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It’s National Public Lands Day! Let’s Talk About Climate Change

Did you know that public lands play a critical role in shaping the future of climate change?

In Utah, 45 million tons of fossil fuels are extracted each year from federal public lands, the equivalent emissions of 9.7 passenger cars driven for one year. These extraction practices, designed to help fuel our energy grids, creates a positive feedback loop. The University of Calgary explains, “Similar to how keeping money in a savings account earns interest and compounds to earn more money, positive climate feedback increases some initial change in the climate.”

But what are public lands?

These are areas of land and water that are today collectively owned by U.S. citizens and managed by government agencies. These lands can consist of national parks, monuments, forests, wild and scenic rivers, Bureau of Land Management lands, wilderness and wilderness study areas, watersheds, and municipal lands, to name a few. Each agency oversees how these lands are managed to balance the multitude of uses these areas have- from recreational activities like hiking, kayaking, or rock climbing, to energy development, logging, and mining.

These large patches of continuous wild lands are also important for maintaining habitats for wildlife, allowing for safe migration due to climate change, and they can function as carbon sinks! Trees and plants suck CO2, a major contributor to climate change, from the air during photosynthesis. As they grow, they can absorb great volumes in their leaves, trunks, and roots. The older and bigger they get, the more carbon they store!

While we might not think of Utah as being a dense forest, the forests we do have play pivotal roles, just as much as the desert in helping support ecosystems and wildlife. The Uinta-Wasatch-Cache National Forest, contains over a net acreage of 2,169,596 acres of forested land, imagine all the CO2 this massive forest in our backyard is absorbing!

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Utah Climate Week is Coming Up!

We are a week away from the Sixth Annual Utah Climate Week (September 25th through October 1st)! Check out the list of events compiled by the Utah Climate Action Network (a project of Utah Clean Energy) and mark your calendar to get involved. 

The goal of Utah Climate Week is to provide opportunities for YOU to connect with broader communities about climate action and the great work that is happening in Utah across a range of sectors to #ActOnClimate 

This year has seen a lot of press surrounding the impacts of climate change on Utah, covering everything from the impacts of a shrinking Great Salt Lake, to our hotter summers and how that affects local food.  

Learn and engage with leaders from local governments, non-profits, faith-based organizations, businesses, and individuals, see below for a list of events!  

Calendar of Utah Climate Week events.

It’s not too late to organize your own event! Big or small, Utah Climate Week is open to everyone. Get in touch with Utah Clean Energy to request an event be posted to the website

Salt Lake City is also bringing back a second Mayor’s Bike to Work day on September 28th! Biking for your commute is an incredible way to decrease your individual emissions and improve your health.

Looking to get a head start on your climate week? 

Join Bill Barron for the last leg of his 650 mile ride to call attention to climate change and the need for bipartisan solutions. He’ll finish his tour of the state on September 17 with a ride up Little Cottonwood Canyon, culminating with speakers and refreshments at Alta. Speakers include Salt Lake City Public Utilities’ Director, Laura Briefer and SLCgreen’s own Deputy Director Sophia Nicholas! 

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Introducing Salt Lake City’s Harrison Community Garden! 

Last month, we celebrated the opening of the Harrison Community Garden with Mayor Erin Mendenhall, Council Member Darin Mano, Wasatch Community Gardens, and the Salt Lake City Public Lands Department. Located along 700 East at Harrison Avenue, just south of Liberty Park, the newest addition to Salt Lake City’s family of community gardens provides plots for as many as 50 gardeners to grow vegetables.  

This is the eighth active garden in Salt Lake City boundaries established under our Green City Growers program, which identifies vacant or under-utilized City property with access to a water line and other conditions that support a successful and sustainable community garden. The City partners with local non-profit Wasatch Community Gardens to manage and run the gardens on Salt Lake City property through this program. 

Every community garden is a labor of love, but the Harrison Garden overcame multiple obstacles to ultimately receive funding from the City’s Capital Improvement Program (CIP) to make it a reality. (Pssst… community applications are due Sept. 30, 2022 for the next round of CIP funding). 

