Main Navigation

Big ideas, big bucks

At the end of a day spent discussing conservative climate solutions to strengthen domestic energy, national security, the economy and agriculture, University of Utah leaders put out a simple challenge:

Give us your best idea.

With an ozone-laced sky as a backdrop to the first-ever Conservative Climate Summit hosted by Utah Rep. John Curtis at the Eccles School of Business on Oct. 14, U President Taylor Randall along with philanthropists Scott Anderson, Peter Huntsman, and Christine Huntsman Durham, gathered behind the podium grinning from ear to ear to announce the Wilkes Center Climate Prize at the University of Utah.

“We will recognize all solutions that deal with the major challenges that we face here in Utah that we talked about today – drought, air quality, the shrinking Great Salt Lake and health implications of climate change,” Randall said. “The U and the Wilkes Climate Center are honored to be a part of the solution.”

Applications will open in January 2023. Sign up here for updates.

About 160 business owners, elected leaders and community members attended the summit, which was organized by Curtis’ office. Speakers led sessions about how conservative climate policies impact a wide range of sectors, including the agricultural industry’s efforts to curb climate change, how climate policies impact business, innovation in energy development, and how climate change impacts national security. Roger O’Brien, ambassador and former national security advisor, opened the conference with his keynote about how national security policy includes conservative climate policy.

John Curtis faces the camera wearing a blue suit with a white shirt. He's talking to someone facing away from the camera in a red flannel.

PHOTO CREDIT: Dave Titensor/University of Utah

Rep. John Curtis, left, talks to an attendee of the inaugural Conservative Climate Summit.

Download Full-Res Image

At the prize announcement, Randall thanked Clay Wilkes, a Utah entrepreneur who founded the U-based Wilkes Center for Climate Science and Policy at the College of Science. The Wilkes Climate Center is a non-partisan center that promotes research, studies effective public policies and proposes entrepreneurial business solutions to curb and combat the threats that climate change poses to human and environmental health.

The Wilkes Climate Prize is the largest university-affiliated climate prize of its kind in the United States, and perhaps the world. Many partners co-sponsored the award to make it one of the biggest university prizes of its kind, including major donors Scott Anderson, Zions Bank’s CEO who donated $500,000 to the prize, and Clay and Marie Wilkes, who donated $200,000 for the prize. Other donors include the Cumming Foundation, Huntsman Foundation, Finley Resources, Huntsman Corporation and Chevron. A panel of expert judges from diverse sectors will select the best idea to address climate sourced from a variety of fields, including basic research, entrepreneurial ventures and nonprofit initiatives, among others.

“When we think about solutions like conservation and alternative energy, it all starts with creativity. It starts with people having open minds on both sides of the aisle,” said Huntsman to the crowd. “I think about the curve of technology that will help lower carbon dioxide emissions. And we need the innovating to come out of places like here at the U.”

The Wilkes Climate Center aims to connect innovators across sectors to work together on the climate. Its mission is to get groundbreaking research and the latest entrepreneurial technology into the hands of policymakers who can make informed decisions about curbing climate disasters in the short term.

“Like climate change, the Great Salt Lake is solvable,” said climate scientist William Anderegg, director of the Wilkes Climate Center and professor of biology at the U. “Climate solutions are an opportunity. the optimism in this room, the solutions that are coming forward, there’s every reason to think we’ll solve this in the 21st century. We already have lots of innovators, scientists, entrepreneurs, we’re in this together Utah can be at the forefront.”

One great example of this collaboration is the Great Salt Lake Strike Team, a collaboration of experts from the Wilkes Climate Center’s Anderegg, U professor of geology and geophysics Paul Brooks, and others from the Utah State University and state agencies, including the Division of Natural Resources and other who have developed recommendations for the Utah State Legislature. The Great Salt Lake is at its lowest level on record due to a complex set of causes. Utah is the second driest state in the U.S. with a growing population that uses some of the most water in the country.

Rep. Curtis agreed. “We just announced $1.5 million for innovation. U.S. innovation will lead out on climate. And Utah innovation will lead out in the U.S. That makes me so proud to be a Utahn today.”