Earlier in December we celebrated Year 2! Gathering, as we do monthly, at Imagine Nation Brewing, we celebrated not just our two full years of climate action—from Greenhouse Gas inventories, to building shade and planting trees, to rallies, to providing clean air during our worst-ever wildfire smoke season, to bikes, to twister with a twist—we also gathered to celebrate this community and all the wonderful collaborations and partners!
As is tradition—one whole year of it anyway—we handed out these coveted, well-deserved and super fun Smarty Pants awards. We even made a new webpage to share just why we love these partners. Let’s all celebrate these 2017 community climate do-gooders:
Want to know more about why these seven Missoulians won these awards? It's all HERE.
Guest Blog by John Eric Schleicher
The few Missoulians who walked into the door of the Missoula Fairgrounds Arts Building on a November Thursday night were greeted with friendly smiles and a table full of Mountain Line swag. Sterile light reflected off eight enlarged poster boards, depicting land use maps, bus ridership data, and alternative visions for Missoula bus riders. Though the multicolored maps and data would make any transportation wonk grin, Thursday’s intended audience was citizens with diverse backgrounds and transportation needs.
Mountain Line is seeking citizen input as the transportation agency updates its latest Strategic Plan. As part of its efforts, Mountain Line hosted four open houses in different neighborhoods throughout Missoula so citizens could review and offer feedback to two different alternative service enhancements. Should Mountain Line’s future focus be to increase bus frequency or should it be to expand service to Sundays, holidays, and later on weekday nights? Currently, Mountain Line does not offer Sunday service, provides a reduced Saturday service, and turns in for the night fairly early on weeknights. On the weekdays, Mountain Line has two bus routes that frequent each stop every fifteen minutes. The frequency for the other ten routes that snake their way through Missoula range from thirty to sixty minutes. On Saturday, all available routes decrease to sixty-minute frequency.
Mountain Line’s “Seven Days and Seven Nights” service expansion would add two more hours of operations on weekday evenings, four to six more hours on Saturday, and eight hours on Sunday. Mountain Line’s “Shorter Wait” service expansion would focus investment in creating high weekday and Saturday bus frequency.
In a perfect mass transportation world, both options would be on the citizen table. But Vince Caristo, Mountain Line’s Project Management Specialist, says, “We’re an agency with a fixed budget so we have to make hard choices.”
The hard choices will have a large impact on the many Mountain Line riders. Caristo says over 1.5 million riders rode the blue and green buses in 2016. While transit riding is declining in most American cities, Missoula is an outlier. In the previous three years, Mountain Line has seen a 70% increase in their ridership.
Mountain Line’s success moving more Missoulians from single occupant vehicles to buses is critical in shrinking the city’s carbon footprint. Transportation needs spew more than one third of Missoula’s total emission output, making sustainable transportation a high priority in Climate Smart Missoula’s triage to dull climate change’s impact.
Amy Cilimburg, Climate Smart Missoula’s Executive Director, says, “We need to develop our community to be climate friendly and climate resilient. Mountain Line is a tremendous success story, but we can strengthen it. Each option has trickle down ramifications so people don’t have to rely on cars.”
Mountain Line’s limited weekend service forced, Mallary Langen, a Pre-Nursing student enrolled at the University of Montana, to take a car this past Thanksgiving weekend when she had hoped to take the bus. She laments how she had to spend twenty dollars on an Uber ride from the airport. “I had no idea the bus didn’t go to the airport on the weekends,” Langen says. “I assumed it did since I rode the bus to the airport for my outgoing flight.”
Langen wishes for the transit agency to invest more in weekend and weeknight service. She’s a regular Mountain Line rider, who depends on the bus to get to campus to avoid the high parking costs.
Miles Kinney, an employee at Consumer Direct Care Network Montana, would like the investment to focus on frequency. He relies on the “infrequent service” of route eleven to get to work. In order to avoid long waits, he plans his days around the bus schedule and says, “it would be great if the bus was more available.”
“Then again,” he adds. “Sunday service would also be great. I save all my errands for the weekend.”
