By Ayrel Clark-Proffitt, campus engagement coordinator, University of Utah Sustainability Office
What’s your motivation? Why do you care about clean air?
No matter your reason, July is a great time to demonstrate your commitment to better air quality across Utah by participating in the Clear the Air Challenge, hosted by the Salt Lake Chamber of Commerce. This challenge encourages us to do our part by driving less and making lower-emission transportation
choices, such as riding the bus or TRAX, biking, walking, combining trips and carpooling. It also quantifies our impact: The challenge tracker shows how many pounds of emissions, gallons of gas and dollars you saved by making transportation decisions that avoid single-occupant vehicles on the road.
My reasons for caring about air quality — and taking action to improve it — are both professional and personal. I am the designated point person to encourage participation from the University of Utah team, which last year took first place overall. But the path that got me here is far more personal, and my motivation changes as my life changes.
As a child, I developed exercise-induced asthma, struggling through “suicide” drills in both basketball and soccer. As an adult, I moved out West, where dust and other particulates in the air exacerbated my asthma problems. I was hiking in South Mountain Park in Phoenix, and I saw a green cloud hovering over downtown right where I worked. That bad air propelled my decision to go back to school for public administration with a focus on environmental policies, which led to my career in sustainability.
Now, with a baby on the way, I worry about the impact of poor air quality on my unborn child. Will my baby have birth defects, developmental delays or respiratory ailments or asthma because of our air? In February of this year, our winter air quality reached some of its worst levels in years, and now that summer is here, I am concerned about the impact of ozone, a conglomerate of volatile organic compounds and nitrogen oxide that forms on hot, sunny days. Cars and trucks, factories and global wildfires contribute to higher ozone levels, which can exacerbate asthma and cause lung damage. I am left wondering: How is this impacting my baby?
However, being involved in efforts like the Clear the Air Challenge and the Clean Air for U Challenge — the U’s February program to reduce pollution from vehicles — reduces my anxiety because it creates an opportunity to act and improve the air quality for everyone. Collectively, we can make a difference. Last year the University of Utah team logged approximately 11,000 nonsingle-occupant vehicle trips.
The Clear the Air Challenge is an excellent chance to do something to improve air quality and be a part of the solution. Take the challenge and see firsthand what an empowering experience it is to make a positive choice. Register at ClearTheAirChallenge.org to start tracking your contribution.
So, what is your motivation to help clear the air?