“Stewards of the biosphere:” Missoula County signs carbon neutral pledge

Missoula County on Thursday pledged to wean itself from fossil fuels and stand carbon neutral by 2035, citing the profound impacts CO2 is having on the planet’s climate and the life it supports.

And while the county alone won’t move the dial, commissioners said, working to reduce climate change and planetary warming is the right thing to do.

“In my estimation, climate change really is one of the most pressing moral issues of our time,” said Commissioner Dave Strohmaier. “We can be good stewards of the biosphere from Missoula County.”

By adopting the resolution aiming for a carbon neutral future, the commissioners cited figures released in 2018 by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, which found wide scientific consensus that human activities have caused the planet to warm.

Allowing that to continue would result in “massive impacts on the ecosystem, human health, and economic and social well-being,” the county’s resolution states.

“The first part of this (resolution) commits us to doing the work, the second part establishes a committee to figure it out,” said Commissioner Josh Slotnick. “The third part that’s not in here but will come later is our will to get the work done, which means spending money and making sacrifices.”

Like the city of Missoula, which passed a similar resolution last year, the county cited the Paris Agreement and its international pledge to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 28 percent below 2005 levels by 2025.

While the Trump administration has stated its intent to withdraw from the global agreement, 280 cities and counties in the U.S. have pledged to remain true to the doctrine.

“The county’s carbon goals would recognize the critical role of science in our society, that of establishing an evidence-based truth,” said Gary Matson, who spoke in favor of the resolution.

“It’s unfortunate and potentially tragic that so many of our leaders in government and business ignore the overwhelming scientific consensus that human activity releasing greenhouse gases is causing changes in climate that are increasingly catastrophic.”

A greenhouse gas inventory conducted by the county in 2016 found that it emitted more than 7,500 metric tons of CO2 equivalent that year. Reducing that output by 30 percent by 2035 would adhere to the Paris Agreement.

The city and county together are expected to sign a pledge next month stating their intent to shift to 100 percent clean energy in the coming decades.

“The planet is changing and human activities are the primary contributors to that change,” said Diana Maneta, the county’s climate action coordinator. “In Missoula County, climate change projections – some of which we’re experiencing already – include hotter and drier summers, warmer and wetter springs, and more frequent and intense fires and floods.”

The threat of fires and floods have manifested in each of the last two years, with a long fire season in 2017 followed in spring by near-record floods. Reducing emissions and establishing resiliency to cope with future changes will be key to a healthy future, the county said.

“It’s increasingly clear that resiliency, while it’s crucial, isn’t enough,” Maneta said. “In the business as usual case, where we assume those emissions continue to increase on the path they’ve been on, we’re looking at conditions in the future that will be very, very difficult for us to adapt to.”