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
On February 19, Dr. Rob Davies, spoke to a packed audience (700+!) at the Wilma Theater about the scale of the planetary crisis and the urgent action needed to address it. Suffice to say, we were blown away by his presentation - and we’ve seen our share of climate talks.
If you weren’t at the Big Event, we highly recommend watching the video of Rob’s presentation HERE (thanks, MCAT!). And, check out our post-event page with a whole slew of ideas for how to ACT, ADVOCATE, and ASSIST others.
We’ve been thinking about the presentation A LOT since we’ve seen it, and thought we’d share some of our big takeaways in the form of a conversation between Caroline and Abby. And we’d love to hear your takeaways, too!
Abby: Well, that wasn’t your average climate talk. What were the things that stuck with you?
Caroline: So many things! Davies really made clear the need for both individual and systemic change, especially in the United States. My favorite statistic spoke to this - if we took the planet’s total carbon budget (how much we can emit and still get to zero by mid-century) and divided it by the world’s population, each of us would have 44 tons of carbon as our lifetime’s budget. The average American would use their budget in 2.5 years.
Abby: Yikes. That’s crazy.
Caroline: I know. I heard this and thought, ‘Well, we all need to shrink our footprints as close to zero as possible,” but then Davies hit us with another incredible fact. 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. As Davies put it, even if we were to go into our basements tonight and decompose on some garden seeds, we only buy ourselves an extra 5 years. This is because of the systems around us and the infrastructure that has been built to support the way we live. We need individual change, but it only gets us so far. We desperately need structural change, too.
Abby: Absolutely. Endless growth can’t be our global economic ideal anymore. That’s not politics, it’s just physics. Rob really nailed home that point - he actually called growth a “pathology” underlying the symptom of climate change. But he also gave us a hint as to what a more sustainable level of consumption could look like, which helped me put this in perspective. Global emissions would drop by a third if us wealthy high-emitters were to adopt a lifestyle more like that of the average European citizen. Or as Rob put it, for those of us in the top 20 percent of global material and energy consumption (virtually all Americans) that produce 80 percent of global carbon emissions, “there’s a lot of slush at the top” that can be cut without reducing our quality of life. If our goal is not growth but a society and planet that is sustainable, just, and vibrant, making the necessary changes will be hard but maybe not as scary as one might think.
Caroline: No, not as scary. But we certainly need to avoid the tipping points that he described.
Abby: For sure. That was one of the truly astonishing things Rob communicated in his presentation: we’re approaching tipping points not just in our climate system, but in ALL systems that support life: air, water, soil. Crossing the threshhold of these tipping points would unleash global, catastrophic disruption. Rob pointed out that catastrophic means something very specific in the science community: unadaptable. And some people in some places are already experiencing such catastrophic, unadaptable changes, but there is still time to avoid tipping points that would lead to such disruption across the globe. It’s a difference between a planet that is livable and one that is unadaptable.
Caroline: Yeah, it’s hard to hear that, but important to know the reality of the situation we’re in, so we can respond in a way that meets the moment.
Abby: Exactly. And I don’t know about you, but Rob’s description about how to respond to the climate emergency was maybe the most powerful piece of his whole talk, which is saying something.
Caroline: I totally agree. Davies talked about a shift from a mindset of hope/despair, to one of resolve and determination. So often I have wanted to ask climate scientists and activists, “Are you hopeful?” Maybe this is the wrong question. “Hope isn’t free,” said Davies. If we want hope, we have to act - not the other way around. We must be resolved to “take the next step,” even if we cannot see the entire path to the top of the mountain. This reframing has made it easier for me to take action even on the days when I am sad, scared, or anxious.
Abby: Exactly. It is reasonable to feel daunted by the challenge in front of us. But knowing that we are in a climate emergency changes our mindset about our response, and can actually help us take action. It was so helpful to hear Davies put it this way: “When you’re in a burning building, you don’t waste time hoping or despairing, you just get out. You take the next step, then the next step, then the next. It’s about absolute, unwavering resolve and commitment.”
