Many of us in the climate community were bracing for last week's release of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change's Sixth Assessment Report - not just because of what it contains, but because of its possible impact on climate action efforts. With today's short-attention-span news cycles and plenty of competition when it comes to urgent challenges of the moment, would even such a momentous scientific report translate to action in the real world? Does the IPCC report matter?
Coming from someone who works on climate issues day in and day out, this might seem like a sacrilegious question! So what do I mean?
On one hand, the IPCC report provides the most up-to-date physical understanding of the climate system and climate change. The findings are stark: it confirms unequivocally that it's real, it's us, and it's bad - and to make sure it doesn't get worse, we must make massive transformations across our society and economy very quickly. It's critical that leaders and policymakers have access to the best scientific data about the changes that are here and coming so their decisions are informed by reality, not wishful thinking. With this report, the stakes of our policy choices couldn't be clearer.
At the same time, during a summer where increasingly extreme climate impacts surround us everywhere we look, the grim headlines prompted by this report can be hard to take in. Not because the vast majority of people don't care - but because we care too much! So many of us are feeling the heaviness of all that's going on our world and personal lives, it's easy for even those who are already climate concerned to feel overwhelmed and tune out - or let our fears paralyze us.
So, how can we respond?
The data and science in the IPCC report are valuable, but more science and data are not what will help most people bridge the gap between caring about the climate crisis and actually doing something about it. Thankfully, there’s been increasing attention to the social and psychological dimensions that can help us link care and action, in our own personal lives and as we seek to help others engage with the climate crisis as well.
A recent article titled bluntly, "How to live in a burning world without losing your mind," contained this piece of wisdom:
"The way out of this confusion is neither feel-good solutionism nor submitting to the apocalypse. Instead, we need to learn to make space, in our conversations, activism, and media, for feeling grief, anxiety, guilt, and fear about climate change, no matter how difficult or dark. Where many of us rush into the role of town crier—a Paul Revere shouting out warnings--we may be better off...becoming a guide, helping those around us work through difficult emotions and figure out how they can take action." (emphasis mine)
So, back to the IPCC report. Does it matter? Yes! But how we choose to respond matters more. The scary headlines and sense of urgency can feed our anxiety – but we can’t let our response stop there. We can recognize this anxiety and the valid feelings of fear and grief that fuel it, offer ourselves and others compassion, and bring our full selves – including our range of human emotions – to the work that needs doing.
More suggested reading and resources on navigating these issues:
We’re all in this together – let’s work on bringing our whole selves to the work of healing and transforming our world, because as the IPCC report makes clear, every fraction of a degree of warming matters. By taking care of ourselves and others, we can turn our emotions – fear and anxiety, but also love and wonder for our incredible planet – into tools for action for the long haul.
-Abby Huseth, Outreach Director
Fighting climate change is hard. It’s consistently two steps forward and one step back. It necessitates compartmentalization and separation of work and home life. Most days you can’t think too hard about how simultaneously existentially important and minuscule your efforts are. It’s a job with infinite contradictions and doubts. And at the end of the day, if we succeed in transforming our society into a just, healthy and decarbonized one, then I've just worked myself out of employment and will need to develop some other skills!
Some days, however, make all the stress and consternation feel worth it. On Thursday, July 22nd, Climate Smart had the privilege of hosting a fan and filter giveaway with the Missoula Food Bank and EmPower Place. These air-filtering systems are critical to creating clean indoor air and keeping folks healthy during the smoky summer months. As the climate crisis escalates and fire season grows, this #WildfireSmokeReady work to help our community prepare for months of a smoke-filled Montana becomes an ever larger share of our time and energy.
Our main tool in building a resilient and Climate-Ready Missoula against a warming world will be our relationships and willingness to look out for one another. Our partnership with the Missoula Food Bank to give out these filters perfectly exemplified this truth. The event succeeded in distributing over eighty air filters, half of which went to seniors through the Fresh Food delivery program, and the other half to families visiting EmPower place--a hands on learning center for kids. Missoula Food Bank staff and volunteers and the Climate Smart team (including our interns-extraordinaire Sydney and Isa) rallied together to assemble and give out these fans and filters to food bank users who are at heightened risk to the health detriments of prolonged wildfire smoke.
