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Sustainable Missoula: Time for Code Red on climate action in Montana

Climate Smart Missoula Board of Directors from left to right includes Karen Knudsen, Chris Brick, Melissa Matassa-Stone, Beth Schenk, Peter McDonough, Paul Herendeen and Gwen Lankford. (Climate Smart Missoula)

Like no other, this summer is bringing the impacts of our climate emergency into focus. Climate is in the news, and it will be for the rest of our lives.

Exhibit A — a few headlines about our hot and smoky weather:  

  • Summer of disaster: extreme weather wreaks havoc worldwide as climate change bears down (LA Times), 
  • The West is burning. Climate change is making it worse (Vox)
  • UM research: 2020 was the worst fire season in 2,000 years; expected to get worse (Daily Montanan). 

Exhibit B — headlines from the August 9 IPCC Report: 

  • Climate Change: IPCC report is ‘code red for humanity’ (BBC)
  • The new UN climate change report shows there’s no time for denial or delay (Science News)
  • Climate report: Hope is not lost, but ‘we need to move faster’ (Christian Science Monitor)
  • A Major Report Warns Climate Change Is Accelerating And Humans Must Cut Emissions Now (NPR)

The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) just released the first report of the Sixth Assessment, which addresses the most up-to-date physical understanding of the climate system and climate change. The findings are stark and urgent, as the 234 authors state: “It is unequivocal that human influence has warmed the atmosphere, ocean and land.” We urge you to take some time to read more about this latest report (or the report itself) and then resolve to take action.

As members of Climate Smart Missoula’s Board of Directors, we consider daily how to move the most salient and timely climate solutions forward, with the urgency required to meet the moment. And we believe this IPCC report can and must spur renewed commitment to act without delay. 

At last month’s City Club, Missoula County Sustainability and Climate Smart Missoula gave an excellent presentation about how we can and must address the climate crisis in two ways: Manage for the unavoidable and avoid the unmanageable.

This summer amidst record heat, drought and wildfires, as individuals and a community, we are immersed in efforts to manage the unavoidable: trying to adapt and protect human health and that of our critical and iconic ecosystems. From bringing clean indoor air to those most vulnerable, to protecting cold water fisheries, or simply watering parched trees – there’s much to do.

But we also must avoid the unmanageable, by immediately and significantly cutting climate-heating emissions. This much is clear from the latest IPCC report: we must stop burning fossil fuels. And while global and national action is needed, local efforts are also crucial and can spark further action.

We strongly support federal efforts presently being debated. The Senate just passed a bipartisan infrastructure deal that, while not a climate-focused bill, does include climate resiliency funds. Water and forest management projects are included, as well as support for transit and passenger rail, although we’d like to see these funds increased.

We thank Senator Tester for his work on this infrastructure bill and for  his vote to bring the budget reconciliation bill forward, the second key piece of legislation. It’s in this “budget reconciliation” package that significant climate-focused efforts must be offered, including a clean electricity standard, incentives for renewable energy, energy efficiency in buildings, and much more. 

We call on our congressional delegation to support these efforts to quickly slash greenhouse gas emissions. This summer’s wildfire smoke is clear evidence that if we do not, we jeopardize our health, our Montana tourism economy, our environment, and our amazing quality of life. 

We also call on Governor Gianforte to move forward with Montana’s Climate Solutions Plan, bringing community and climate leaders together to capitalize on the tremendous opportunities brought by the clean energy transition. 

Last but not least, as Missoulians, we ask our local government to strengthen their commitment to a healthy, stable climate by prioritizing climate as a lens through which decisions are made in all departments, and by increasing funding in next year’s budget.

As a community, we need capacity to work directly on reducing our greenhouse gas emissions, implementing the Climate Ready Missoula plan, and strengthening collaborative work statewide. Missoula can be an even stronger climate leader, inspiring innovative actions here and beyond our boundaries. 

Many of the programs that Climate Smart staff work on day in and day out can simultaneously drive down our carbon emissions and strengthen community health, equity, and resiliency, collaborative efforts like our Footprint Fund, Building(s) for the Future initiative, and Wildfire Smoke Ready efforts. 

Each of us works to drive innovation and sustainability in the work we do, whether that is at a large health system, planning and design firm, credit union, river conservation nonprofit, University of Montana, or via supporting initiatives for communities that have been historically excluded.

We are ready to roll up our sleeves to accelerate collaborative work with community partners. We look forward to joining with city and county leaders, businesses, organizations, volunteers, and citizens to turn down the heat – toward a safer, more just and humane climate.  

Let’s not turn away from difficult news and dire projections. Instead let’s ALL rise to the urgency of today and take action.

Climate Smart Missoula’s Board of Directors: Beth Schenk is the Executive Director of Environmental Stewardship for Providence Health; Chris Brick is a retired scientist and active community member; Gwen Lankford is the President/Owner of Sapphire Strategies; Karen Knudsen is Executive Director of the Clark Fork Coalition; Melissa Matassa-Stone is principal Engineer and Co-CEO at WGM Group; Paul Herendeen is Director of Impact Market Development at Clearwater Credit Union; and Peter McDonough is the program coordinator for the Climate Change Studies program at UM. 

This Sustainable Missoula column is brought to you – via the Missoula Current – every week by Climate Smart Missoula and Home ReSource.

Sustainability Happenings

Here we offer ideas about sustainable ways to stay involved in our community. If you like these offerings, consider signing up for Climate Smart’s eNewsletter here. And sign up for the Home ReSource eNews via their homepage here.

Missoula’s Farmers Markets. Eat local now through the early fall! The original Farmers Market at the north end of Higgins runs every Saturday 8am-12:30 – information here. The Clark Fork Market is now located at 101 Carousel Drive near Dragon Hollow, runs every Saturday 8am -1pm – information is here.

Western Montana Fair – Aug. 11-14. Volunteer for the Zero Waste team at the Fair! Help set up and maintain Zero Waste stations. More information and sign up here. While at the Fair, check out the Creative Reuse Division!

Bike to Barns tour – Aug. 14-Sept. 30. Explore local farms and flavors on a 15-mile bike tour through Missoula’s Orchard Homes and Target Range neighborhoods. Check back here for more info.

Fixit Clinic – Aug. 21, 11am-3pm. Save the date for upcoming Fixit Clinics, hosted by Home ReSource! Bring your broken items and work with skilled repair coaches to learn how to fix them. More information and sign ups here.

River City Roots – Aug. 27-28. Help out with sustainability efforts at River City Roots! We need volunteers to help sort trash, recycling, and compost, and to help out at the bike valet. Check this page for more info and sign ups.

Spontaneous Construction – Sept 18th. Missoula’s festival of creative reinvention! Reuse. Compete. Create. Enjoy! More info and team registration here.

Missoula’s third annual Climate and Clean Energy Expo – Sept 25, 10 am – 2 pm. Climate Smart Missoula, together with partners at the Montana Renewable Energy Association, City of Missoula, Missoula County, and Clearwater Credit Union are back to hosting this premier event at Caras Park. More information is HERE, let us know if you’d like to sponsor or host a table, and do Save the Date.

Materials donations to Home Resource keep the wheels of reuse spinning in our community; and remember that everything you need to know about what to do with your unwanted stuff is at www.zerobyfiftymissoula.com.

Find more local activities and events at Missoulaevents.net and on Montana Environmental Information Center’s Conservation Calendar. And you too can help organize events – here’s the 2021 Calendar of Environmental Awareness Days – month by month break down of world day campaigns.