural change."
Salt Lake City mom Aimee Swenson, creator of the blog tightwadinutah.com, said she was inspired by the press conference and acknowledged the challenges she faces raising a child in the polluted air.
"It's sort of a double-edged sword," Swenson said. "You don't want to take your kids out for a walk in the winter because you don't want to walk in it [the smog], but if you drive you're adding to it."
Just up a ridge from the theater, children of all ages sat at a shaded table near the Primate Building at Hogle Zoo, coloring pictures of what clean air means to them.
Eleven-year-old Alex Barten, of West Bountiful, colored a bright blue sky and golden sidewalks. A bead of sweat rolled down his forehead as he said, "Dirty air is gross because it causes heat and heat is evil."
Just to the right of Alex sat 12-year-old Braden Platt. His mother, Susan, stood looking over his shoulder.
Their family made the trip to the zoo from Huntsville. Platt said she could detect the poorer air quality in Salt Lake City. "You can smell it and taste it," Platt said.
"It's just different," Braden added.
"We need a snowball to start to really roll here," said Bennett, the city's sustainability director. "And I think today was really the beginning of a snowball."
Utahns can sign up for the challenge and record progress at CleartheAirChallenge.org.
Clear The Air Challenge
O Limit vehicle use Aug. 1 through Aug. 31 in order to reduce air pollution and track progress online to win prizes. Visit CleartheAirChallenge.org for more details.