The true expressions of gratitude from folks who received these filters filled my heart and left me feeling energized and determined. I felt appreciated and impactful. I was surrounded by a team of people who were willing to work hard alongside me to help and protect our community; the staff who enthusiastically agreed to help us realize the project, our interns for joining to assemble fans with us, and the volunteers who donated their time and worked with food bank customers to get these air filters into their hands, as well as our dedicated Climate Smart team. I had worked at the Missoula Food Bank during the summer of 2020, and was so grateful that the connections I made with the team there were able to produce such an important effort such as this.
The success of the event showed us that we needed to replicate it as soon as possible. Every air filter in EmPower Place was all claimed within the first 30 minutes of a planned 3-hour event. We immediately began planning for another event, submitting a call for donations to buy more fans and filters. Our supply is refilling and another event date is set: Thursday, August 5th, 1-3pm in EmPower Place. The work continues!
Hello! Kelli here- I wanted to take a minute to reflect on my first month at Climate Smart and to share some of the things that I’m excited to dig into over the next few months. I think it’s fair to say that my first few weeks have been a Climate Smart “sampler platter”: a little bit of energy conservation, a little bit of wildfire smoke prep, some buildings for the future work, with a side of sustainable transportation! From wrapping up Missoula Gives week to conducting background research for an EPA grant, I’ve gotten my feet wet on a myriad of different projects, programs, and initiatives – which I think is a very appropriate entry into this type of work. The Climate Smart team has so many exciting things going on- a big part of this first month has been acclimating to the full scope of where climate smart has been, where it is, and where it’s headed.
One of the most exciting things about working on the CSM team is being encouraged to learn, research, and seek new and relevant climate knowledge – and being given the space and time to truly understand how it impacts our community. In just a month’s time I have become a more discerning reader and receptor of information and am starting to come to terms with the responsibility of disseminating it locally and effectively. Anyone who knows me well would say that I’ve found my people! On a daily basis I get to let my nerd flag fly and go down climate-research rabbit holes (if time allows- there are limits!) that align with my own interests and the goals of some of our bigger programs; namely sustainable design/ working to decarbonize the built environment.
Along those lines, perhaps the piece I’m most excited about developing is Building(s) for the Future; an initiative originally led by Caroline Lauer who is now the Climate Resiliency Coordinator for Missoula County. At its core, it is an ambitious and exciting call to reduce the carbon footprint of Missoula’s new and existing building stock and to push our community towards achieving its 100% Clean Electricity Resolution. I’m really looking forward to fleshing out some of the next steps and contributing a fresh perspective with my background in architecture and design.
As I’m settling in, I’m both excited and a bit apprehensive. Climate Change is an omnipresent issue and can easily be overwhelming. It is not even an “it”- it is a multiplicity, a force that directly relates to every single thing on earth *cue the head spinning*. But what starts making sense to me, and why I’m so excited to charge ahead at Climate Smart, is that piece by piece and bit by bit we can actually start making a tangible difference and gradually begin to right the ship, especially with the outstanding breadth of community, city, and county leadership we have here in Missoula.
Looking forward to working with all of you to chart a better, smarter, more sustainable path forwards!
CSM Program Director
Happy Earth Day!
If you're like us, this is probably not the first Earth Day greeting to arrive in your inbox today. It seems like everyone is jumping on the train, with myriad businesses and organizations suggesting things we can do (and even buy!).
On one hand, it's encouraging to see all these Earth-friendly messages. Caring for our planet has never been a more urgent task, and the more that message makes its way into all corners of society, the more momentum we can build for bold action.
Yet we find that too often these Earth Day messages are all about what I should do as an individual - admonitions to buy "green" products or rest easy after recycling. Especially during COVID, when we've been isolated from one another, it's tempting to really focus on individual actions that, understandably, give us some feeling of control.
This Earth Day, as the light at the end of the COVID tunnel is getting brighter and we're dreaming of again gathering in person for community events and celebrations, we're reflecting on what it means to keep WE and US at the center of climate solutions:
Thank you for all the ways you take part in this movement of US, and we can't wait to see you out there.
