This is an archived article that was published on sltrib.com in 2015, and information in the article may be outdated. It is provided only for personal research purposes and may not be reprinted.
In Utah, climate change will manifest itself in rising temperatures and declining snowpack as more precipitation falls as rain.
Ski resorts could be an early casualty, but snowpack affects us all because it's how we store water. And the rising temperature will increase the production of ozone, essentially extending the season when it damages lungs.
Fires will increase, and species will shift or disappear. Some areas with tall conifers will see pinyon and juniper take over, and some pinyon and juniper areas will see trees disappear. Pests and parasites will get an upper hand in some places where cold kept them at bay. In southern Utah, the dry will get drier. Even if the Lake Powell pipeline gets built, its usefulness may be eclipsed by demand elsewhere for the shrinking Colorado River.
The effects in Utah may be small compared to coastal areas. The polar ice is melting. Oceans are rising. Millions of people who live within a few feet of sea level face upheaval, and millions more will be hit by increasing storms.
For Utahns, thinking globally is easier than acting locally. We enjoy some of the cheapest energy rates in the country, and that's due in large part to our abundance of fossil fuels, the leading contributor to human-generated climate change. Coal powers most of our electricity, and natural gas heats the vast majority of our buildings. Leaving these sources behind would be impossible over the short term.
The agreement made last week by nearly 200 nations in Paris to keep the global temperature from rising more than 1.8 degrees Fahrenheit over the next 85 years is indeed unprecedented, but it exists mainly as a pledge. There is no language to enforce a reduction in fossil-fuel consumption.
Utah Sen. Mike Lee wants to call the agreement a treaty, which would constitutionally force the Obama administration to get the consent of the U.S. Senate. The Obama administration is insisting it's not, but Lee is right that the administration can't solve this without Congress. Obama has proposed giving $3 billion to help poorer nations meet the Paris agreement, but it is Congress who will have to appropriate that money. More importantly, Congress needs to debate carbon fees and other models for burning less.
In a world where even oil companies admit to human-generated climate change, the time is short for continuing to treat this in the abstract. Lee and the rest of Utah's congressional delegation should know their constituents are already facing the hard truths.