Miles Kinney, Mallary Langen, and you still have the opportunity to let Mountain Line know how to expand their service. The four open houses have concluded, but the agency has an online survey open where you can state your preference. The survey will be open through November 30th and can be found at HERE. Though the survey will only take a few minutes to complete, your time will be well spent towards moving Missoula closer towards a sustainable transportation future.
John Eric Schleicher is a freelance writer based here in Missoula. When not typing on the computer, you can find him playing on the abundant trails in and around Missoula. Visit his website at montanafreelancewriter.com.
One truly rewarding thing about Missoula is the active and engaged community our city fosters. At Climate Smart Missoula’s Monthly meetup focused on sustainable transportation and smart growth it was clear much of our community is engaged and ready to make our communal transportation system more sustainable! In a jammed packed room at Imagine Nation Brewery, community members put their active minds and bodies together in hopes of formulating ideas and initiatives which help people reduce their transportation footprint. Transportation is an exciting and essential sector to discuss as it accounts for nearly 37 percent of our communities total emission output.
Many community experts in the transportation sector attended the meetup, including Bill Pfeiffer, the community outreach coordinator at Mountain Line, Bob Giordano, director of Free Cycles and Chase Jones, Missoula’s Energy Efficiency and Conservation Coordinator. Transportation and smart growth is multi-dimensional, involving aspects of personal contribution, education, funding and urban planning. These transportation experts helped lead the conversation through the different dimensions by engaging in a dialogue regarding upcoming initiatives that promote sustainable transportation and allow community members to make a personal impact.
Here’s some exciting opportunities and ways to get involved:
Director of Free Cycles and long-time bike advocate Bob Giordano has helped nearly 15,000 people gain access to a bicycle in Missoula. Bob and other transportation leaders in our community would like to shift the dynamic away from a car dominated transportation system towards a system that’s more inclusive of bikers and users of public transit. Bob admits that significant barriers remain for reducing single occupancy vehicles (SOVs), like accessibility to bike lanes and comfort level in a vehicle centered urban landscape. In order to help solve this issue, street design and policy change is needed. Bob was excited to discuss a proposed city council resolution regarding a 5th and 6th street bike lane change that would increase accessibility and safety for bicycles. He encouraged the group to contact their city council representatives and spread the word about the proposed bike lanes.
In addition to education and personal contribution, a transportation plan needs “smart growth” in order to meet long term GHG reduction goals. So what does smart growth mean? “Smart growth” refers to planning that promotes multiple route options and multiple transportation systems to increase efficiency and reduce congestion in a transportation system. A few exciting “smart growth” city planning projects were discussed at the meet up.
First, Missoulians have an opportunity to become directly involved in city planning through a project called Missoula Design Excellence. Essentially, the project seeks to define and “implement a system that will promote high quality commercial building development in terms of design, materials, construction and character.”
The design of new buildings in our community have implications on accessibility for bikers and users of public transit. In order to achieve a holistic plan, which meets the needs and wants of Missoula, the project needs community engagement. The public comment period is currently open, so make your voices heard! If you feel inclined, please Review the Draft Strategy Report and submit comments to by Friday, October 13th.
Another important aspect of “smart growth” was mentioned by Bill Pfeiffer, Mountain Line’s community outreach coordinator. Bill spoke about the ability to reduce single occupancy car dependence through increased accessibility to the public transportation system. Bill shared our community’s Long Range Transportation Goals . MPOs Long Range Transportation Plan Ambitious Mode Shift includes goals of 20,000 fewer drive along commute trips, reduction of drive along to 34 %, triple biking, walking and transit shares and provide a carpooling increase by 2045.
To achieve these goals, it will be important to provide multiple options of public transportation and come up with intriguing incentives for Missoulian’s to use them. Ultimately, says Bill, using our public transportation system “needs to be really easy”. Checkout the entire Long Range Transportation plan here:
With these goals in mind, our community is off to a great start, engaging in productive dialogue and brainstorming ways to build partnerships.
