Amy Cilimburg

The meadowlarks are singing on the North Hills. The days are both blustery and lighter. It feels almost normal here in western Montana - but of course, it’s not normal. The seasons have shifted, and not in the ways we expect.

Shift. Such a simple word. So much is shifting, it’s unsettling. So much needs to shift, urgently.

I look beyond our valley and see a scarily low snowpack, see photos of Texas on fire in February, learn that the 2023 Canadian fires are still burning, and that last year the world experienced the hottest year in the modern temperature record.  Scientists have reportedly shifted from “concerned” to “freaked out” that the oceans are so warm, the waters so low, the temperatures so high.

Recently author and climate activist Bill McKibben wrote:

"[I]t was 70 degrees in Chicago yesterday, in February—which was also the day that the Windy City decided to join other American cities in suing the fossil fuel industry for damages. But that was just one of a hundred heat records broken in the course of the day, from Milwaukee to Dallas (94 degrees). But it wasn’t a single day of heat—it’s been an almost unrelentingly warm winter, with by far the lowest snow coverage for this time of year ever recorded (13.8 percent of the lower 48 as of Monday, compared with an average of more than 40 percent) and with the Great Lakes essentially free of ice.

It’s one thing to anticipate and even enjoy the normal twists and shifts of our weather, and quite another to always be asking – is this shift normal or unprecedented?

What can we do when the world beneath our feet seems to shift in ways big and small?

At Climate Smart Missoula, we are seeking out the people, ideas, and actions that move us from gloom and despair to hope and action. [AC1] And we’re tracking these movements and consistently shifting our actions to meet this moment.

In the world of climate action, a lot has already shifted. We’re no longer debating “carbon neutrality” goals decades away: we’re figuring out how to stop building new fossil fuel infrastructure today and meet climate goals by 2030.

Where just a few years ago the roadmap to a livable future seemed diffuse and unclear, today there’s consensus that an efficient, electrified world – buildings, transportation, industry, powered by clean energy -- is how we get there.

This is where you come in. Eager to engage, learn, and act? Maybe there’s a concrete and immediate shift you can make for yourself, your family, or your business, like:

  • Getting around more sustainably - by feet, pedal power, transit, an e-bike or even an EV
  • Powering your home or business with more electric appliances, energized by solar
  • Growing a garden, planting a tree, helping a neighbor, composting together
  • Moving your money out of fossil fuels, and
  •  Paying it forward so our lower income neighbors can benefit from home and efficiency improvements. Our Footprint Fund is ramping up and designed to do just that!

If you like the sound of these practical actions, Climate Smart Missoula has three upcoming opportunities to get involved and accelerate our shift toward a brighter future – we're calling it our Spring Shift series:

v  March 29: Solar (for residents, nonprofits, and businesses)

v  April 25: Trees, our Urban Forest and Climate Resiliency

v  May 18: Electrification

v  Details, time, and location of each event can be found here.

At the same time we make these everyday, tangible shifts, we can also pave the way for bigger systemic shifts that are needed. For you that might mean:

  • Joining us at Climate Smart or other climate groups and lending your skills and energy
  • Pestering elected leaders who don’t want to stick with fossil fuels—ask them to shift and tell them why
  • Uplifting the voices of those who are at the margins and making room for them at the table
  • Working to elect leaders that are willing to multi-solve our most pressing problems
  • Lending your voice in support of building a climate-forward community, with Our Missoula and other planning efforts, even when the solutions are controversial.

These are incomplete lists. These can be hard things to do. And some of these things might mean stepping out of our comfort zones — being brave, approaching problems with challenging new insights, and advocating for the imperfect. But when these collective shifts accumulate and trend in the same direction, they create a wave.

The climate crisis invites us all to shift our mindset. We must act knowing that all our fates are intertwined, no one’s immune, and there’s no opting out of dealing with this fast-changing world.

Thankfully, we’re not alone – and there’s plenty of places to find inspiration to make these shifts and stick with them. Noted climate author, scientist and advocate Dr. Elizabeth Ayana Johnson has been a true inspiration to us for years – we've watched and re-watched her TED talk: How to find joy in climate action and love her Climate Action Venn Diagram. In July 2024, she comes out with her new book: What if we get it right?

Why this question, and why this needed shift in thinking about the climate crisis?

Elizabeth Ayana Johnson tells us:

“This is what I know: there are innumerable possible futures. I know we each get some say in which future we’ll collectively have and a chance to help build it. I know that every tenth of a degree of warming we prevent, every centimeter of sea level rise we avoid, every bit of nature we protect and restore MATTERS. I know that our actions add up. This is an invitation to find your role if you haven’t already, encourage others. Averting climate catastrophe – this is the work of our lifetimes.

Simply put, we are asked to acknowledge the urgency of climate change and act where we, individually and collectively, have agency to shift course.

So, join us this spring – at one or all of our Spring Shift events, or by finding more new and creative ways of making your own shifts. Together, let’s accelerate those shifts that will bring us that much closer to the future we want, and the next generations deserve.

Amy Cilimburg is the executive director at Climate Smart Missoula. We bring 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