Our thoughts have been with communities and ecosystems impacted by destructive and unprecedented flooding the last couple weeks, causing severe damage, straining waterways, stranding residents and visitors, and disrupting lives and livelihoods. 

The jump in water levels along the Yellowstone and other rivers was caused by a rain-on-snow event, as a sequence of cool temps, snow, and rain combined with spring snowmelt to inundate waterways. Climate has to do with patterns over time, so it can take a lot of data and analysis to establish a particular weather event or disaster was caused by the climate crisis. But there's no doubt that the fingerprints of the climate crisis are all over this flooding.

Excess heat in Earth's climate system is disrupting weather patterns and the water cycle, causing greater variability of precipitation and earlier snowmelt (the 2017 Montana Climate Assessment's chapter on water has a good summary of water-related climate impacts we can expect to see more of).

As we write this, there's a strong disconnect between our desire to describe and make sense of what's happening, and the emotions it stirs up. For all its value, the cautious, nuanced language of science often feels so inadequate in the face of the raw and painful human and ecological costs of climate disasters.

Already this year, we've seen severe drought plaguing much of eastern Montana, widespread heatwaves in much of the U.S. and from Iran to Europe to India, and now Bangladesh is partially submerged. It was a spring of wildfires across the West. It's only June.

We feel this disconnect when it comes to so many other things happening in the world, too. The footage of the extensive destruction of roads within and north of Yellowstone National Park seemed a painful and yet apt metaphor. So much coming at us, from all directions, and none of it seems to make sense: High gas prices and inflation squeezing those who are trying to make ends meet, while rich oil company executives rake in massive profits.

Mass shootings almost daily, yet even the most basic proposed federal reforms are watered down. Destructive climate-fueled wars, flooding, wildfires and heat waves. All that while the federal government buddies up to petrostate dictators, elected leaders remain unwilling to take climate risks seriously, and here in western Montana one of our congressional candidates is on the payroll of a fossil fuel company.  

It feels like the normal feedback loops and structures of accountability are broken. How do we begin to restore them? Amidst a world that feels disconnected, how can we bring all these disparate strands together and be agents of connection?   

Physically, when it comes to energy systems and infrastructure: The thread connecting Russia’s awful and illegal war in Ukraine, high gas prices and inflation, and climate disasters isn’t hard to find. As  researchers Lauren Melodia and Kristina Karlsson from the Roosevelt Institute explain in a brilliant VOLTS podcast, dirty energy is at the root of our inflation woes, and if we invest further in our own fossil fuel dependence, even to export, we further expose ourselves to never-ending price fluctuations.

It’s a fact that rapidly scaling up a cleaner and more equitable energy system can eventually stem not only inflation, but the swell of climate emergencies too. Electricity, by the nature of where it’s produced and transported, will never be solely owned by international pariahs. Although we need policy and advocacy to ensure electric grids are clean and equitable, electricity is more democratic the world-over, and prices are significantly more stable.

So let’s work for electrification of our homes and buildings; better systems for both EVs and non-car transportation, like bike lanes and neighborhood greenways; and electrified public transportation (yay Mountain Line e-buses and expanded service). And what could be more timely than “Heat Pumps for Peace and Freedom?”

President Biden recently took Executive action on several issues that will speed up the clean energy transition, including invoking the Defense Production Act for heat pumps and establishing a new federal rule phasing out inefficient furnaces. Nerdy but important and exciting stuff. In sum, we simply must get off fossil fuels ASAP. We must.

Politically and economically: Politicians who choose short term gains over long term climate stability need to be held accountable. Corporations who price gouge must be reined in. We have to imagine and work for an economic system that does not use GDP and growth as a metric for wellbeing, because infinite growth is impossible on a finite planet.

Big changes are needed, but the seeds have already been planted, and you can help water them. Join a statewide coalition for climate action at NorthWestern Energy’s Butte office July 8-11. Sign Families for a Livable Climate’s letter to NorthWestern Energy’s board of directors asking them to transition Montana’s largest power utility to clean and affordable energy NOW. Work to elect strong climate leaders this November!

And socially: Equity has to be at the heart of solutions. When we elevate voices and stand as allies with the most vulnerable and those most impacted, we can create a more livable future for all. We are not all in the same boat, but we are in the same storm. Relationships are key to making change. Every action has ripple effects we can’t often see; we have to trust that what we do matters, as individuals and as a Missoula community.

This is why we are excited to launch our Clean Air - Healthy Homes project, designed to better understand the impacts of wildfire smoke for our neighbors. Missoula is also not immune to extreme heat, and through this project and additional efforts with Missoula County and their summer climate fellow, we aim to work with our partners to grow Missoula’s resilience to climate impacts, with equity at the center.

And finally, we have to keep talking about the climate crisis and connecting the dots between everything that’s happening. A warming climate loads the dice for extreme weather events and disasters, and an energy system that depends on fossil fuels will continue to destroy lives and livelihoods.

The more we can help friends, family and colleagues understand that the climate crisis is not some future possibility but is here now, the more we can grow the movement for urgent action to avoid the worst impacts. Offer suggestions for being part of solutions, too; this can help avoid getting stuck in feelings of anxiety or overwhelm.   

There's plenty to be worried about, and it can all feel overwhelming. This summer, we hope you can take the time you need to rest and recharge, reconnect with people and the natural world, and then re-commit to staying engaged in the movement for building a livable future. Stay tuned for various Climate Smart volunteer opportunities and community happenings, including Wildfire Smoke Ready Week July 9-16, Mt Jumbo balsamroot seed collection  July 1-15, the River City Roots Festival green team August 26-27, and our annual Climate & Clean Energy Expo September 17. 

As a community, let’s keep working to restore connections and build a more equitable, vibrant and climate-safe world. 

Abby Huseth is the Outreach Director and Amy Cilimburg is the Executive Director of Climate Smart Missoula. This Sustainable Missoula column is brought to you – via the Missoula Current – most weeks by Climate Smart Missoula and Home ReSource.

Sustainability Happenings

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

It’s Farmer’s Market Season! Support local food & farmers. Missoula Farmers Market at the XXXXs is celebrating its 50th season - markets run Saturday mornings through October, plus Tuesday evenings starting July - September. The Clark Fork River Market runs through October.

Sign up to be a volunteer Zero Waste Cafeteria Coach with MCPS.

June 26, 6 pm: Dr. Jane Goodall speaks on “Hope Through Action” at UM.  Dr. Jane Goodall, DBE, founder of the Jane Goodall Institute and a UN Messenger of Peace, will speak at the University of Montana on the Oval on Sunday, June 26. Goodall’s talk, “Hope Through Action,” is part of UM’s President’s Lecture Series. The lecture is free and open to the community, and will also be streamed virtually.

July 8-11: Statewide climate coalition actions at NorthWestern Energy in Butte. Save the date and contact Abby for more information.

July 13, 5 pm: Jeannette Rankin Peace Center’s annual Peace Party, at Paddleheads Stadium. 

Don’t forget – 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.