The room was still rolling, ready to solve issues and build partnerships when the 7:00 end time came around. The group decided to plan a follow up meeting which we encourage community members to attend. Time and date TBD – stay tuned. Let’s continue to advance Missoula’s quest for sustainable transportation and smart growth.
We’ve been doing our Climate Smart Monthly Meetups for almost 2 years now, but every time, I’m amazed at the depth of knowledge and energy around the room – from folks who are experts in their fields, to curious citizens, and everyone in between. I guess what I’m saying is, Missoula is full of awesome people who care deeply about our community. But you probably already knew that!
It was smoky outside, but inside the INBC community room last Thursday, our friends Andrew Valainis with the Montana Renewable Energy Association and Paul Herendeen with Missoula Federal Credit Union helped us get a clearer view of the renewable energy landscape in Missoula and Montana.
As you might guess, that landscape is not always easy to navigate, as it’s full of jargon and acronyms and politics. MREA and MFCU are two valuable guides through this landscape. Through public outreach, policy advocacy, and engagement with renewable energy businesses, MREA works to expand renewable energy in our state. Their annual Clean Energy Fair, which brings together all three of MREA’s areas of expertise, is happening this weekend, in fact – Saturday September 16th in Helena. It’s a great event – we highly recommend checking it out!
It was also exciting to learn about another brand-new MREA initiative, the Montana Solar Community Project. Thanks to funding from the Department of Energy, MREA will be heading on tour to 8 towns large and small across the state this fall to learn about their visions for community solar, and ultimately, how those visions might become reality. Mark your calendars – the Missoula stop will be on October 10th! Community solar can take different forms, but the basic idea is a solar installation whose electricity is shared by multiple users. Several of the electric cooperatives in the state have implemented successful community solar projects, including Missoula Electric Co-op, but one reason we don’t see more of these projects is that virtual net metering, the mechanism that allows households to get credit for the electricity produced by solar panels that aren’t on their own property, is not permitted for the state’s investor-owned utilities (IOUs - Northwestern Energy and MDU). Dang!
Let me pause for a brief PSA as we make our way through the renewable energy landscape: the state Public Service Commission (PSC) is responsible for regulating our IOUs. They’re pretty powerful when it comes to setting the terms for renewable energy development. But they’re elected officials – so it’s important that they hear from us about removing barriers to renewable energy!
Another behind-the-scenes but important part of navigating renewables is financing – which is where MFCU comes in. While our major electric utility may not be going solar nearly as quickly as we’d like, individual homeowners and businesses are really jumping on the bandwagon (including via our Solarize program). But not every homeowner who wants to put up solar panels has the cash up front to do so. MFCU has two different loans for renewable energy, plus a super-helpful checklist for anyone considering solar and comparing bids from installers. (Side note – Paul researched the financial performance of solar, and turns out that, aside from being a climate-friendly choice, solar is also a smart investment from a strictly financial perspective. Cool! White paper to be published soon.) Rooftop solar is shiny and exciting, but of course using less energy in the first place is important too, which is why MFCU’s Home Energy Loan also works for energy efficiency upgrades (and they’re a key sponsor of our Energy Smart Challenge too – thanks MFCU!).
At the meetup, our tour of the renewable energy landscape was focused on solar, but there are other clean energy stories to be told. Wind is a potent source of power in Montana, though largely east of the Divide. Battery storage technology continues to improve. Several large buildings in downtown Missoula are heated geothermally with ground-source heat pumps. Historically a cheap supply of local coal has been a factor hindering greater clean energy development in our state, but we know coal is getting more expensive and renewables are getting cheaper. Let’s continue to do our part as individuals to expand renewables and advocate as a community for a level playing field for clean energy. Start by heading to the Clean Energy Fair next weekend to learn more, then we’ll see you on October 10th to talk more about community solar for Missoula!
Easily my favorite part of commuting to work is crossing Higgins Bridge for my daily glimpse at the Clark Fork River. We are fortunate enough in Missoula to be at the confluence of three beautiful rivers, a healthy aquifer, and fairly reliable rainfall. It’s also safe to say the Clark Fork is integral to the identity of our town. So how are these waterways impacted by climate change? Last night, we gathered at Imagine Nation Brewing for our August Monthly Meetup to discuss the nexus of water, energy and climate in Missoula.
