This is an archived article that was published on sltrib.com in 2011, and information in the article may be outdated. It is provided only for personal research purposes and may not be reprinted.
The gunk in the summertime air along the Wasatch Front is not only irritating to eyes, lungs and throats, it's downright poisonous to our pocketbooks, too, and the costs are apt to rise along with global temperatures.
That's the message from the Union of Concerned Scientists. Its research shows that the pervasive ozone caused by chemical emissions cooked under hot summer sun will increase the number of Utahns suffering from disease as global warming rises. The study's numbers are startling: Climate change could cause an additional 16,000 to 46,000 serious respiratory "episodes" among Utahns at a cost of between $7.8 million and $107.2 million by 2020.
More visits to the doctor's office and more hospital stays, more missed days of school and work will all add to the costs.
There's not much any one Utahn can do about global warming to prevent this suffering, but as a society, we must adopt policies and lifestyles that reduce the pollutants we spew into our air.
Vehicle exhaust is a major contributor. Eliminating idling, using public transportation, replacing old fleet vehicles with hybrids, electric- or natural-gas-powered models would all help. State agencies that grant permits to mines, refineries and other major polluters should require the latest emission-reduction technology. Planning and zoning to encourage people to live closer to where they work are positive steps.
Utah has met standards set by the Environmental Protection Agency for years, but new standards will require tougher mandates, and the EPA is considering even more stringent rules.
Meeting federal standards will not be enough to solve the problem if temperatures rise as much in coming decades as scientists predict. So far, the warming trend caused by greenhouse-gas emissions has progressed even faster than climatologists at first expected. The past decade was the hottest on record, the Greenland, Arctic and Antarctic ice caps are melting at a dizzying rate, and the severe weather events predicted years ago are occurring more often and are increasingly more catastrophic each year.
It's only going to get worse, so now is better than later for government and individuals to get serious about solutions.
Here in the Salt Lake Valley, simply driving less is the most important way for each of us to keep the unhealthy air from causing even more disease and premature death.
It's not a matter of whether climate change will affect us, it's a matter of how we will mitigate the damage.