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Sustainable Missoula: Finding the silver lining in a difficult year

This year’s winners of Climate Smart Missoula’s “Smarty Pants” award.

Every December, one of Climate Smart Missoula’s favorite rituals is gathering with our community to celebrate another year of local climate momentum and to honor folks who have made special contributions to this collective effort, with our annual Smarty Pants Awards.

This year, as we mark our 5-year anniversary as an organization, our celebration looks very different. 2020 has been a challenging year, to say the least, overshadowed by the COVID-19 pandemic, economic hardship, racial injustice, divisive politics, and, not least, increasingly severe climate impacts.

And yet, we wouldn’t be doing this work if we didn’t have hope for the future—hope that is fueled by the real commitment and hard work of so many in our community. When we started looking for silver linings in this past year, it turns out we didn’t have to look far.

The four winners of this year’s Smarty Pants awards are shining examples of these silver linings. They live out climate solutions every day, in their own unique ways, and we are all better for their generosity.

Tom Javins: Catalyst of Change Award

Some community do-gooders are visibly out in front, while others create positive change behind the scenes, in ways not seen. Tom is one of these latter change-makers, well-deserving of our annual catalyst award. A semi-retired mechanical engineer, two summers ago Tom approached us at a wildfire smoke workshop we were co-hosting with Missoula’s Health Department.

He recognized immediately that we needed more options than pricey HEPA portable air cleaners, and we needed to better understand how HVAC systems in homes and commercial spaces work. Tom’s response to seeing the need: “I think I can help”. And help he did. He transformed his basement into a lab and volunteered oodles of time to testing inexpensive DIY fan/filter combinations, ensuring these met safety standards.

He tried to catalyze a fire, and when he couldn’t, confirmed these are great to recommend, catalyzing instead a movement for healthy indoor air! Anytime we (Amy at Climate Smart or Sarah Coefield at the Health Department) needed his advice, he was ready to help, even starring in video films and media stories. These efforts have had a ripple effect, as folks seeking clean indoor air throughout the western US have benefited from Tom’s work.

And Tom didn’t stop there. Incredibly, as a contractor on a Missoula wildfire smoke air study led by the EPA, he decided to generously donate the income he earned to Climate Smart so we could continue catalyzing change!

And finally, it’s not all air for Tom—he and his wife Beverly collected pounds of Arrowleaf Balsamroot seeds to help us restore our surrounding hills, and he’s been busy re-roofing bluebird boxes on these same hills. We’re so thrilled to honor Tom.

Ethel MacDonald: Masters in the Fine Art of Community Building and Bicycle Riding

Ethel, once introduced in a different Missoula Current article as a “gal about town,” is a bicycling icon in Missoula. Did you know that Ethel rides her age every birthday? As Ethel’s odometer ticks up, so does the strength of our community. Her 80th birthday ride along the Bitterroot Trail was a community event with people joining the caravan for however many miles they were up for that day.

Ethel is, of course, so much more than biking. She has been a longtime advocate of open space, serving on the open space advisory board for over a decade, and the Bitterroot Trail alliance calls her “one of Missoula’s preeminent advocates for sustainable and active transportation.”

Ethel doesn’t just live out her values on a personal level, she works tirelessly to advocate for systemic change as well. We’re not the first people to recognize Ethel for her hard work—in 2005, Ethel was named Peacemaker of the Year by the Jeannette Rankin Peace Center—and we’re sure we won’t be the last. We’re thrilled to present the Masters in the Fine Art of Community Building and Bicycle Riding to Ethel MacDonald.

Andrew Valainis: JD in Solar Savvy & Advocacy

Andrew is currently working on a master’s degree, but we’re awarding him a JD, which in this case stands for Just Do It! That seems to be Andrew’s unofficial personal and professional motto. Andrew has been the executive director of the Montana Renewable Energy Association (MREA) since 2016, working to level the playing field for clean energy across the state through policy advocacy and education.

At Climate Smart, we’ve been lucky to collaborate with Andrew on numerous events and efforts. He is not only a self-described energy nerd, able to explain the arcane details of policy and the nuts and bolts of renewable energy generation, but he’s also always ready to jump in on any scheme we come up with for spreading the word about solar.

Planning a big Clean Energy Expo in addition to MREA’s annual Clean Energy Fair? Just do it! Last minute change of plans to a virtual solar happy hour at the beginning of a pandemic? Just do it! Donning an alien suit for some silly ad libbing? Sure, why not?! Andrew’s “Just Do It” attitude is exactly what’s needed for growing renewable energy in Montana.