It was only about a month ago that we were feeling pretty optimistic in our Climate Smart office about water flows and fire potential this summer. Those heavy spring rains had us daydreaming of high rivers and minimal wildfire smoke, but no such luck. Last August, our water Monthly Meetup was all about the impacts of extraordinarily low flows we were experiencing at the time. Though we haven’t seen the same growth of algae blooms this year, we are starting to see lower flows and fishing restrictions as hot temperatures persist and drought conditions worsen throughout the state.
Last night, we were excited to discuss the City’s recent acquisition of Mountain Water, and the opportunities a city owned water system opens up. Though it may not be the first thing you think about, a lot of energy goes into pumping water from the aquifer below us to our taps. We know that our pump system is old, inefficient, and in desperate need of upgrades. According to Chase Jones, acquiring the water system adds about 90 Northwestern Energy accounts to the municipal portfolio. We now have an incredible opportunity to improve the system’s efficiency with innovative strategies and technology and to engage the community on water and energy conservation.
Speaking of water conservation and energy efficiency, have you check out our Energy Smart Challenge yet? Our theme for August is all about the connection between water use and energy! This week’s Energy Smart email focused on how to reduce your water use outside while still keeping your garden and plants alive. It’s important to note that, though saving water is the goal, we don’t want to skimp on watering our trees. As we discussed in June’s Monthly Meetup, our urban forests provides so many benefits it’s worth the resources to keep those trees healthy. So please take time to water your trees! They will repay you in countless ways.
Our other focus of conversation was an important one. We had representatives from Montana Trout Unlimited and Montana Conservation Voters present to discuss the Trump Administration’s decision to repeal the 2015 Clean Water rule that protects headwater streams and water sources. This rule not only protects 60% of stream miles in the country, it is provides vital protection from pollution of the cold, clean waters that make up 50% of Montana’s trout streams, includes exemptions to ensure farmers and ranchers do not get penalized for using the water they need, and safeguards the drinking water sources of one in three Americans.
The 30-day comment period is open until August 28th. Follow this link to learn more and take action. You can also join Montana Trout Unlimited for a beer on August 8th at Great Burn Brewing and August 15th at Imagine Nation Brewing to learn more and submit comments.
We know cold, connected streams are already at risk due to increasing temperatures and longer fire seasons. Repealing protections that keep our waters clean would have dramatic impacts on ecosystems and our access to useable water on top of losses due to increased drought conditions. Stay tuned for a detailed map from Trout Unlimited to see what streams would be at risk if the Clean Water Rule is repealed.
Water is major part of our way of life in Western Montana, it is important that we protect our water resources and work to mitigate the effects climate change can have on them. Be honest, can you imagine a Missoula summer that does not include fishing a floating? So let’s celebrate our healthy aquifer and rivers and remember it’s up to us to keep them flowing! Stay cool out there.
A couple weeks ago, New York Magazine published a detailed and downright terrifying account of worst-case projected climate impacts that represent the upper limit of current scientific models. The article stirred up a social media firestorm and quickly spawned a range of reactions from climate scientists, journalists, and academics. Interestingly, most critiques were aimed at the tone and framing of the article rather than its accuracy. Some argued that this apocalyptic, doomsday narrative was so depressing it would never motivate people to action; others suggested that this kind of alarmism is precisely what we need to shock us into urgent response to the climate crisis. So which is it? How can we contemplate and understand the real risks that climate change poses, without being paralyzed or overwhelmed by anxiety? Is fear useful? I found myself pondering these questions all last week.