Caroline: And I loved this idea: that in an emergency, what once may have been radical, is now rational. And what is necessary becomes what is viable.
Abby: Yes! That was a revelation. Any other revelations?
Caroline: Lately I’ve been reflecting on Davies’ presentation in the context of a book I recently finished, We are the Weather by Jonathan Safran Foer. Foer references the Bible - go with me here - where there are several moments when God asks people where they are. Foer writes, “His questions are not about the location of a body in space but about the location of a self within a person,” and he points to our own modern day versions of this, when we ask people where they were at pivotal moments in our shared history: the assassination of John F. Kennedy, the fall of the Berlin Wall, or September 11th. “As with God in the Bible, we are not really trying to establish someone’s coordinates. We are asking something deeper about their connection to the moment, with the hope of situating our own...Future generations will almost certainly look back and wonder where we were in the biblical sense: Where was our selfhood? What decisions did the crisis inspire?” I hope one day we’ll ask: Where were you when you made your decision to take the next step to address the climate emergency?
Abby: I hope that, at least for some of those in the audience, they can mark February 19th at the Wilma as one of those decision points. I know I’ve had those moments that have given me the resolve to continue doing this work, and Rob’s presentation was definitely one of them.
Caroline: Any last thoughts?
Abby: So many - but I’ll just mention one more! I read a quote the other day by the author Rebecca Solnit, from her book Hope in the Dark. It said, “Inside the word ‘emergency" is ‘emerge’; from an emergency new things come forth. The old certainties are crumbling fast, but danger and possibility are sisters.” That’s what Rob’s presentation was all about. Every day we are resolved to take the next step, we show that a livable future is possible.
Over the next several weeks, we'll be sharing letters for our DearTomorrow project. We hope you'll read, get inspired, then write your own! It's a great way to commit to taking action in 2020 and motivate and engage others in our community.
I am sitting here writing this letter on a quiet Sunday afternoon. The wind is gusting, blowing the piles of leaves into the air and depositing them in dusty, forlorn and forgotten corners. The leaves, most of them still clinging to the trees, crinkly and brown, are unwilling participants in the changing climate. A reminder of the record breaking cold snap from last month, having frozen them in place, denying them their time of glory and natural order of business. The subtle ringing of the wind chimes, a harbinger of the cold front that is moving in.
The weather is as unsettled as I am. I fear for your future and what it may bring. I used to dream of grandchildren, now I no longer do. I don't want you to have to carry the burden of bringing children into this devastatingly sad, changing and unknown world. Will you have the ease of life that we do now? Will you have secure food, jobs, the ability to travel and adventure as I did in my youth? Will you be able to watch the confident and gregarious chickadees at the feeder, frantically filling up with food in order to survive the upcoming frigid night? I’ve just read that they are one of the many bird species that are slated to disappear here in Montana. Will you be able to spend your summers outside, or will they be spent escaping the choking smoke from wildfires? Will you be able to observe the docile bumble bee, fuzzy backside protruding from the flowers? The remaining ones are now endangered, many species already extinct. I’ll continue to plant their beloved flowers and fill up the colorful bee bath daily, hoping that it makes a difference.
Gabe, will the rivers run dry in summer heat? Will you be able to spend your summers in frigid, swirling waters stalking the elusive trout that you love so much? The water flow in our rivers and streams are running lower now.
Mica, will you be able to climb the high peaks in search of your beloved pikas? Is it too late? They are running out of the higher elevations on their mountain top homes to escape from the increasingly oppressive heat of summers. When will there be nowhere else for them to go?
Mayana, will you be able to seek your peace and quiet in the woods around your home, wandering thoughtfully and observantly? Reading in the hammock while the warm summer breezes cool your damp skin? Or will the ponderosa and aspen trees no longer have the precipitation needed to grow. Instead, will you have treeless, dry hillsides to wander on? I read that this may be the case. I was told that we need to prepare ourselves for a changing landscape as trees make way for grasslands. Forest fires will instead become grass and scrubland fires.
