Take the Clear the Air Challenge
By Jared Mendenhall
In 1888, a housewife changed the course of human history.
Bertha’s husband Karl, an engineer, had fallen into a deep depression because his latest invention failed to live up to its promise. Early one morning, Bertha stole away with his creation to prove to the family it would work. The destination was her mom’s house, 60 miles across the German countryside. Along the trek she made some repairs and improvements to his contraption.
When Bertha Benz returned home, she had proven the viability of her husband’s vision—a horseless carriage powered by an internal-combustion engine. She had also smashed all previous records for automobile travel. The local and international press had a heyday.
The string of events set in motion from that trip ushered in a new age. In less than a century, humans and cars, at least in the U.S., became inseparable. Cars made travel, dare I say, pedestrian. What was once expensive, complicated and dangerous became affordable, easy and safe.
But, the automobile wasn’t without its unintended consequences. Mobile sources (cars and trucks) account for nearly 50 percent of Utah’s air pollution in the winter. This pollution stresses respiratory and cardiovascular systems. In the worst cases, it kills.
Regardless of these human health effects, most of us find it difficult to imagine life without the ease and speed of our cars. To help Wasatch Front residents rethink their dependence on cars, the Salt Lake Chamber hosts the annual Clear the Air Challenge.
The Clear the Air Challenge is a month-long competition where participants try to cut out as many automobile trips as possible. They do this by using healthy transportation alternatives like carpooling, trip chaining and public transportation. Using helpful online and mobile tools, they track their progress. The goal is to show how easy it is to improve air quality, reduce traffic congestion and conserve energy in Utah.
During the past nine years, the Salt Lake Chamber estimates that The Clear the Air Challenge has eliminated one million trips and 4,700 tons of emissions.
How It Works
Sign up for the Clear the Air Challenge at cleartheairchallenge.org. Then, start using the TravelWise Tracker. This tracker will help you find mass transit routes, engage with active transportation, and demonstrate the amount of emissions you can cut with a few simple changes. Many Utah companies and organization have teams set up where you can compete for prizes or bragging rights.
Implementing alternatives to driving alone is an important step toward clean air. By walking, cycling, taking mass transit, carpooling or teleworking, residents are making simple changes in behavior that can improve air quality and their health.
Emissions are also cut when drivers combine errands into one trip (trip chaining), keep up on vehicle maintenance, and avoid idling.
We All Win
Bertha Benz’s 120-mile roundtrip revealed to the world the revolutionary power of the internal-combustion engine. In the coming decades, humans will grapple with the most responsible use of this invention and its place in our lives. In the meantime, rethinking the way we use our cars can help reduce emissions today, improve air quality and protect everyone’s health.
The Clear the Air Challenge runs from Feb. 1-28. It isn’t too late to sign up and start experimenting with new ways of moving around. Sign up at cleartheairchallenge.org.
I am a public information officer for DEQ and a former marketer and magazine editor. Follow me on Instagram @Jarv801.