Meanwhile, on Friday night I watched “Inside Out”, the recent animated film about the emotional journey of a young girl, Riley, from childhood into early adolescence, told from the point of view of her emotions themselves: Anger, Fear, Disgust, Sadness, and Joy. If you haven’t seen it, do! It’s one of those kid movies that’s definitely not just for kids. As I watched, I was impressed by the subtle genius of the story and how it illustrates the complexities of our human responses to the world around us. In “Inside Out”, all the emotions play their own important roles at different times. In the end, Sadness and Joy end up working together to motivate Riley’s reconnection with her family. The more I thought about it, the more I realized these messages might offer some wisdom to those of us wrestling with how to respond to climate science and solutions. Skeptical that a cartoon can help? Fair enough - just indulge me for a moment here.
In the movie, the stress and shock of a cross-country move jolts Sadness and Joy out of Riley’s “control room”, leaving Disgust, Fear, and Anger, haplessly at the helm. With only this limited range of emotions, Riley lashes out at her parents, withdraws into herself, and even tries to run away. If you read that New York Magazine article, maybe this kind of response sounds familiar. Disgust at the damage we have done to our planet, fear of harm to myself and loved ones, anger that we are not acting fast enough to prevent these extreme outcomes - these were certainly the first emotions I felt. Maybe it’s no surprise that critics accused author David Wallace-Wells of exaggeration, fear-mongering, or despairing. When we’re presented with shocking information, it’s natural to try to find a way to discount it or run away from it.
Sadness and joy are two sides of the same coin: our love for the world and our delight in its wonders is what makes us sad to see it changing! Not to get too sappy, but I believe that acknowledging and giving space for both deep sadness and joy can truly motivate us to action. It can help us harness all our emotions, to see solutions more clearly, and to work together to protect each other and the world we love.
One last thing - some critics of the article said, “Where’s the hope?” It's true - let’s not forget that the reason why this doomsday scenario is unlikely to play out is that people across the globe are putting creative climate solutions into action, through individual and collective efforts. We’ve been reading some interesting articles on this topic too - stay tuned for another blog soon.
In the end, of all the responses to the original NY Magazine article, journalist David Roberts’ cool-headed analysis seems pretty spot on to me - check it out if you haven’t. The gist: some fear is ok. It’s important to be informed by the latest climate science and models, but it’s worth remembering that we’re only human, and our emotions are real and valid. When we let our emotions do their jobs, we can move forward and find solutions - and hope - together.
Has all this 90-degree-plus weather made you a little cranky lately? A little quicker to anger? Maybe you worry about your crops, or the fish in your favorite stream, if we face another drought. Personally, I can get sucked into feelings of hopelessness just thinking about the monumental tasks of reducing our carbon footprint and creating a more sustainable society.
Since I finished researching and writing our new Climate and Mental Health page (which you should really check out!), I’ve been thinking a lot about how climate change affects our state of mind. Did you know that extreme heat, increased wildfire smoke, drought, and even the threat of climate change itself can all be major stressors? That the repercussions of extreme weather events and the alteration of our most cherished landscapes can lead to anxiety, chronic stress, depression, substance abuse, increased levels of domestic violence, and even suicide? Heat and wildfire smoke actually affect brain chemistry, with the former increasing stress hormones and the latter causing brain inflammation.
Luckily for my own emotional well-being, I’ve also been learning how we can use the challenges we face in positive ways. Climate change can be a catalyst for improvements in the mental and emotional health of our entire community, including the well-being of Missoulians who are most at risk. Heat and wildfire smoke take a much larger toll on homebound senior citizens, on those who live in substandard housing or are homeless, on those who live in neighborhoods with few trees, and on refugees who have been forced to flee their homes due to drought, sea level rise, or other changes. People with existing mental health problems and other disabilities are at greater risk, too.
The time to start is now. Because if you think the weather is uncomfortable this week, consider this: if current carbon emissions trends continue, by 2100 summers in Missoula will resemble summers in Yucaipa, California – a city near the Mexican border where the average summer temperature is currently 92 degrees. Missoula’s average summer temps hover around 80 degrees, but that’s quickly changing. (You can see the future summertime trajectories of 1,001 U.S. cities, all based on the latest climate science, on this neat interactive map.)