This is why I act. Not because I want to, but because I must. Doing exactly what introverts find so hard. But I do it for you and those who come after me. For the animals and plants, the trees and the rivers. I must hope that it will be enough, otherwise it becomes too much to contemplate. For now I act. And make plans. Plans to visit the places that are disappearing, that your children will never see, and the places that you may not get a chance to experience if we don’t go soon. The special places of my youth. Already changed, remnants of what they once were, but still hanging on. To see, touch, and smell the receding glaciers. The birds and flowers. The pikas living above the tree line, frantically preparing for a winter that they hope will still come.
For you my children, I hope.
This letter submitted by Rachel K in Missoula. Submit your letter online today.
Missoulians thought it was just another strong gust of wind Saturday afternoon when the flaps of the Caras Park tent billowed, but soon they realized that it was the result of two unusual visitors and their spaceship. Al and Ian, from Planet Alien, made a surprise visit to Missoula’s Clean Energy Expo on September 28th to understand how energy works here on Earth. Al and Ian spent time with community experts as they unraveled a series of confusing topics about our current technology and the future of energy on Planet Earth. They were kind enough to share their translators’ recordings with us so we could share it with everyone who was not able to meet our intergalactic guests at the Expo.
AL: Ian, you don’t have your translator on! No one can understand anything you are saying.
IAN: Shoot. Thanks, Al. Where are the enlightened ones? We need to speak with them. I have many questions.
AL: Yes, I want to know how they power their civilization. Our Great Leader provides energy for our planet only, so what do they use? Do they use the dinosaur juice?
IAN: Dinosaur juice? What are you talking about, Al?
AL: You saw it! The dinosaur juice from the pump. The sign said S - I - N - C - L - A - I - R. People used the plastic card and then they funneled the dinosaur juice into their spaceships.
IAN: Yes, yes. I remember now. I’ve found an enlightened one! Enlightened one, what is this dinosaur juice and how does it work?
Enlightened One: I think you mean gasoline, which is a fossil fuel. So you’re right - it is sort of like “dinosaur juice.” It may seem crazy to you, but for the past century we have been digging into the Earth for fossil fuels to power our civilization. We’ve used so much dinosaur juice though that it’s changing our climate, and it’s creating negative effects for people, animals, and plants all over Planet Earth. Luckily for you, you’re visiting at a time when we’re moving away from fossil fuels and towards other ways to power our civilization. We call it clean energy, and we’re celebrating it today at this Expo.
IAN: Clean energy? What type of juice is clean energy?
Enlightened One: Clean energy means things like power from the sun, wind, and water.
AL: Sun juice! Wind juice! This is very exciting. We know a little about sun juice from our own planet.
IAN: Yes, we also use sun juice, but we have three suns that bask our planet in perpetual light. We have to wear night goggles to sleep. I heard you have problems with something in-the-mittens?
AL: It’s nothing about mittens, Ian! You mean intermittency. Is intermittency a problem? I only see one sun here and my understanding is that your planet is only lit for part of the day. How do you power your civilization at night? And, could you please explain what intermittency is to Ian so they don’t bring up mittens again?
Enlightened One: Intermittency is the idea that energy from renewables isn’t constant - the sun isn’t always shining and the wind isn’t always blowing, but there are still things we can do to lessen the impact of intermittency. The main things we’re focusing on here one Earth are creating dispatchable renewable energy, load flexibility, geographic balancing, and storage. You’ve probably already heard of storage, and there has been a lot invested in storage here. We’re trying to make better batteries so we can store energy when the sun is shining a lot, for example, and use it when it’s dark outside. As for the other three things we’re working on, dispatchable renewable energy comes from sources like hydropower, which can be used on demand. We can also locate our different sources of renewable energy in different geographic locations, and we have models that can show us how to balance our generation sites appropriately. Finally, we can invest in load flexibility and demand response, which uses smart appliances and other technology to quickly lower energy demand and balance the grid.
