If a better environment is our goal, how should we help?

Tuesday , January 09, 2018 - 4:00 AM

ROBERT HUNTER, special to the Standard-Examiner

For many years, across our country and across our community, the words “environment” and “environmentalist” were often ascribed to “those dang liberals.”

More recently, with discussion of global warming, Utah’s traditional inversions, the filling up of landfills, the purity of our water supply and a burgeoning population, people of all persuasions tend to pay more attention to environmental issues.

Not everyone agrees on what’s happening. Not everyone agrees on how seriously we should take these environmental concerns. Not everyone agrees on what the solutions should be. And not everyone likes to use the word environmentalism.

So let’s kick off the subject by using a different word, a more commonly acceptable word: conservation.

It just makes sense to practice positive conservation. It doesn’t take much. That’s why a vast majority of communities now provide “blue cans” for recycling paper, cardboard, plastics, etc.

Utah long ago established the Department of Environmental Quality, whose mission is to safeguard public health and our quality of life by protecting and enhancing the air, water, land and the waste management processes.

These days, our air quality is a big issue. Inversions happen, but we can help mitigate the problem.

UCAIR (Utah Clean Air Partnership) reports that the biggest contributor to pollution during winter inversions is wood burning. Wood burning creates tiny, microscopic pieces of pollution that can enter the bloodstream and cause breathing and heart problems. Health impacts may include coughing, headaches, eye and throat irritation, asthma attacks, heart attacks and strokes.

One fireplace may emit as much particulate pollution as 90 sport utility vehicles. Pollution from one wood-burning stove is equivalent to the amount of 3,000 gas furnaces producing the same amount of heat per unit, according to the California Air Resource Board. Even doors and windows cannot keep out the particulates in wood smoke. Up to 70 percent of wood smoke that exits a chimney re-enters nearby homes.

On bad air quality days (red or mandatory action days), wood fires are not permitted. However, households that use stoves or fireplaces as their sole sources of heat are permitted to burn wood. UCAIR may be able to financially help people who decide to exchange their wood-burning stoves for gas units.

Some may say that government needs to “get off our backs.” In truth, government involvement in certain aspects of our lives helps protect and sustain our lives. There are just some things private interests can’t or won’t do and some things we cannot efficiently control or accomplish as individuals.

However, there are ways we personally can help conserve our precious physical assets. They are to reduce consumption of resources, reuse items we can creatively apply to another purpose, and recycle paper, cardboard, plastics, glass and other items which would otherwise fill up our landfills.

We can take our own reusable bags when we go shopping and refuse bags for retail items when we can simply carry them without a container. We can carpool whenever possible, plan our errands more efficiently, take public transportation whenever possible, clean up after ourselves when camping and picnicking, place climate-friendly plants in our yards, participate in community tree planting efforts, refrain from tossing waste inappropriately and stop idling our vehicles unnecessarily.

We can support events such as Ogden City’s Idle Free Week – Feb. 4-11 — and Weber State University’s year-round idle-free initiative.

We can also urge the convenient placement of clearly marked recycle bins where we work and in the public places and businesses we frequent. It’s amazing how much recyclable material can be salvaged with the proper receptacles and friendly reminders at home and away. We can be examples for our kids.

Little things mean a lot. From my teenage years, I remember a prominent figure speaking to a crowd at a special ceremony in my hometown. He suggested that even the simple act of picking up a discarded paper from the hallway or the sidewalk is a contribution to a better environment. The one thing I recall from that speech — and I’ve held onto it all these years — is the line, “If not by me, by whom? If not now, when?”

Each one of us can play a significant role in protecting, preserving and enhancing the resources around us if we self-nudge. It doesn’t take much more than being present, being alert, being a bit more responsible and reminding ourselves daily that we are the “who,” and now is the “when.”

Conservation. Yep, that’s how we ought to help.

Robert Hunter is Director of The Olene S. Walker Institute of Politics and Public Service and a political science instructor at Weber State University. Isaac Eck, a Walker Institute intern, contributed to this column.

Sign up for e-mail news updates.