Improving the mental and emotional health of all Missoulians is a worthy goal. So is reducing our carbon footprint so we don’t become as hot and dry as southern California. Isn’t it great that the twin ideals of better health and a more sustainable, equitable Missoula go hand in hand? I’m starting to feel a little less cranky already.
What about you? How are our changing summers affecting your emotional health? Are you a health professional who's seeing impacts on your patients? What concerns you most about climate change and mental health? Let's keep the conversation going! Comment on this post, or send your thoughts and experiences to firstname.lastname@example.org. I'd love to share a wider range of views in an upcoming blog post.
(If you missed the link at the top, don’t forget to check out our new Climate and Mental Health page for more information on what you can do to make Missoula a healthier and more resilient place. You can also check out our overall strategies for a Healthy Community.)
Terri Nichols is a graduate student in the University of Montana's Environmental Studies program. She's working as Climate Smart Missoula's Summer Smart Intern this year thanks to a Brainerd Conservation Fellowship.
Based on my several sunburn patches and the delightful smell of sunscreen on all my clothes, it appears that summer is FINALLY here! Now that the warmer weather seems to be sticking around, it’s getting easier to wrap our heads around things like wildfire smoke, shade, and trees. You may have even seen us on the river trail during the last couple weeks working on the construction of our first shade shelter, part of our Summer Smart initiative.
This past week, our Monthly Meetup was all about urban trees, wildland forests, and why they are so important to the climate conversation. Our urban and wildland forestry bucket encompasses quite a range of goals and strategies around the how’s and why’s of strengthening and managing urban, wildland forests and open lands. Urban forests are an important part of smart growth and climate mitigation, providing value, beauty, and physical and mental health benefits to the community. Smart management of wildland forests is vital for mitigating the effects of fire, wildlife stressors, and maintaining a safe wildland-urban interface (WUI). Clearly the nexus of climate change and trees is strong. Our conversation on Thursday was a great chance to talk with local experts and interested individuals about what work needs to be done, should be done, and what Climate Smart Missoula’s role should be.
As we learned from our friend Karen Sippy, executive director of Trees For Missoula, the value of healthy urban forests is much more than you might think (see the value of one tree in the image at right). Trees help scrub air pollution, store carbon, keep our homes and communities cooler, and even reduce storm water runoff, in addition to adding monetary value to your property. Quite the list of benefits!
Thanks to Missoula's Urban Tree Census that will be updated next year, we know there are about 30,000 trees within city limits, and that’s just on public/city-owned lands. 27,000 of these trees have been inventoried by certified arborists and valued at $91 million. Unfortunately, we also know that most of the trees making up our urban forests are nearing the end of their life span. More about that from a recent Missoula Current article.
The City of Missoula adopted an Urban Forest Master Plan in April 2015 with the goal of developing a healthy, vibrant and sustainable urban forest we can continue to enjoy. Because climate change brings with it more regular heat events and increased risk of disease and pest infestation, it will be important to think carefully about the trees we plant for the future and how we care for them. We know disease spread is best prevented by strategic variety in trees to create disconnected systems. Check out the City’s list of Approved Street Trees to see what trees are best suited for Missoula’s boulevards and public spaces. And Climate Smart has information about the best trees and shrubs for homeowners. Also see our 2016 Tree Canopy Assessment for the Missoula community.
And remember, during the typical arid summers of western Montana, it's critical to water your shade trees. They need a deep drink once a week or so to stay healthy. Pruning matters too. Find more tips at Trees for Missoula.
Some important questions we discussed:
How do we better incorporate trees into planning and new developments?
The most effective way to ensure trees are included in the planning and development process is to have strong policies for developers, particularly when it comes to required landscape features. Our current growth policy supports this! Presently Missoula is developing new "Design Standards" to guide our future, and this provides a perfect opportunity to weigh in and bring urban trees and green infrastructure forward as priority. Head HERE and comment.
Trees are clearly important to have on your property for a lot of reasons, but what about the problems shade creates for rooftop solar potential?
