Climate Smart Missoula awaits city-wide carbon study, gears up for second year

Amy Cilimburg
Amy Cilimburg, director of Climate Smart Missoula.

By Martin Kidston

A series of climate summits held in Missoula over three consecutive years gave birth to a local nonprofit that could play a role in shaping the city’s future and reducing the community’s carbon footprint.

But that may take a little more time, as Climate Smart Missoula is just now celebrating its first anniversary.

“Those summits gave us the bones and meat for a community climate action plan, and that was completed in summer of 2015,” said Amy Cilimburg, the organization’s director. “Someone needed to steer the plan and implement it. Climate Smart was born from that collaborative effort.”

During this past year, the organization unveiled its Summer Smart program to help people cope with climate change, and it launched a study to pinpoint the city’s true carbon footprint, from home heating to automotive emissions.

Cilimburg said the results from the study could be released this year. The detailed assessment applies the same tools used by city government, which determined its own carbon footprint in 2008.

“It’s still at that 10,000-foot level, but we’ll know the major categories,” Cilimburg said. “It provides that baseline that will tell us if we, as a community, are moving in the right direction. It’s a community look at our carbon footprint.”

If the carbon footprint from municipal operations alone is any indication, the citywide contribution to climate change could be significant. The city’s study found that local government alone emitted 8,667 metric tons of carbon dioxide equivalents each year.

Aided by the benchmark information, the city reported this year that it had cut emissions by 11 percent. Cilimburg said the citywide study will give Climate Smart a starting point as it looks to challenge residents to reduce emissions next year.

“The big thing we want to do this next year is use that information and put some quantitative numbers in our climate action plan,” she said. “We can jump on some of the low-hanging fruit, especially around the built environment.”

As part of that, Cilimburg envisions a community challenge that encourages residents to reduce their carbon footprint by 10 percent. That could range from home heating and cooling, reducing disposable waste, or altering use of a single-occupied vehicle.

That effort isn’t unlike the California Water Challenge. Faced with water shortages, that state challenged residents “to bring the state’s water supply and demand into balance.”

“It’ll include a big push to jump on energy efficiency and conservation measures,” Cilimburg said of the local effort. “Some people may have less ability to control their apartment, but maybe we can direct them to think about their transportation.”

Before Climate Smart was born, Missoula held a series of community climate summits starting in 2013. The most recent summit saw 120 local leaders come together to address the impacts of climate change in Missoula.

The areas of focus ranged from reducing emissions to adaptation and included the city’s own Conservation and Climate Action Plan.

“Being around one full year, we realized there’s an appetite for Climate Smart Missoula and the work we’re doing at the local level,” Cilimburg said. “Some of the larger efforts at the federal level may stall out, or even go the other direction. But there’s an interest in people participating locally, and there’s a lot of people who want to engage in the issue.”

While the organization spent much of its inaugural year networking and building connections, it plans to turn its attention next year toward carbon reduction and improving local health, especially as the region trends toward hotter summers and more smoke from wildfires.

Some of the group’s work could also inform the decisions of local policy makers. That could include smart growth, public transportation and the urban forest.

“That’s all part of what we’re doing,” said Cilimburg. “We want to make sure our efforts are really aligned. Sometimes we can bring an added voice to the table.”

Contact reporter Martin Kidston at info@missoulacurrent.com