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In the global warming debate, resistance in the business world to curbing greenhouse gas emissions often derives from one powerful barrier: cost.

President Bush and others have said that regulating carbon dioxide emissions could cripple the U.S. economy, forcing utilities to switch to expensive technologies and alternative energy supplies, while raising consumer prices. Yet many business owners are saying they can't afford not to address global warming as rising energy costs and temperatures hit the bottom line.

Lloyd's, the world's oldest insurance market, warned insurers in May that climate change could obliterate the entire insurance industry if it doesn't prepare for a rise in catastrophic storms. Goldman Sachs Group has said it will use its financial largesse to drive the economy toward renewable energy use and reductions in greenhouse gas emissions.

In Utah, a shortened winter might one day cause one of the state's most profitable industries to melt away if greenhouse gases aren't curtailed. Even without government mandates, many other Utah businesses are cleaning up their operations to save on energy expenses and cut contributions to the greenhouse effect. Some see it as a moral expedient. Others see it as a business opportunity.

"We're out to save the world and make a living in the process," says Patti Case, vice president of Salt Lake City-based ETC Group Inc., a mechanical engineering firm that helps businesses save energy. "This is an economic opportunity . . . If we can lead rather than react, we can provide the services and the technologies to deal with [climate change] rather than struggling" to survive it.

The firm completes 60 to 100 projects each year, saving clients 10 percent to 40 percent on their energy bills.

Staker & Parsons Cos., an Ogden-based gravel and asphalt company, is banking on ETC Group to eliminate 350 tons of carbon dioxide emissions it produces annually - and save $25,000 in the process.

Project Manager Glen Anderson says it will be done and then replicated at up to 20 of its plants. "When you think of a construction company, you don't think of us as green. We feel like we have a corporate responsibility to promote a clean environment" says the company's Justin Lowery.

Still, many in the electric power-generating business, the largest contributor of greenhouse gases nationally, say little can be done to reduce human-caused climate change - if it's even real - without dampening the economy. Mandatory caps and carbon taxes, they say, would make running coal-fired power plants outrageously expensive and force consumers to foot the bill.

"If there were taxes attached to carbon dioxide emissions, it's not just our organization that would be affected," says Keith Hill, spokesman for Deseret Power, an electric power co-operative that provides electricity to 50,000 people in rural Utah and neighboring states. "It would be a tax on the entire population of Utah, what with 94 percent of Utah's power resources connected to [power plants] that emit carbon dioxide."

Hill says his co-op, which is owned by the customers it serves, does not have a position on whether human-generated carbon dioxide is causing climate change. The co-op, which operates a coal-fired power plant near Vernal, does enable customers to purchase renewable energy through its GreenWay program. Less than 1 percent of the co-op's members have signed up.

Perhaps the industry with the most to lose by a shift in Utah's climate would be skiing. A sort of economic canary in the coal mine, Utah's ski industry is part of a national campaign to get consumers to pay attention to climate change, park their cars and flip off the lights. With an estimated $872 million on the table in Utah, it has a lot at stake if a warmer climate delivers less snow.

Climate models suggest that as global warming accelerates, more winter precipitation will fall as rain rather than snow, shortening the ski season by weeks or even months. In April, Colorado College warned ski resorts of dramatic snow loss by the year 2050 if carbon dioxide emissions continue at the current pace.

A school study predicted that April 1 snowpack in Salt Lake County, home to Alta, Snowbird, Brighton and Solitude ski resorts, will drop 84 percent by 2085. Summit County resorts Park City, Deer Valley and The Canyons will lose 61 percent.

"Winter is short enough already. We view global warming as a long-term problem, but there are things that can be done now to address the situation," says Geraldine Link of the National Ski Areas Association, based in Lakewood, Colo. "We are putting out a call to action, not just to skiers and snowboarders, but to everyone."

In 2000, the association launched its Sustainable Slopes program, which asks member resorts to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and push for change nationally. Of 332 association resorts, 180 - which receive 75 percent of skier visits - have signed on. The only resorts not to participate in Utah are Brian Head, Powder Mountain and Wolf Mountain.

In the program's 2005 annual report, 54 resorts, including Alta, Snowbird and Deer Valley, reported that they reduced emissions in 2005 by 230.6 million pounds through energy savings, green power purchases, waste reduction, recycling and avoided vehicle miles. The reduction is equivalent to planting 9 million trees, closing 126,000 ski lifts for a day or avoiding 87,000 round-trip flights between New York and San Francisco.

Still, officials at some Utah resorts aren't that worried. At higher elevations than resorts in the Pacific Northwest and Europe that experienced poor seasons last year, ski companies in the Wasatch say their resorts will stay cold enough to at least manufacture snow for decades to come. But some climate models suggest that global warming in the West might mean less water altogether.

"It's hard to know exactly how global warming will affect the ski areas and Snowbird. At this point, one of the things we're doing is increasing snow-making . . . to 20 percent of the mountain," said spokeswoman Laura Schaffer. "The resort has to take [climate models] into consideration. On the flip side, we've averaged 500 inches of snow for pretty much the entire 30 years we've been open."

But Peter Metcalf, chief executive of Salt Lake outdoor equipment manufacturer Black Diamond, is bracing for a day when Utah's powder is less plentiful. He says global warming does threaten Utah skiing and the entire outdoor recreation industry. Backpacking and mountaineering depend on finding water in the desert. River rafting requires high spring flows, and ice climbing and backcountry skiing need temperatures cold enough for ice and snow.

In June, Metcalf wrote to Gov. Jon Huntsman Jr., asking him to set greenhouse gas reduction targets for the state, starting with cutting the state's emissions to 7 percent below 1990 levels by 2012.

"If we wait for leadership to come from Washington, D.C., we can kiss our future goodbye," Metcalf says. "I would like Gov. Huntsman . . . to take a stronger leadership role. We can clearly do more."

Metcalf is starting with his own business. Black Diamond recently expanded its offices into existing factory space, installing ultra-efficient lighting. The light fixtures cost 60 percent to 100 percent more than conventional fixtures, but result in 44 percent energy savings annually. Metcalf also added solar panels to the building's roof, which provide enough electricity to supply 50 percent of the company's retail store's needs. The $18,000 investment will be recouped in six to eight years. The company buys 5 percent of its electricity as wind power through Rocky Mountain Power's Blue Sky program, which costs $20,000 per year.

"The cost is far greater to see global warming continue because so much of the activities our business is dependent on will [be disrupted]," Metcalf says. "We feel it's immoral and unethical for us to expect change and wait for the government [to effect it], if we do nothing."