Having trees on your property is important for our overall tree canopy health as well as improving the comfort and value of your home. Sometimes this means rooftop solar does not fit on a home. This is a big reason we at Climate Smart support changing state legislation to allow for community solar projects. See our advocacy page for more info.
How can we make it so people who need trees can get them? Are there options or programs in place for new home buyers or low income families to plant [the right] trees?
Trees have many social, mental, and physical health benefits but they can also be expensive. We're presently working to develop programs to help with this, as there is nothing substantial happening today. The Missoula City-County Health Department has been working on some interactive Health Maps that could help in identify what areas need trees the most. Have ideas? Let us know!
What about native plants? Why are there non-native trees on the Boulevard & Parks Street Trees list?
Unfortunately, if we only stuck to native trees in our boulevards, we would end up with something of a monoculture, which is not ideal for disease and pest prevention. The list of Approved Street Trees was created to include trees that can survive and be more easily maintained in public spaces. However planting and caring for native trees is much easier in your own yard!
Clearly, urban forestry is an important piece to building a healthy and resilient community. Just as with our urban forests, it's vital that we also take a mindful approach to managing wildland forests. 60 minutes recently did a segment about this issue. Missoula and surrounding communities all have examples of development taking place in the WUI putting homes at a greater risk from wildfires. With more frequent, longer, and hotter fires every year, the idea of “living with fire” is more important than ever. Especially for homes in the WUI, it is important to understand best practices for keeping your home (and the firefighters who protect it) safe. We have great resources on our Active Fires website.
Is it just me, or has it been an especially busy spring? Just in the last few weeks, we’ve had Earth Week, the People’s Climate March and Rally, the Missoula in Motion Commuter Challenge (still going!), and Missoula Gives – whew! So much good stuff happening. These great events remind me how grateful I am to live in a community that’s so connected to nature and passionate about sustainability and climate resilience. Thanks, Missoula, for being so awesome!
That feeling of gratitude continued on Saturday when I headed down to the first farmers market of the season, and judging by the crowds, I wasn’t the only one excited about the market opening! When I moved to Missoula a few years ago, I couldn’t believe how active the local food scene was here, and the plethora of ways to connect with our local food system is still one of my favorite things about being a Missoulian. Last Thursday, at our May Climate Smart Monthly Meetup, we delved a little deeper into the climate connections with our local food and agriculture bucket, focusing this time on two different parts of the food system: the problem of wasted food, and thinking about soil as a climate solution.
When most of us think about the nexus between climate change and food, we often think first of agriculture – how climate change impacts threaten our agricultural economy, perhaps (see a recent Montana Farmers’ Union 2016 Report on Climate Change impact to Agricultural Economy in MT), or maybe how a warmer climate has already begun to shift plant hardiness zones. But another part of the food system – waste – has become a hot topic in terms of its climate implications. In the US, about 40% of food is wasted. 40%! Emitting potent and highly polluting methane gas, wasted food is responsible for over 8 percent of global greenhouse gas emissions – almost as much as the road transportation sector. In Missoula, some grocery stores and nonprofits are combating this problem by collaborating to divert perfectly edible food that’s past sell-by dates to people in need. But a lot of food – both pre- and post-consumer – still ends up in our landfill. In fact, wasted food and construction and demolition debris constitute HALF of our landfill! Clearly, we can do better at avoiding wasted food in the first place, but there’s also need for better access to composting facilities for food scraps and spoiled food, to stop wasting a valuable resource that could be cycled back into our local food system. This was one of the messages that emerged from recent community listening sessions as part of the process of developing a Zero Waste Plan for our city. Our friend Jeremy from Home Resource, who is assisting the City with this process, shared a little more about the Zero Waste Plan process, and we’re excited to see how wasted food factors in to the plan. (Until then, check out some of the ideas that came out of last year’s “Fate of the Plate” summit.)