Community gardens are more than just for the growers!  

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It’s Really Hot Out Here, So Let’s Go Plant Some Trees

Mayor Erin Mendenhall planting a tree in 2021 as part of her 1,000 Trees Initiative.

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After the intense heat experienced by many of us this summer you probably wouldn’t be surprised to learn that this past July was Salt Lake City’s warmest one yet and the heat wave is continuing with us as September begins.

But did you know that Salt Lake County’s summer days are abnormally hotter than those in nearby rural areas? Our culprit is referred to as the urban heat island. 

What is the Urban Heat Island? 

Urban heat islands occur as the built environment of a city attracts heat and prevents it from being released by covering up naturally absorbing sources. For example, grass absorbs heat but covering it with concrete for a sidewalk that attracts warmth will make the city hotter. Researchers have found that the cumulative effect of all these heat-attracting sources results in cities being up to 17 degrees hotter than surrounding areas! Research conducted by the University of Utah used temperature monitors throughout the valley to measure our urban heat index. This research discovered that our parks with grass and shade are two degrees cooler than nearby residential neighborhoods.  

The benefits that shady parks and park strips provide in reducing the urban heat island are just one of the reasons that Salt Lake City places an emphasis on maintaining them. The important role tree cover plays in reducing heat is evident when looking at the images of Salt Lake City below. The map on the left shows the Urban Heat Island Effect by noting how much hotter it can be in that area. The darker the red the hotter it is. The map on the right shows the percentage of tree cover canopy in the entire neighborhood. The darker the green, the more canopy cover in the neighborhood. When comparing the two images it becomes evident that when there are more trees, the urban heat index is lower.  

Additionally, the image below provides another useful visual to understand what the Urban Heat Island Effect looks like in Salt Lake City. The image, taken from satellite by NASA, shows 300 West to the Wasatch Foothills. The image, taken on a hot summer day, demonstrates the Urban Heat Island Effect in action. Orange, red, and yellow indicate hot areas and blue and green illustrate the cool areas. With this in mind, it becomes clear that areas with less vegetation are the hottest. For example, Liberty Park, which is near the bottom left-hand corner, is very blue on the map indicating that it’s cool. 

How can you reduce heat and contribution to the urban heat island? 

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How to Improve your Indoor Air Quality

Earlier this month, Salt Lake City Mayor Erin Mendenhall and the Sustainability Department held an Indoor Air Quality Summit, bringing together city officials, academic researchers, building managers, and interested organizations to discuss the current status of indoor air quality, as well as possible initiatives and solutions that could be taken to help create a healthier environment both inside and out.

Speakers included Salt Lake City Mayor Erin Mendenhall; Daniel Mendoza, Research Assistant Professor at the University of Utah; and Nicholas Rice, the Corporate Industrial Hygiene Manager at Intermountain Health, with SLCgreen’s own Peter Nelson hosting. 

While outdoor air pollution is a recurring topic in Salt Lake City discussions, indoor air pollution has become more significant as the correlation between outdoor and indoor air quality are researched. In her opening remarks, Mayor Mendenhall explains, “We know that buildings and homes are a critical space for indoor and outdoor air quality because our buildings produce a significant portion of the air we breathe outside.” 

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Solar Salt Lake launches to make it easier for Salt Lake City residents to go solar together

PRESS RELEASE: August 4, 2022

Solar Salt Lake offers limited-time discounts on rooftop solar and education to local residents

Salt Lake City is excited to launch a new program, Solar Salt Lake, that will make it easier for residents to install rooftop solar on their homes through discounted bulk purchase pricing and free education from a community-selected solar installer. 

Starting Thursday, residents can sign up to learn more about the program and enroll to have their home virtually evaluated for eligibility.  

