By Martin Kidston
An upstart Missoula organization formed to address climate change has launched a new digital tool to help residents cope with hotter summers and increased smoke from wildfires.
It’s also part of a study looking to pinpoint the city’s true carbon footprint – the first step in finding ways to reduce Missoula’s greenhouse gas emissions and contribute to the growing global effort to mitigate climate change.
“Our summers are projected to become smokier and hotter over time, and we’re not really prepared for that,” said Amy Cilimburg, director of Climate Smart Missoula. “We want to start some of those conversations and get people the information they need to be healthy and happy, and survive conditions that are different than they were 20 years ago.”
Earlier this year, a study conducted by Yale and Harvard universities found that smoke generated from fires across the West is expected to worsen in Montana as the climate continues to warm.
Cilimburg said it’s a concern to local health officials and community organizations, which are now working to give the public the tools it needs to make informed decisions in light of future climate projections.
Among the efforts, Climate Smart Missoula recently unveiled it’s new Summer Smart program. It includes links to smoke and fire reports, information on gauging air quality, and ways to stay healthy during smoke events.
“We’re trying to give people accurate advice – helping them see what the risks are and how it fits for them and their family,” said Cilimburg. “We’re trying to get that information to give people ideas on things they can do, even if it’s short term or for just a few hours to help them breath easier.”
While many Missoula residents long ago came to terms with the city’s often questionable air quality, summer smoke and deep winter inversions can place sensitive groups at risk, resulting in measurable health consequences.
Those with asthma and other respiratory conditions may be the most vulnerable to changing climate conditions, Cilimburg said.
“For some people, it can trigger asthma attacks, and it could mean they’re in the hospital,” she said. “There can be an increased risk for heart attacks. If you have a health condition, there’s a definite added risk.”
Summer Smart’s new web portal also includes visual advice for gauging air quality on smokey days. It recommends HEPA air filters to improve indoor air quality, offers links to climate science, and recommendations for healthy indoor activities during smoke events.
The organization also has teamed up with the University of Montana to measure indoor air quality at several locations. Cilimburg said the results are expected soon.
“One of the things we simply don’t know at this point is how clean the indoor air is,” she said. “There’s a recognition that we need to learn more. As time goes on, if we’re getting more and more wildfires, we might need to make sure we have emergency shelters where people can go to get fresh air.”
While Climate Smart and other local organizations work to address the consequences of a changing climate, they’re also working to address the issue on a proactive level.
In 2013, the city contracted a study to gauge the greenhouse gas emissions put out by municipal operations. The results were surprising, placing the output at 8,500 metric tons of carbon dioxide equivalents.
Cilimburg said a separate but similar study will attempt to measure the greenhouse gas emissions contributed by the larger Missoula metropolitan area.
“The city understands where it’s energy use is for municipal operations, but we’re looking at the larger community scale,” Cilimburg said. “We need to know that. It will show where there’s an opportunity to reduce our carbon emissions. There’s a lot happening on the mitigation piece.”
Contact reporter Martin Kidston at firstname.lastname@example.org