Abby Huseth

The past few days, the images all over social media and news reports of the unprecedented wildfire smoke choking much of the Eastern U.S. have been scary and surreal. It’s not hard to imagine how folks there might be feeling.

When I woke up to haze clouding the Missoula Valley a couple weeks ago, it took me a while to accept what was happening. As the day wore on and the outlines of our iconic mountains never came into focus, my brain finally caught up to reality. Wildfire smoke…in May!

As this realization sunk in, I felt a familiar pit in my stomach: a mixture of anxiety, resignation, and determination. This is our future. It’s already here. We’ve got to act NOW.

I know that feeling well, because it returns just about every year. I first experienced it during the summer of 2017, when I was pregnant with my first son, Soren. If you were lucky enough not to be in Missoula that summer, take my word for it: it was terrible.

Fires across the region started burning in mid-July and didn’t quit until early September. Smoke from near and far filled our valleys for weeks on end. Kids were kept indoors for recess. The community of Seeley Lake experienced air quality levels so bad monitors couldn’t accurately measure them. At home, with a single small air filter running night and day and windows shut tight despite the summer heat, I felt claustrophobic. For those long weeks, I felt a constant undercurrent of worry for the baby I was carrying, and what his future would be like.

I know a lot more now than I did 6 years ago about wildfire smoke and how to cope. Without central air in our old house, we now have a HEPA air purifier for each bedroom and our living area, and we check and replace the filters regularly. If it’s hot, we open our windows to cool the house down in the evening, then close them and crank the HEPA units to clean the air as we sleep - they are surprisingly effective and quick. (And we’re working on getting an efficient electric heat pump to replace our ancient gas furnace and add cooling ability as our summers get warmer.)

This is one of the ways I’ve personally experienced the climate crisis in Missoula. And I know you have a story, too. Now is the time to share your story and use your voice to effect real change in our city.

Next Wednesday, June 14 at noon and 5:30pm, we are co-hosting two Table Talk sessions with community partners to hear how the climate crisis is impacting your daily life and ability to take action. These sessions will directly contribute to the City's current process to update and modernize our building codes and zoning policies.

Codes and zoning may sound wonky and technical, and you might be thinking, I don’t have any special knowledge or input to offer. But you’d be wrong. The purpose of these Table Talks is to hear from everyday Missoulians about your lived experience in this community.

Maybe you live in an apartment building where you’re not allowed to put in a window air conditioner, and it gets too hot to sleep. Maybe you’d like to ride a bike more often instead of driving, but there aren’t safe routes from home to work - or you’ve got kids and there are no nearby daycare options. Maybe you or a family member has accessibility needs, and safely getting groceries is difficult because there aren’t any stores in your neighborhood. Maybe you've been or are unhoused with inadequate options for staying cool and breathing clean air year-round.

The more people we hear from, the more we can identify common challenges and opportunities to improve the way our city works - for all of us.

As our community grows and evolves, climate action can’t be an afterthought, or something that only those with resources and privilege are able to take part in. If we want a livable future, we have to ensure climate solutions are woven into the very fabric of our city, including how and where we build our homes and businesses, and how we get around. The process of updating our codes and zoning is one crucial way our community can plan for a more climate resilient and low-carbon future.

At Climate Smart Missoula, over the last 8 years we’ve helped bring together community members, experts and local government to identify how our community is affected by the climate crisis, and what actions we can take. We’re proud of our community’s ambitious climate goals, but as anyone who’s ever made a New Years resolution knows, the gap between having a goal and achieving it often comes down to persistence and accountability. That’s why input and involvement from everyday Missoulians - you! - is essential to ensure our plans are the best they can be, and are responsive to our community’s needs.

Plan to join us on June 14 for either the noon or 5:30pm table talk session at UCC Missoula (405 University Avenue). More details and registration links are here.

We also want to connect with you later this summer, when we’ll be out in the community  hearing from folks about barriers to preparing for smoke and heat, and sharing information and resources about how to stay healthy. Stay tuned, save the date for Wildfire Smoke Ready Week July 8-15, and be sure to bookmark our MontanaWildfireSmoke.org website now.

There are still days when that pit of worry in my stomach is there, and the future for my kids feels so uncertain. But signs of hope - that persistence and accountability that’s needed to reach our goals - aren’t hard to find. In addition to these Table Talks, starting next week I’ll be eagerly supporting the brave Montana youth plaintiffs who are suing our state government for its actions promoting fossil fuels that worsen the climate crisis. Learn all about the groundbreaking Held v. Montana trial, read Sarah Lundquist’s fantastic recent Climate Connections piece about it, and consider heading to Helena to cheer on the youth - our Climate Smart Team will be there on June 19!

This June, let’s come together to lift up our voices, stand in solidarity, and keep working for a safer, healthier, thriving future for all.

Abby Huseth is the Deputy Director at Climate Smart Missoula. Climate Smart Missoula brings this Climate Connections column to you two Fridays of every month. Learn more about our work and sign up for our e-newsletter at missoulaclimate.org.

Upcoming events

Climate Table Talks: Share your experience to shape Missoula's future

Two options on Wednesday, June 14: 12pm - 1pm or 5:30pm - 6:30pm at UCC MIssoula (405 University Ave.) Through this facilitated, engaging “table talks” format, you’ll have the chance to share your personal story and hear from neighbors. All are welcome - bring a neighbor or three. Kids corner and activities will be available. RSVP for the noon or evening session.

Held v. MT - Youth Climate Trial June 12-23

This first-ever constitutional climate trial in the U.S. is happening June 12-23! The trial will take place at the First Judicial District Court, 228 E Broadway St, Helena, MT. Court is scheduled for 9 a.m. - 5 p.m. weekdays. Climate organizations and supporters around the state are showing up every day - join in person via the options below or any other day of the trial. Supporters will gather daily at the district courthouse by 8:15 am to cheer on the youth plaintiffs, then observe the proceedings in the courtroom or watch the live stream at the Myrna Loy Theater nearby.

  • June 12: Bus from Missoula sponsored by Sierra Club Montana - info and sign up HERE.

  • June 19: Climate Smart Missoula team and others from Missoula will be carpooling to Helena (leaving at 6am to arrive by 8:15). Interested in carpooling or willing to be a carpool driver? Email Abby for more information.

Full trial information, link to watch the livestream, and many more ways to support this historic trial and the Montana youth plaintiffs are here: bit.ly/MTClimateTrial

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