Amy, Abby and Mason & the Climate Smart Team
Wildfire season is upon us and right now the pollution from wildfire smoke is part of a bigger conversation about the health risks from poor air quality. Unhealthy air can also be a determining factor in the severity of COVID-19 symptoms. This has me thinking: how can our air quality be improved?
Air pollution comes from 4 major sources and while wildfires and other natural phenomena are responsible for a good portion, transportation (cars, trucks, buses, airplanes) is responsible for more than half of all the air pollution in the US. Vehicles also contribute a majority of the greenhouse gas emissions responsible for the climate crisis.
Our current administration is waging a war on clean air and water regulations that protect us from pollution, a burden that disproportionately affects people of color and low-income communities. Not surprisingly, we’ve also seen that COVID-19 is having a greater impact on these communities as well. A devastating double whammy that reveals the extreme inequities at play in our country.
We’ve all seen the reports that frame a recent improvement of air quality in cities and reduction in greenhouse gas emissions as a direct result of the pandemic. As people are telecommuting more, or, sadly, finding themselves ill or out of work, they are inherently spending less time in their cars. And we are all taking significantly fewer trips by plane.
It shouldn’t take something as devastating as a global pandemic to make the changes we need, and it absolutely does not have to!
In order to “build back better” we, ultimately, need to change a lot of things. But in terms of air quality we need stronger, not weaker, regulation of polluters, and we need reliable and affordable clean driving options.
There are a wide range of transportation options to consider and I have my personal favorites: biking, walking and busing. But love having a range of active transportation options, I also understand that people often do need to drive. With that in mind, a primary way to reduce emissions is to go electric.
An electric vehicle (EV) is an increasingly viable alternative to traditionally fossil-fueled cars, and there are currently 1 million of them on the road. Battery tech continues to improve, allowing us to go longer distances. EVs can be less expensive over their lifetime because maintenance costs are minimal. So why don’t we all drive one?
One reason - they often need to be charged while away from home. We need to make fast-charging infrastructure as reliable as the American gas station!
Cities, states, and nonprofits are working to develop fast-charging infrastructure in an effort to provide clean and affordable alternatives as well as follow through on commitments to reduce emissions.
The State of New York is investing $750 million to build 50,000 charging stations and other EV infrastructure by 2025. Fifteen states plus Washington D.C formed a coalition to develop a mandate that 100% of new medium and heavy duty trucks sold are to be zero-emission vehicles by 2050. Businesses, too, are committing to climate goals and tackling transportation related emissions head on. In June of this year, LYFT announced it would be working with policymakers, partners, and drivers to shift to 100% electric vehicles on it’s platform by 2030. Electrify America (EA), a nonprofit, is working to develop the largest public fast-charging network in America, contributing to a convenient and reliable charging infrastructure at workplaces, in communities, and on highways. If you do have an EV, you can use this map to look up charging stations across the US.
Charging infrastructure is expanding and becoming more reliable for longer trips. We have an EA station in Missoula at the Walmart at 3555 Mullan Road that’s open 24 hours a day. There are also two FREE public chargers with priority parking at the Parking Garage at 201 East Front Street.
If you are a business owner, nonprofit director, or government agency, there are opportunities for assistance with funding a charging station. The Montana Department of Environmental Quality, via the Volkswagen emissions settlement, has funds available, and you have until August 31 to apply.
There are probably more EVs in Missoula than you might realize! See what Missoulians have to say about their EV ownership:
There are plenty of local and national opportunities to support and advocate for the decarbonization of our transportation sectorif transitioning to a new vehicle isn’t feasible right now.
Check engagemissoula.com to familiarize yourself with infrastructure changes and leave feedback on where our money should be invested. There are some great proposals for allocating funds towards implementing our resiliency plan, Climate Ready Missoula.
Stay happy and healthy and get outside when the air is clear!