Related to the topic of composting, of course, is the point of composting in the first place: building soil quality. Soil and its potential to mitigate climate change has been another hot topic in the media lately – or at least a certain kind of media! When I was in grad school, I had the opportunity to go to Paris for the COP 21 climate change conference, and soil was getting a lot of attention there. The French government had launched a program they called “4 pour 1000,” based on scientific evidence that an average increase in soil carbon storage of merely 0.4 percent globally would be enough to stabilize annual global CO2 emissions. That’s pretty huge. (Want a primer on the soil-climate connection? Check out this short 4 minute video.) So what might that kind of carbon storage look like on a local level? Well, the first step to improving soil quality of agricultural lands is making sure that land is protected, especially as our city grows. A recent report by a UM grad student documented a 228% increase in Missoula County ag land that’s been developed over the last 50 years, alongside a population increase of 70%. Here in Missoula, the Community Food and Agriculture Coalition has been working on solutions that balance protection of agricultural land in Missoula County with development pressure. CFAC also supports local farmers – especially beginning farmers – with the tools they need to maintain their land for agricultural use. Bonnie, CFAC’s director, says there has been more interest lately among farmers in soil-building practices, but it can be hard, given that there aren’t many direct incentives for the types of smaller farms that are the majority in Western Montana. However, it’s also true that many local farmers already use sustainable practices that build soil quality and sequester carbon – such as cover cropping, applying compost, crop rotation, and pasture management strategies. We’d love to see the conversation about soil continue here – it’s truly a case of a climate solution that’s right under our feet! If soil quality is something you’d like to learn more about, you’re in luck: the Moon-Randolph Homestead is hosting a workshop on that topic next week!
Everybody eats, so we all have a role to play in building a vibrant local food system built on healthy soil that closes the loop from field to fork to compost bin - whether it’s by supporting local farmers, advocating for ag land preservation, growing (and composting!) your own food, reducing wasted food, or all of the above! Such a food system not only bolsters our resilience to climate impacts, by making us more self-reliant and less vulnerable to disruptions of global food chains, but it also shrinks our carbon footprint while offering all kinds of environmental, economic and health benefits. Those are the kinds of climate solutions we like to see!
Here are a few resources if you’re interested in digging deeper into the world of local food, agriculture, and climate change:
Here in Missoula, this winter sure seemed long, wet and cold – good news for mountain snowpack. But as a new homeowner, this winter was rough on my budget. There’s nothing like getting a $200 energy bill in the mail to get you thinking seriously about saving energy! When we moved in to our house last fall, we had tried a few basic tricks to reduce energy use: replacing old incandescent light bulbs with LEDs; installing programmable thermostats so our heat was only on when we needed it; putting on storm windows to reduce heat loss. Even so, this winter was a wakeup call. I know I’m not alone: many of us want to shrink our carbon footprint - and our bills! But we don't always know how to take the next step.
At our April Monthly Meetup last Thursday, the conversation was all about energy efficiency and conservation – and the particular challenges and opportunities around energy use in our community. To put things in context, we were excited to share the results of our first community-wide greenhouse gas emissions inventory, hot off the press last week! The inventory is a complete account of all the emissions sources within the Missoula urban development boundary – and gives us a baseline from which to measure progress towards long- and short-term climate mitigation goals. (Check out the full report here and an article about it in the Missoula Current here!)
As the pie chart shows, residential energy use makes up nearly a quarter of our community’s emissions. Not only is this a big slice of the pie, but it’s an area where everyone can get involved. Our individual efforts make a real impact when they are part of a collective movement. That’s why we’re challenging Missoula to be Energy Smart and reduce our use 10% by 2018!
We hope you’ll take us up on our Energy Smart challenge and commit to doing your part to save energy! Here at Climate Smart, we don’t have a silver bullet for how best to track and reduce our energy use, but we’re not going to let perfection get in the way of progress. We’re ready to help Missoula start saving energy - here’s what you can do TODAY to join us:
I’ll leave you with a few of the great energy-saving ideas that came out of our meetup - this is the kind of creative thinking we love to see. Have more ideas? Want to help make these happen? Let us know!
Thanks to everyone who joined us for another great gathering last week! Mark your calendars for the next Monthly Meetup on local food and agriculture – Thursday, May 4th, 5-7pm at Imagine Nation!