And we’re grateful that he’ll be putting on his JD hat in Helena for the upcoming 2021 Montana Legislative Session as he lobbies for clean energy. He’s always ready, always willing, to get the job done.

Laurie Yung: Doctorate of Dedication

Although Laurie already has a PhD, her dedication to Montana climate efforts has her deserving a second Doctorate, one we are honored to bestow. Her deep knowledge of and approach to the ways we can best build a climate literate and action-oriented society has greatly benefited our community and state.

Too often climate advocates and fixers understand well the physics, chemistry and ecological facts of climate change, but less so the social science. Laurie’s day job is Professor of Natural Resource Social Science and Co-Chair of the University of Montana’s Department of Society & Conservation, where she works to understand what moves people to make climate smart decisions, bridging the “hard” and “soft” sciences. She tirelessly teaches, mentors, and leads, at UM and beyond.

We are all indebted to Laurie who has volunteered her expertise with two major efforts. First, she was instrumental in developing Climate Ready Missoula—our County and City resiliency plan—providing just the help we needed, from the initial science primer, through facilitating 100+ people workshops, to crafting the final plan.

And as an ex officio member of the Governor’s Climate Solutions Council, she worked day and night to ensure Montana’s Climate Action Plan had the right strategies to meet the moment. We could go on and on. A true unsung hero in our community, we are so grateful for Laurie’s dedication!

We hope these Smarty Pants winners inspire you, too. And as we put 2020 in the rearview mirror and look ahead to 2021, there are a couple more ways to join us in seeking out the silver linings.

On December 21, the winter solstice, join with folks across our community—physically distant, but together—in welcoming the return of the light and sharing your Climate Resolutions for 2021 as part of an event we’re calling “Rekindling our Commitment for a Brighter Future”, hosted in partnership with Families for a Livable Climate.

And, we’re grateful to Imagine Nation Brewing for collaborating with us on a special “Silver Linings” brew to commemorate the solstice and promote solar energy. A dollar of every 4-pack purchased goes to support our work as we gear up for a community-wide solar campaign in 2021. (But there’s no need to wait—if you’re considering going solar, winter can be a great time to get the ball rolling! Check out our website for more info.)

Amy Cilimburg, Caroline Lauer, and Abby Huseth are staff at Climate Smart Missoula.

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

Sustainability Happenings

As COVID-19 has altered many community events, some have moved on-line or found creative outlets. 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 Home ReSource’s eNews via their homepage here.

Through April. Missoula Valley Winter Market. Located in the Southgate Mall (in former Lucky’s Market). Market hours: Saturdays, 9am-2pm through April 17. Also open Wednesdays from 4:30-7pm through December 30th.

Through December 13. Gather – The Fight to Revitalize Our Native Foodways free screening. In honor of Native American Heritage Month and the closing of 21-Week Racial Equity in the Food System Challenge, AERO is providing a FREE screening of the documentary film Gather. “Gather is an intimate portrait of the growing movement amongst Native Americans to reclaim their spiritual, political and cultural identities through food sovereignty, while battling the trauma of centuries of genocide.” See Facebook event HERE for regular updates and resources.

Now until it’s gone: Buy a beer to support Climate Smart Missoula! Imagine Nation Brewing collaborated with Climate Smart Missoula to brew “Silver Linings,” a New England style IPA to celebrate finding the silver linings even when skies are dark and daunting. The beer will be available starting 12/4 until it sells out. Purchase the beer at Imagine Nation, the Good Food Store, and Worden’s. $1 of every 4-pack goes to support Climate Smart’s work.

December 13 – February 13 (dates added periodically). Virtual Fixit Clinics. Want to try fixing from home? Present your broken item to a global team of expert community repairers and get suggestions for things to try. After all items are presented, participants move to Zoom breakout rooms to implement the suggestions and, hopefully, fix the items.

December 19. Missoula Christmas Bird Count. This annual event is organized by Five Valleys Audubon Society and led by Larry Weeks. Contact Larry at bwsgenea@gmail.com or call 549-5632 for more information.

December 21. Winter Solstice Event: Rekindling our Commitment to a Brighter Future, hosted by Families for a Livable Climate and Climate Smart Missoula. On the shortest day of the year, gather with your household on your porch or yard to welcome the return of the light! We’ll join as a community – physically apart, but together – to rekindle our commitment to building a brighter future and share our Climate Resolutions for 2021. We’ll feature resolutions in the January 1 Sustainable Missoula Column and compile photos/videos into an inspiring vision for our community as we head into 2021. More info on how to participate is HERE.

Find more activities and events at Missoulaevents.net and on Montana Environmental Information Center’s Conservation Calendar.