Longer days with more sunshine have me reflecting on my years spent in Denmark where the sun would stay up well past 11pm this time of year and never fully set. Riding my bike down to the harbor in the evening for a swim, I was flanked by hundreds of Copenhageners using the city’s extensive protected bikeway to commute home after work, pick up their kids in a cargo bike or head down to the harbor to take a dip for themselves. Even as an avid bike commuter, it was like nothing I’d ever experienced. I quickly felt like a part of the community and fell in love with the biking culture there. Any time of year the bike lanes are filled with people riding the green wave – a system of cycle traffic lights that are coordinated in such a way that if you ride ~12mph you’ll catch green lights all the way during rush hour.
Copenhagen wasn’t always a cyclist’s haven and it didn’t happen overnight. A switch from being car-centric to emphasizing bikes and public transit was jump started in the 1970’s by a combination of the oil crisis and a growing environmental awareness. In an effort to relieve the stress on oil supplies, the City instituted Car Free Sundays and the Cyclist’s Federation held huge demonstrations demanding a car-free city. Planners and government agencies saw the value in transforming the city’s infrastructure and began changing policies and taking space once used for cars to build pedestrian only streets and wide, protected cycle lanes to improve safety. From 1982 – 2001 every budget had funds allocated to cycle path construction and improving existing infrastructure. Today, they have bicycle superhighways that connect 28 municipalities in the Capital Region complete with bridges dedicated solely to bike traffic, an integrated traffic light system, and ample bike parking. Bike traffic has risen by 68% in the last 20 years, over 60% of the population commutes to work and school by bike, and bikes outnumber cars.
Now I’m a Missoulian and biking is my favorite way to experience this town. I wonder what it would be like if there were less cars and more people on bikes with me and how to make that dream a reality.
Like Copenhagen, Missoula is making incremental changes to improve our infrastructure and foster a culture of active and sustainable commuting. Every 4 years the Metropolitan Planning Organization (MPO) establishes regional goals, projects, and investment strategies through a Long Range Transportation Plan (LRTP) update. This year they’re developing Missoula Connect 2050: Missoula LRTP based on goals established in 2016, the existing conditions of our transportation system and our feedback as community members.
I’ve found Missoula Connect to be an incredibly useful tool for familiarizing myself with the sustainable transportation network in Missoula, envisioning the future, and guiding our growth as a community towards safer, more active, and more equitable transportation options.
Right now, the MPO is entering phase 2 of Missoula Connect. If you took the values survey, your feedback was used by MPO planners to develop preliminary goals and desired outcomes for the future of our transportation infrastructure:
(1) Improve safety and promote health to enhance quality of life, (2) advance sustainability and climate resilience to protect natural and historic resources (3) expand mobility choices to improve efficiency and accessibility, (4) connect and strengthen communities to create a more equitable region, (5) maintain assets and invest strategically to boost economic vitality.
Via a citizen advisory committee, we discussed these goals at length, working with other community organizations to ensure they reflect our call for an equitable and resilient community with improved access to sustainable transportation options. Now it’s time to make sure you feel the same. Then we’ll figure out the best ways to meet them. Can you take this short values survey to make sure your voice is heard?
Another way to get involved and a major part of phase 2 is identifying specific projects like improving walkability in a neighborhood by adding a sidewalk or safer crossing, creating a bike lane, adding a bus stop to a route, expanding bus service hours, performing road maintenance, etc. You can participate using the interactive map or online form to submit project ideas by June 30th. Our page on transportation and smart growth has more information on the relationship between transportation and climate change and how we can act, advocate, and assist for a healthier and more resilient future.
In wake of George Floyd’s murder and its reverberations across the country, those of us in the climate movement must speak out against racial injustice.
We haven’t spoken loudly enough - or done enough to center voices of the marginalized - in the past. We have feared going out of our “lane” and too often compartmentalize climate action as its own issue. But our silence is wrong - and is part of the problem. Black, Indigenous and other communities of color are disproportionately impacted by the coronavirus pandemic and the climate crisis. The fight for racial justice must be central to the fight for climate justice.
Every day, we work to help our community cope with the impacts of the climate crisis, and to help build a safer future. In this work, we make choices about who to protect: the powerful and privileged, or the vulnerable and oppressed? We cannot stay silent about the racism and inequity that impacts these choices.
