Students push Utah state legislators for climate action
By Emma Dickinson
When discussing climate change, it’s common to hear mentions of the world “our children” or “future generations” will inherit. The reality is that those “futures” generations are already here and are being impacted by climate change today, in the forms of increased vector-borne diseases, extreme heat, and more. Because of that, young people are increasingly joining the conversation on climate change—and you could see the effects as early as tomorrow in Utah’s legislature.
Starting at the city level, students call for action
In Logan, Utah, a group of middle school, high school and college students are pressing their state legislatures to pass a statewide climate resolution that supports renewable energy and a dedicates the state to integrating sustainability in its future. High school students from the Logan Environmental Action Force (LEAF) and Utah State University students in the Student Organization for Society and Natural Resources (SOSNR) started small, with a resolution on the Logan municipality level. City council members, the mayor of the city, and the Renewable Energy and Conservation Advisory Board (RECAB) contributed to a final draft of the resolution. Students provided some testimonies toward the impact of local air quality on their health and their concern for the effect of climate in the future. The resolution passed unanimously, and other cities such as Ogden, Smithfield, and Moab have passed similar resolutions.
The resolution in Logan is especially pertinent due to the air quality issues that the city experiences. According to the Environmental Protection Agency, Logan lies in a non-attainment area for pM2.5, particles that are small enough to get into a person’s lungs. This is a problem for the residents of the city—especially kids who want to play outside, but are concerned about air pollution.
Taking it to the next level
With that in mind, and bolstered by their success at the city level, the students headed to the state. During a lobbying day in the Utah state Congress, students in LEAF and SOSNR presented Republican legislators with maps on air quality, clean energy development, and gave each representative a copy of the resolution. After meeting with the groups, state Senator Jim Dabakis (D) agreed to sponsor the resolution.
Then LEAF and SOSNR began looking for a Republican to co-sponsor as a joint resolution in the House and Senate—and they recently found one in Representative Becky Edwards. The youth also gained the attention of about a dozen more lawmakers, including two Republicans, at a public hearing they held on February 23. (They’re all in good company—on the federal level, Utah’s Republican Rep. Mia Love is a member of the Climate Solutions Caucus and is working to find bipartisan climate solutions in Washington.)
With bipartisan backing, the resolution reads, “We, the youth of the Great State of Utah, know that you, our state leaders care deeply for our health and welfare now and in the future.” It then challenges them to support a resolution different from the current climate resolution—passed in 2010—which expresses doubt that climate change exists, due to what it says is “unsubstantiated” climate data.
The resolution goes on to show ways that the need for climate action has, in fact, been substantiated, such as the consensus of 97 percent of climate scientists and the agreement of 195 countries to join in the Paris Agreement. It reminds the legislators, “It is a conservative principle to protect, conserve, and be good stewards of our environment, responsibly plan for all market factors, and base our policy decisions in science and quantifiable facts.” It also points out that unmitigated climate change will impact productivity in key sectors such as agriculture and tourism, adding additional cost to state and federal budgets and straining the economy.
The resolution then challenges the Utah legislature to work “constructively, using our tradition of American ingenuity, innovation, and exceptionalism,” to support economically viable climate action.
Logan Christian, the co-president of SOSNR at Utah State University, is one of the student organizers of the resolution, along with his sister, Piper Christian, who is the president of LEAF at Logan High School. “With these tools, the youth are a force to be reckoned with,” Logan said, “especially when we take the time to really learn about representatives and speak to them with mature and respectful language they can’t ignore.”
Logan hopes this resolution, which will be heard in the Utah’s Housing Economic Development and Workforce Services committee tomorrow at 2 p.m., will “drive home the narrative that they hold our future in their hands.”
Emma Dickinson is a high school senior living and volunteering for CCL in Atlanta, Ga. After high school, she plans to study ecology, sustainability, and French horn performance at university.