Salt Lake City leaders talk climate change and outdoor recreation economy

By Jasen Lee, Deseret News

Published: Fri, Aug. 8, 2014, 6:00 p.m. MDT

 A skier takes a run at Snowbird Ski Resort  Sunday, Nov. 25, 2012. Salt Lake City Mayor Ralph Becker met with local business and outdoor industry leaders to discuss the impact of climate change on local recreation activities and businesses that support it.

A skier takes a run at Snowbird Ski Resort Sunday, Nov. 25, 2012. Salt Lake City Mayor Ralph Becker met with local business and outdoor industry leaders to discuss the impact of climate change on local recreation activities and businesses that support it.

(Jeffrey D. Allred, Deseret News)

SALT LAKE CITY — While the issue of climate change is controversial to some, local elected officials say its impact is being felt significantly along the Wasatch Front.

As thousands descend upon Salt Lake City for this year’s Outdoor Retailer Summer Market, Salt Lake City Mayor Ralph Becker met with local business and outdoor recreation industry leaders to discuss the impact of climate change on local recreation activities and businesses that support it.

Speaking in downtown Salt Lake, Becker said climate change affects how the city is able to provide a “high-quality” water supply to residents, as well as how the municipality deals with severe weather activity.

“When we have to change our water supply system, it costs a lot of money,” Becker said. “When we have to respond to the increasing intensity of storms, it costs a lot of money.”

In addition to harming air quality and public health, carbon-fueled climate change is also having a major impact on natural landscapes in Salt Lake City and throughout the U.S., the mayor said. Those landscapes provide countless outdoor recreation opportunities and support thousands of outdoor recreation equipment manufacturers, retailers and outdoor businesses, including Utah ski areas and the jobs that go with them, he said.

“It’s a challenge for us going forward, and we’re trying to think both big picture and long term about how we can make decisions to protect this great asset we have both economically and non-economically for our quality of life,” Becker said.

The mayor said Salt Lake City employees are working virtually every day on developing strategies for reducing the municipality’s carbon emissions and providing an adequate water supply.

“If we can change our energy use in our buildings, we’re reducing our carbon footprint and our air quality impacts,” Becker said. “With shrinking snowpack, we need to be looking at how we can adjust our water supply so that we make sure we have adequate, high-quality water going forward.”

As for outdoor recreation, climate change is creating significant risk for the $730 billion industry, and business leaders are looking to elected officials to implement climate change solutions that protect public lands, water and the ecosystem services they provide — including recreation opportunities, he added.

Meanwhile, the general manager of Snowbird Ski and Summer Resort said the outdoor industry is already learning to adjust to the challenges presented by climate change.

“Last winter, a lot of resorts were negatively impacted with record drought years,” Bob Bonnar said. “A lot of those impacts and extreme weather conditions, whether it’s too much snow back East or the drought conditions in the West, have tremendous economic impacts associated with the extreme conditions from coast to coast.”

Bonnar said many resorts and local communities have been hit hard financially due to the effects of climate change. To mitigate those impacts, a number of resorts and businesses are taking steps to lower expenses and reduce their environmental impacts as well, he said.

“At our resort, for example, when we were all switching out our light bulbs, it saved us about $180,000 a year in power costs,” Bonnar explained.

Other resorts are taking similar steps to save money and become more environmentally friendly, he added.

Looking ahead, Bonnar said many resorts likely will continue increasing efficiencies and also target warm-weather outdoor enthusiasts as a way to increase revenue.

“If we’re going to be looking at shorter winters and longer summers, what other types of activities — like mountain biking — can we offer for our guests so that we have a more year-round diversified product?” Bonnar queried rhetorically. “All ski resorts over time are going to realize that will be an important part of their business plan.”

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1. higv
Dietrich, ID,
Aug. 8, 2014

When there is a high rate of snow and extreme cold weather what are people going to do? Like we have any control over the climate. Did wood and coal stoves and excess horse manure cause many problems? If it was not for chicken little we would have more things to keep us comfortable. Why do people have a longer life span now? Nothing bad there. We need to do something about manmade gravity changes that are effecting the earth real bad right now. It is essential. We have as much control over the environment as we do over gravity.

2. Twin Lights
Louisville, KY,
Aug. 8, 2014

Business and community leaders accounting for climate change? That can't be right . . .

3. kranny
utah, UT,
Aug. 8, 2014

I remember the early 70's when "the experts" claimed we were heading for an ice age by the end of the decade. Remember when millions of bison roamed the central plains. How did this world ever survive those times. Now, I understand better why some are pushing this agenda again.

4. My2Cents
Taylorsville, UT,
Aug. 9, 2014

Chicken little theorem is good analogy of the climate change radicals who don't know what they are talking about. All science has rebuked the man made climate changes, the scientist who made the study admitted it had no accuracy or means to establish such a claim and prove any of this 100 year chicken little prediction.

The sky has been falling for centuries and its still where it belongs and these doomsayers are blowing smoke out their rectums. Any global climate change is a matter of celestial influences and nothing man does or can do will change anything.

The state and outdoor retailers and sports business should make some what if plans when the economy gets so bad and debt is non essential. The consumers are nearing final phase debt limits and 35% of the consumers who are the Americans. The financial bankers and brokers of debt are beginning to die a rapid death as the debt based spending is coming to an end.

Consumers recovering from debt are not likely to return to plastic money again, they will change their lifestyles and spending habits first and live within their means.

5. chilly
Salt Lake City, UT,
Aug. 9, 2014

If the climate changes toward warmer temperatures, we may lose a few ski days. However:

"In the United States the average person who died because of cold temperature exposure lost in excess of 10 years of potential life, whereas the average person who died because of hot temperature exposure likely lost no more than a few days or weeks of life.

• In the United States, some 4,600 deaths are delayed each year as people move from cold northeastern states to warm southwestern states. Between 3 and 7% of the gain in longevity experienced over the past three decades was due simply to people moving to warmer states. . . .
Cold-related deaths are far more numerous than heat-related deaths in the United States, Europe, and almost all countries outside the tropics. Coronary and cerebral thrombosis account for about half of all cold-related mortality.

• Global warming is reducing the incidence of cardiovascular diseases related to low temperatures and wintry weather by a much greater degree than it increases the incidence of cardiovascular diseases associated with high temperatures and summer heat waves."

It may not be the catastrophe that Mayor Becker and company anticipate.