Now is the time to listen to and lift up Black voices who are calling for justice, and stand in solidarity with people of color to demand an end to racial violence. At Climate Smart Missoula, we recommit to working towards a just transition that prioritizes frontline communities, centering equity in our work, and to joining with our colleagues and community partners to do the same. Climate change and structural racism are inextricably linked, and we can’t address one without the other.
Abby, Caroline and Amy
NOTE: We don't have all the answers. We hope you're with us. We need you and everyone to build this world. Be in touch. Please consider supporting these Montana groups doing good work:
The Montana Racial Equity Project, Indian People's Action, Montana Human Rights Network
Recommendations from our friends from Soft Landing Missoula:
University of Montana African-American Studies Department- specifically consider donating to the Dianna Riley Fund to support the annual Black Solidarity Summit at UM. University of Montana Black Student Union- website and Facebook
Empower MT and YWCA Missoula- specifically donating to support the new joint position of their Racial Justice Engagement Specialist, Alex Kim. Again, The Montana Racial Equity Project
Additionally, many people from the BIPOC community around the nation have created incredible resources that they have painstakingly developed for the education of white people in this space. Figure out how you can financially support and donate to the work that you are finding value in. Resources for white people in this conversation have never been more easy to access. You can start here.
I’ve seen a post going around on social media in response to COVID-19 that starts with the statement, “We are NOT all in the same boat.” The post goes on to give examples of how very differently this crisis is affecting people, exposing dramatic inequities that have been growing under the surface of our “strong” economy. To extend the metaphor, we may all be in the same storm, but some of us are in sturdy seafaring vessels while others are in dinghies full of holes, about to capsize.
This point is an important one, and one that applies to the climate crisis too. “We’re all in this together” has become a common rallying cry as neighborhoods and communities have formed networks to respond to the coronavirus pandemic. These responses are hopeful and encouraging, and banding together in a time of crisis can certainly bring out the best in us and catalyze meaningful change. But COVID and the climate crisis do not impact everyone equally; in fact, they hit those most vulnerable much harder.
The first Earth Day drew attention to environmental injustice, and catalyzed major cultural and policy changes that have done much to improve health. So on this 50th anniversary of Earth Day, let’s channel the positive force of the “we’re all in this together” spirit to recommit to building a future that’s sustainable and works for everyone. Let’s work to ensure our responses to crises like COVID and the climate emergency center the most vulnerable, and address these deep inequities head on.
What might that re-commitment look like for you or me? Back in February after our Big Climate Event with 700 people at the Wilma (seems like a lifetime ago!) we shared some ideas about what we any of us can do to address the climate crisis: ACT, ADVOCATE, and ASSIST others. We’ve added a few ideas to these lists, and thought they would be worth re-sharing. And we’d love to hear what you’re committing to this Earth Day! Thanks for all you do, and for inspiring us.
Live in line with your values:
Reduce your contribution to the climate crisis (carbon footprint) by going solar, improving the energy efficiency of your home or business, and increasing active and sustainable transportation.
Consider consumption habits and waste. Can you plant a garden or buy food from local farmers? Can you compost and embrace a plant-heavy diet?
Divest/reinvest. Look into divesting from fossil fuels personally and via your employer.
Learn about and take actions that build community resiliency for all.
Consider how you can be a climate leader in your own context: your workplace, your place of worship, your professional and personal networks.
Be a voice for action:
Advocate for a COVID response and a just recovery that prioritizes people, especially the most vulnerable, over corporate interests, and builds the green economy of the future.
Organize and speak out in support of climate solutions at the local, state, and federal levels.
Support local leaders willing to take action on climate (business, non-profit, education, elected officials, agencies, etc.) and hold elected officials accountable.
Support and organize for candidates that have prioritized climate action.
Talk about climate. We cannot solve a problem we don't talk about.
Share your story and talk about why you care and what you are doing to create change - with friends, neighbors, and colleagues.
Connect with existing organizations that work on climate advocacy.
Sign up for our email list to stay connected to future opportunities!
Join a local mutual aid effort and help your neighbors meet their needs. If you are able, contribute financially to organizations that serve the most vulnerable, such as the Missoula Food Bank, the United Way, and the Poverello Center.
Lend your own or your business's expertise. Share climate-friendly strategies that work for your organization or family with others.
