Writing the story of air quality

RealPeopleRealStoriesFlyer1By Kailey Luzbetak, Moving U

Descriptions regarding air quality are often stark and calculated. Scientists and the media discuss particulate matter (PM) 2.5 levels; pie charts break down whom or what is responsible for the air pollution; and graphs demonstrate the many years of near public health state-of-emergency air quality events. This data is important, and has been instrumental in the pieces of legislation that have been passed to combat poor air locally. But very few projects have attempted to shine light on how individuals cope with the high pollution levels.

Moving U, a student initiative created by a graduate level course at the University of Utah, wants to know how you breathe.

Moving U is sponsoring an essay contest, entitled Real People, Real Stories, that aims to take a different approach to our local air quality discussion by using story sharing to influence the way air quality issues are communicated locally. The group suggests that perhaps the missing piece of the conversation is the human story. By adding human faces and personal experiences to the conversation, Moving U believes that Utahns can begin to understand our air quality problem better and encourage further political action.

Until November 15, a selection committee is accepting essay submissions on air quality—anything from personal narratives, to persuasive pieces, to ideas for change. Submit your story online before the deadline. All students, faculty, and staff from the U are encouraged to submit their essays to the contest.

After submissions close, a panel of well-known members of the air quality movement and community, including Dr. Brian Moench (Utah Physicians for a Healthy Environment) and Representative Patrice Arent (Clean Air Caucus) will choose five essays to be read at the Global Change & Sustainability Center’s Annual Research Symposium on Feb. 2, 2016. Winners will also have their essays published in a variety of campus and local media, both online and in print.

Air quality issues along the Wasatch front are no secret. The vast majority of residents of the Greater Salt Lake area have seen the term “inversion” used to describe the atmospheric phenomenon that occurs in the winter within the valley, trapping the human-created pollution close to the ground, creating exceptionally poor air conditions. Residents have also heard that Utah consistently receives a capital “F” on national pollution report cards. Like California’s drought, this issue transcends niche environmental groups, because it is highly visible.

Air pollution and respiratory health issues are very hot conversations among Utahns. There is an overwhelming consensus regarding both of these topics: almost no one wants to breathe unclean air, and almost everyone wants to clean it up. But year after year we experience shockingly high rates of asthma and pollution-related deaths. Even those seemingly unaffected, on a diagnosable medical level, describe general difficulty breathing and headaches. Additionally, growing evidence suggests pregnant women breathing Utah air may be putting their unborn children at risk.

Or, for those of us who are action-driven, perhaps a better question: What can we do?

Share your story with us and with our community. Your voice matters!

For more information, or if you’re interested in applying, contact Kailey Luzbetak, the Project Manager, or submit your essay to: (http://environment.utah.edu/movingu/resources.html#stories).

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