Thursday, 25 August 2011

Climate Change At The Micro Level: Utah

The Salt Lake Tribune has a piece up today about climate change, Utah air quality, and the economics of the health fallout of increasingly bad air in the Valley. Quoth the Trib:

This week’s heat and red-air warnings* raise a question: What will Utah’s summer pollution problem be like if, as scientists suggest, climate change means more hot, stuffy days like Wednesday?

The Union of Concerned Scientists answered the question in a recent report that says Utahns, like other Americans grappling with ozone pollution, can expect breathing problems to rise because of the pollution-climate link, as well as the health care costs of treating the added illnesses.

Up to 46,852 more cases of asthma and other respiratory illnesses can be expected by 2020, and costs could rise by as much as $107 million a year to treat those illnesses, the group said in its report, “Climate Change and Your Health: Rising Temperatures, Worsening Ozone Pollution.”

You can find the full report here. All this reminds me of a day I remember when Salt Lake's air quality, due to the usual combination of factors including inversion and dust, was the very worst in the United States of America.

State Street south of 3900 South is still one vast, godforsaken shining labyrinth of auto dealerships, and despite the best efforts (and they are very good efforts) of the Utah Transit Authority to expand TRAX service, use, &c. Salt Lake's population still explodes during the day and most of the worker bees tool in from the exurbs in their trucks and SUVs and then again in the evening they chug home.

The astonishing statistics that make Salt Lake City the 3rd most "commuter populated" city in the US were first brought to the attention of Utahns by the Deseret News , and many of us actual Salt City residents have been understandably a little pissed off at exurban commuter culture since then.

In other words, things could trend even worse than the UCS' predictions, depending on how impervious to reality the habits of Utahns are.

It might be time to stock up on the basics of air filtration - thankfully for us denizens of Eaarth, there are a few cheap precautions/fixes available.

* - For you non-Utahns, we have an air quality scale here that varies day by day. A quick and dirty (no pun intended) summary from Breathe Utah:

Utah has its own color coding for air quality conditions: 0 – 24 micrograms/cubic meter concentration of PM2.5 is considered Green, 25 – 34 ug/m3 is Yellow, and 35+ ug/m3 is Red. As you may guess, the cutoffs are somewhat arbitrary and subject to change the more studies reveal about the hazards of breathing air pollution, the lower those cutoffs will get shifted.

Some behavior is discouraged based on the color code of the day. It is "suggested" that children, the elderly, and those with respiratory disorders basically not go outside on Red days (I'm not kidding).

Also, here on the Wasatch front we still have a fair number of homes that use wood-burning stoves. Wood burning is regulated by air quality. From the Division of Environmental Quality:

A “red” day means wood burning is prohibited. Residents are also asked to drive as little as possible on “red” days, and industries are asked to minimize their release of air pollutants.

A “yellow” day means a voluntary no-burn or a recommended reduction in wood or coal burning. Residents are also asked to drive as little as possible on “yellow” days, and industries are asked to minimize their release of air pollutants.

A “green” day means wood burning is allowed.

Note that all curtailment of pollution on worse days is voluntary (with the exception of wood burning, which will net you a ticket if the police bother to enforce the regulation, which they usually don't).

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