This program is helping to achieve Salt Lake City’s goal of moving towards 100% renewable energy for our community electricity supply by 2030,” said Mayor Erin Mendenhall. “We’re working on the utility-scale with our Community Renewable Energy Program, but rooftop solar still plays a critical role in meeting our resiliency, climate, and economic goals. This is another important way that Salt Lake City is taking action to mitigate climate change and improve air quality.”

The Salt Lake City Sustainability Department developed the program under Mayor Mendenhall’s leadership. The program will help up to 50 Salt Lake City residents install rooftop solar on their homes by the end of the 2022 calendar year while taking full advantage of federal tax credits on top of the bulk purchase pricing.

The City went through a competitive Request for Proposals process in spring 2022 to identify a solar installer with a trusted track record that can offer bulk discounts exclusively for Salt Lake City residents. Gardner Energy was selected by the City.

To participate and take advantage of the discount pricing, residents need to sign the enrollment form to have their home virtually evaluated by September 2, and then sign a contract with Gardner Energy no later than September 16, 2022.

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Salt Lake City partners with local artists to create six original pieces for new refuse trucks

PRESS RELEASE: July 22, 2022

Large-scale public art is rolling through Salt Lake City’s neighborhoods thanks to a recent City initiative that invited local artists to use City refuse trucks as their canvases. 

The seven new waste and recycling vehicles are wrapped in vinyl prints of original works by local artists Trevor Dahl, Matt Monsoon, and Brooke Smart. 

“These works of public art will travel Salt Lake City’s streets every day, reaching every corner of the city,” said Salt Lake City Mayor Erin Mendenhall. “I’m thrilled these vehicles, which provide such a critical utilitarian purpose, can also spread beauty to residents in all our neighborhoods.”

The artists were chosen from the Salt Lake City Arts Council’s pool of local artists with whom the City works on a number of public arts projects, from sculptures to murals to street art and more. Each artist created two original designs.

“We take pride in our trucks—and in the graphics we put on them,” said Sophia Nicholas, Sustainability Department Deputy Director. “Each year, we brainstorm a new creative campaign and work with a graphic designer to bring it to life. It’s been a fun and effective way to spread the word about things like ditching disposables, choosing reusable bags, the importance of recycling overall, and now, sharing art by local artists.”

The City’s fleet of 37 refuse trucks collect the trash, recycling, and compost from approximately 42,000 sites every week, hauling the waste from all areas of the city to the landfill or appropriate recycling facilities. Each truck travels approximately 300 miles each week.

“We know that almost any object, place, or space has the potential to serve as a canvas for the incredibly talented artists of our city, including the sides of a refuse truck!” said Taylor Knuth, Deputy Director of the Salt Lake City Arts Council. “The Arts Council hopes that residents and visitors of Salt Lake who see these trucks will not only enjoy these captivating works by local artists, but also take action to protect our unique, beautiful, and vibrant landscapes.”

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Getting to Know You: Ground Level Ozone

by SLCgreen intern Emalee Carroll

As Salt Lake City residents we are well acquainted with air pollution, but do we know what’s in it? With the Clear Air Challenge happening over the summer, we at SLCgreen wanted to take some time to provide a rundown on some of the different types of air pollution in Salt Lake City, what you can do about it, and what the city is currently working on and has done to make a difference!

What is Ground Ozone? 

As we enter the thick of summer and all the fun outdoor activities that come with it, let’s break down a major summertime pollutant – ground level ozone. Ozone gas is naturally occurring in our atmosphere, helping to protect us from harmful UV radiation. However, ozone is not found naturally at ground level. Rather, the gas is known as a “secondary pollutant” meaning it’s created through a series of reactions between compounds in the air. This process is facilitated by heat and sunlight which is why ozone levels are typically higher in the summer months. 

How-ground-level-ozone-forms

How does Ozone Affect SLC residents? 

Like PM 2.5, studies have shown ozone also has adverse impacts on respiratory health. Ozone gas can reach deep into our lungs, damaging cells like a sunburn would, and trapping air in the alveoli. This process can cause coughing, throat irritation, chest pain, and congestion. Additionally, ozone can aggravate respiratory diseases such as asthma, COPD, and chronic bronchitis. 