We're working to develop a Footprint Fund, a new program where you can offset your carbon footprint by contributing to local projects that improve energy efficiency for low-income Missoulians. We're still hoping to get this off the ground in 2020 - stay tuned.
Donate to climate organizations like us, and others! (Missoula Gives is coming up April 30-May 1!)
Imagine Missoula as a 1000 piece puzzle. Every piece needs to fit into place for it to be complete. They don’t all touch, but the bottom right corner would be nothing without the top left corner and every piece in between. The Missoula landscape is no doubt a puzzle. In order to complete our “Smart Growth puzzle”, every new development and infrastructure project, or puzzle piece, must echo the smart growth principles if it is to fit. Piece by piece we are developing a resilient, healthy, and connected community.
The COVID-19 pandemic is at the front of everyone’s mind right now. While we are responding to the immediate needs in our community and supporting organizations serving those hardest hit by the crisis, we can also continue our work to build a future that is just and sustainable. What if we told you there was an opportunity right now to design what the next “puzzle pieces” will look like?
The Mullan Area Master Plan is hosting a Public Design Charrette this week, featuring redesigned virtual activities to invite online participation while we are socially distant. Throughout the week, the City and County along with a consultant team of Dover, Kohl & Partners, Territorial Landworks, Inc., and Jacobs, are hosting several virtual sessions where citizens, designers, community leaders, and technical experts can collaborate and develop a vision for future growth. The Mullan Area is a big piece of our puzzle, comprising 2,000 acres between Mullan Rd. and West Broadway, west of Reserve Street and east of the airport. That’s almost double the size of downtown! This master plan is a perfect opportunity to align land use planning within Missoula to our goals and values as a climate smart community, and your involvement is important.
This week there are virtual open studios each morning and afternoon, and live meetings about water quality, transportation, climate adaptation, and more that you can participate in through chat functions and public comment sessions. Check the schedule and join any of the meetings you find relevant. And then offer your online comments. You can read more about the project and how to be involved in the process here.
When Professor Rob Davies gave his presentation in Missoula, he shared many sobering facts, one of which was that if the average American were to never turn on their heat, drive their car, or use fossil fuels in any way, each person would still burn through 6 tons of carbon per year (we are each allotted 44 tons of carbon as our lifetime’s budget). This is because of the systems around us and the infrastructure that has been built to support the way we live. Smarter land use and growth policies are one way we can create systemic change that allows us to lead lower impact lives.
For those of you who want to learn more, take the opportunity to get acquainted with the proposed developments in our community, read a bit about our vision for transportation and smart growth in our community and be an advocate for climate smart transportation, transit-oriented development and pedestrian scale design!
We’ll continue to update our Smart Growth and Land Use Planning page with upcoming development and infrastructure projects and other opportunities for you to support our low-carbon transportation goals and ensure that our community continues to grow wisely.
-Alli and Caroline
We, like so many of you, are settling in to a new rhythm at work. The "office" is now our kitchen table or old puzzle table, and our typical office banter has been replaced with phone calls and e-mail chains. There are so many things to hold in our heads and hearts right now, and I've struggled with the uncertainty of what the next few weeks will look like in our country, state, and city. It's critical for all of us to be responsible citizens and socially distance ourselves from one another - and it's scary and hard. But it's also an opportunity to move closer to nature, think deeply about the things we care about but don't have time for in a typical day, and reconnect with the ordinary wonders that surround us every day in Missoula. It's a time to both reflect and look forward, to take stock of and give thanks for what we have and prepare for the future. In that spirit, we'll be sharing more of what we're reading, listening to, and thinking about with all of you regularly on our blog, as well as offering some things you can do so you can turn off the news notifications for a bit and take a moment to breathe.
In the meantime, we'd like to offer a social isolation bingo card (it's climate and action related!) for you to enjoy while you're maintaining a respectful 6-foot space. We'll be featuring various squares on our social media channels and in our newsletter, so please tag us or e-mail us if you have photos or stories you'd like to share while doing the activity. Everyone who successfully completes B - I - N - G - O (up, down, or diagonal) and e-mails us a picture of their bingo, will be entered to win a raffle.
More soon - Caroline and the Climate Smart Team