If you are reading this article, chances are that you’re doing so from indoors, hiding from “smoke season.” Or maybe you are outdoors, and a tiny itch is growing in the back of your throat.
Missoula’s bright blue big sky is probably more of a bland gray, shot through with red sun. Right now, somewhere in Montana, someone’s neighbor, sibling, or spouse is risking their life to control an increasingly hard-to-control wildfire. You might be tempted to call this a “typical Montana summer.”
Montana only received a quarter of its normal precipitation in June, according to the latest drought monitor. In fact, droughts in Western Montana have become more and more common, leaving our agricultural industry bearing the burden each year. Wildfires have already erupted in all of the surrounding areas, covering Missoula in thick smoke. We see the smoke fill our valley, our lungs, and we all know to expect it to happen again and again.
The effects of the climate crisis are front and center in our lives. How will we enjoy our beautiful town when we can’t breathe fresh air outside all summer? What will fishing look like in Western Montana in the worst drought years or after our native fish populations have drastically declined?
It is for all of these reasons that the Missoula government must take immediate action to create stronger protections for the water in our rivers, the air that we breathe, the firefighters who protect us, and the place we call home.
And not all of the problems we face come from fires and drought. Northwestern Energy (NWE) released its 20-year plan to supply Montanans with our power, and it doesn’t look pretty. NWE is planning to drill and frack for 4 new gas plants in Montana within the next few years.
Currently, NWE’s portfolio is about 65% renewable energy, but if they build these new gas plants, then the majority of our energy will be from fossil fuels, locking Montana in for decades of fossil fuel consumption. We must ensure that our rivers, wildlife, and natural land don’t bear the cost of NWE’s drilling and fracking.
Our local government must do everything we can to create a community that is forward-thinking and striving to have a fossil-fuel-free future. If Missoula is committed to working to stop the climate crisis, then our City Council must take the following actions:
- Electrify the future of building heat systems by prohibiting fracked gas heating in all new buildings
- Strengthen energy efficiency standards on all new buildings and require on-site renewable energy production on new government buildings
- Prioritize preservation of Missoula’s natural landscapes in all development decisions
- Expand our bicycle & pedestrian path network for safe, connected cycling & walking with optimized safe routes to schools and pedestrian connections to Mountain Line transit stops for easy access to sustainable transportation
- Zone for mixed-use neighborhoods where commercial, residential and recreational spaces are dispersed amongst where we live to ensure sustainable transportation access to child care, schools, and daily services
Missoula can become a shining example of what it means to live in harmony with nature in the 21st century and to truly live in a climate-smart, sustainable way. Our local government should take direction from scientific data and from the time-tested practices of Indigenous peoples to create a truly sustainable city embodied in climate and environmental justice — a city that can be a role model for the rest of Montana and the regional Northwest.
Missoula’s future is on the line, and I look forward to fighting for our future in this year’s City Council elections.
Daniel Carlino is a candidate for Missoula City Council, Ward 3