Aside from harming the health of Salt Lake residents, ozone can also negatively impact local ecology. When ground-level ozone enters the membranes of leaves, it reduces the ability of the plant to photosynthesize sunlight, slows growth, and ultimately weakens the organism. In extreme circumstances, this can lead to a loss of trees and other plants, which affects both the quality of life in urban settings, as well as the health of the overall ecosystem and animals that rely on those plants for food. 

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Choose to Refuse! Plastic Free July is here!

If you’ve been looking for the sign to finally make the change, now is the perfect time to drop those pesky single-use plastics once and for all – Plastic Free July is here!

Plastic Free July began as a small project based in Australia but has turned into a global movement of people who are committed to cutting out single-use plastics from their lives to stop plastic pollution and save the planet. “Plastics” refers to a wide range of synthetic materials that can be molded and shaped into a variety of flexible and stiff byproducts. Believe it or not, there’s plastics in our chewing gum, skin care products, and even our clothes!  

Since 2011, Plastic Free July has empowered consumers to reduce their reliance on single-use plastics by sharing educational resources and encouraging people to come up with creative ways to reduce plastic usage at the source, reuse any plastics that can be used more than once, and properly recycle what can be recycled! 

Why is Plastic Free July Important? 

In 2021, the planet reached a total estimated number of 363,762,732,605 pounds of plastics across all the oceans. Plastics are one of the most prevalent pollutants across the globe, polluting waterways, habitats, and damaging the health of ecosystems and humans alike. Many durable plastics will take up to 400 years before they will breakdown.  

While recycling has helped make a dent in our plastic waste, the overarching goal is to reduce consumption.

Some plastics, like laundry detergent containers and milk jugs, are highly-desirable plastic products for recycling. However, other items like straws, plastic bags, and other flexible packaging, are harder to recycle, and often end up being a burden to consumers trying to properly dispose of them. Making some easy switches to eliminate unnecessary plastic waste at the source is an amazing way to start building a world without plastic waste and practice sustainability. 

(We recognize that the problem of plastic waste is not just a consumer issue; in fact — it’s much more systemic and related to the way corporations make products and the laws governing those practices. This is why Salt Lake City has signed on as an activator to the U.S. Plastics Pact. But while we work for larger, systemic change, we can also take matters into our own hands as consumers and reduce single-use plastics, where possible, in our own lives).

How Can I Participate in Plastic Free July?  

One of the easiest ways to get involved is to take the Plastic Free July Challenge! By registering for the challenge, you’re joining a community of people who are committed to reducing plastic pollution. You will also receive email updates with tips, tricks, and stories to help you keep your plastic free promise. 

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Salt Lake City Residents: Share your Feedback for the Community Renewable Energy Program

Solar panels on the rooftop of the Salt Lake City Public Safety Building.

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Salt Lake City has been a leader on climate initiatives for nearly two decades, taking on progressively more ambitious projects.

In 2016, the City passed a joint resolution establishing our “Climate Positive” goals, which include powering the entire Salt Lake City community with net-100% renewable electricity by 2032. This date was moved up to 2030 in a resolution from 2019.  

We’ve been busy making progress on these and other climate efforts over the last several years, most notably our work on the Community Renewable Energy Program (C-REP). 

What is the Community Renewable Energy Program? 

It began in 2019 when the Community Renewable Energy Act, also known as HB411, was passed by the State Legislature. HB 411 created a pathway for interested communities served by Rocky Mountain Power to work with the company to develop a program that will allow communities to match 100% of their annual electricity consumption with renewable energy flowing to the grid by 2030.  

Salt Lake City became eligible to participate in this Program due to the adoption of a Joint Resolution which resolves to achieve the goal of 100% renewable energy for community electricity supply by 2030.   

Today, Salt Lake City is working alongside 17 other communities to develop the Community Renewable Energy Program.

All residents, businesses, and industrial customers in participating communities will be automatically opted-in to the renewable energy program with the option to opt-out at several opportunities. 

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