Shanti Devins

Unless you work in the climate realm, you may not have closely followed the gathering of nations at COP28, which was held in the United Arab Emirates earlier this month. (COP is the “Conference of Parties,” referring to the United Nations climate change conference that happens every year.)

For our team, the COP gatherings are like the Olympics – with much higher stakes. We’re actively tracking stats, what other countries are bringing to the table, and how the U.S. is performing.

Here are our three biggest takeaways:

  1. The scandal: More fossil fuel lobbyists were in attendance than ever before, outnumbering every country delegation except two (Brazil and the U.A.E.), reminding us that this industry has exorbitant resources undermining climate action.
  2. The big win: The COP28 agreement includes language about transitioning away from fossil fuels. Incredibly, fossil fuels have never been formally written into a COP agreement until now, so this is a huge step in the direction climate scientists have been advising for decades.
  3. The underperformance: The global actions agreed upon are frustratingly inadequate compared to what we need to be doing to reach our climate goals, reinforcing that local action is now more important than ever.

These talks reminded us of another “Olympic” climate moment, in 2017, when the U.S. government stated its intent to withdraw from the Paris Climate Agreement. For a moment, it felt like we were doomed: we could have had some of the top performing players in the game, but if the leaders of our country weren’t going to show up, what could we do?

Then, something amazing happened. Hundreds of cities across the U.S. started signing onto the Agreement independently, choosing to hold themselves accountable and move forward with climate action regardless of the federal administration. It became clear that climate action didn’t need to depend only on a global or national team, but was something we could also make strides forward on locally.

Now, almost seven years later, we’re on the cusp of another opportunity to lean in following COP28. And this time, our national team is in uniform and on the field with us – bolstering our local efforts with new funding, programs, and tax incentives to catalyze the transition away from fossil fuels.  It’s our responsibility to seize this moment to accelerate climate solutions locally, so we can meet our goals globally.

For the New Year, let’s resolve to lean into the solutions we already have.

The great news is that we already have many climate solutions and resources available to us right here in Missoula. And while we can’t all do everything (just like a champion pole vaulter isn’t expected to also win gold in swimming), we can all do something to carry our team forward in 2024.

We know that we must get off fossil fuels as quickly as possible to stave off the worst effects of climate change. And we know how to do it: by transitioning off gas and going electric in our homes, buildings, and transportation, while moving to an electricity grid powered by renewable sources. Moreso, for the first time ever, there’s significant federal funding available to help individuals, businesses, and nonprofits with this transition. With that in mind, here are our suggested climate-solutions additions to your New Year’s resolution list:

Make a plan to electrify. Look at your home or building and learn which appliances and systems are fueled by methane gas (aka “natural gas”). Then make a plan to replace those appliances with efficient, all-electric versions (there are tax incentives to help cover costs!).

In terms of climate impacts, methane gas has a higher warming potential than CO2, so it’s essential we decrease our use of this gas ASAP to keep us below the 1.5 degree warming threshold. Plus, we’re learning more about the detrimental impacts methane gas has on our physical health due to leaky appliances and in-home emissions, which gives us more reasons to replace those appliances quickly.

The Climate Smart Missoula team, along with Missoula City and County, have resources to help you learn more about methane gas and understand why, what, and how to electrify at ElectrifyMissoula.org. And stay tuned for more local Electrify events and educational opportunities in 2024, starting with an induction cooking class on January 11!

Build resilience. We know there are impacts of climate change already here and coming that we must prepare for, including prolonged wildfire smoke seasons and hotter summers. At Climate Smart Missoula, we’re working on solutions to build community resilience that you can both implement and support.

This year, Trees for Missoula became a program of our organization and we’re excited to continue former-director Karen Sippy’s amazing work of building and maintaining our urban forest. Trees are essential in building resilient communities: they help to sequester carbon, combat heat, improve air quality, conserve energy, capture stormwater, provide wildlife habitat, and improve our sense of well-being. You can learn more about what types of trees to plant, how to care for them, and how to support our efforts to improve tree canopy cover across the valley at TreesforMissoula.org.

We’re also continuing to grow our longest-running program, Wildfire Smoke Ready Missoula. Our team has been at the forefront of understanding wildfire smoke’s impact on our indoor air quality and health. We’re working on solutions to navigate the intersection of fires and extreme heat, so we don’t have to choose between having clean indoor air and staying cool during smoky summer days and nights. We have numerous resources to help you prepare to stay safe this summer, and you can support our wider efforts to be wildfire smoke ready at MontanaWildfireSmoke.org.

Show up and advocate. 2024 is an election year. Vote. Make climate one of your priorities when vetting candidates and legislation. Testify on proposed projects and ensure public agencies know that we demand climate action on all fronts. Advocate for more renewable energy projects and explore adding solar to your home. Talk about climate change and the solutions you’re exploring with family and friends.

So many of us underestimate the power of our own voices. But all of our voices matter and make a real difference. Look at what 16 Montana youth were able to do this year, using their voices in the historic Held v. Montana climate trial! Take inspiration from them and pick up the torch they so gloriously carried for all of us this summer. Or, better yet, power up your rechargeable solar lantern and bring your own light to the climate moment in Missoula, in Montana, and across the world.

The time is now. Please join us in a joint community resolution to do what we can locally to build a better future for everyone. In 2024, let’s go for the gold, Missoula!

Shanti Devins is the Program 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, support our efforts, and sign up for our e-newsletter at missoulaclimate.org.

Upcoming Electrify Missoula events:

Cooking Class: Induction v. Gas – Jan 11 at 5:30PM

Join us in Missoula County Extension’s new demo kitchen as we prepare the same recipe on both stoves for comparison. We’ll talk about how induction works and why you should check it out. Free, capped at 25 participants. Register now!

Farm Efficiency Series: Solar & Electrification – Jan 18 at 5:30PM

Hosted in collaboration with CFAC and the City of Missoula, we’ll talk about opportunities for local farmers and ranchers to boost efficiency on their property by switching to all-electric appliances and how to go solar. Free, dinner provided. Registration required.

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