AL: This is very innovative! We are impressed that you are able to do these things without a Great Leader who provides all of your energy. We are so lucky to have our Great Leader who not only provides clean energy but provides it for free. How do you pay for your clean energy?
Enlightened One: It’s great that you ask! Most people who want to buy clean energy in Montana install solar panels on their homes -
IAN: These panels make the sun juice?
Enlightened One: Yes, this is what makes the sun juice, or what we call solar energy. The price of solar panels continues to go down. It’s cheaper now than ever, and there are both federal and state tax credits available to help people afford to install the panels. There’s also low-interest financing available from both the Montana Department of Environmental Quality (DEQ) and Clearwater Credit Union. With increased research and development, the trends indicate that it’s likely the cost of solar will continue to go down.
AL: You speak very excitedly about these descending numbers.
IAN: Of course, Al! It’s very exciting that the cost of renewables is going down. But if the cost of renewables is going down, why do they have signs that say 0 - 50 - 100. Those numbers go up! And 0 + 50 do not equal 100. What is 0 - 50 - 100?
Enlightened One: 0 - 50 - 100 summarizes our main sustainability goals as a community. 0 means Zero Waste. With the help of our Zero by Fifty plan, Missoula’s pathway to Zero Waste, we hope to send almost nothing to the landfill by 2050. 50 means that 50% of Missoula-area trips are made by sustainable modes by 2040: walking, biking, busing, scootering, skateboarding, or carpooling. Anything but steering your spaceship by yourself! Finally, 100 means 100% clean electricity for Missoula by 2030, 100% of Missoulians are engaged in sustainable actions, and climate solutions work for 100% of Missoulians.
IAN: 50% sustainable trips, hm. Can you travel intergalactically?
AL: No, of course they can’t Ian! You know we’re the first to do it. Even though they can’t yet visit us on Planet Alien, I see them move at incredible speeds. Are there clean ways to power your movement?
Enlightened One: Yes! We have a very exciting new addition to our community transit system: Mountain Line’s electric buses. Six, 35-foot zero emission buses arrived in Missoula in July of 2019, and there are plans to transition more of the fleet to electric buses. As our grid has cleaner generation, these buses will be even more environmentally sound. In addition to riding the bus, you can also bike or walk if you want to opt for cleaner transportation. Making sure that people can safely and easily bike or walk to work is something our urban planners think about a lot here. We’re also trying to promote denser and smarter urban development so people can live near where they work, grocery shop, play, and all of the other things one needs to live a happy and healthy life.
AL: Wow, there is much possibility!
Enlightened One: Yes, it’s very exciting! We’ve made a lot of progress but there is still much work to be done. Hopefully we’ll be using even more sun and wind juice the next time you come.
IAN: Yes, and I hope you stop using all of that dinosaur juice.
Enlightened One: Me too, Ian. Me too.
The other day, I was talking to someone who recently moved to Missoula from the southwest. “There are so many trees here!” she exclaimed.
Missoula does have a lot of trees - over 30,000 just on city-owned right of ways! - but that fact is no happy accident. The robustness of our urban forest is a result of dedicated folks in local government, community advocacy organizations, and regular citizens who are committed to keeping this cornerstone of our local ecosystem thriving. And it’s not just trees, either - it’s shrubs and grasses and native plants of all kinds in our urban and surrounding areas that contribute ecological diversity, habitat, and ecosystem services that support climate resiliency and community health.
Urban forestry was the focus of October’s monthly meetup, and we were thrilled to be joined by Marie Anderson with the City of Missoula’s Urban Forestry division and Karen Sippy with Trees for Missoula. As always, the conversation was wide ranging and inspiring, but also raised plenty of questions and highlighted opportunities to do more on this issue.
Trees as a climate solution
Trees in particular have recently occupied headlines as researchers have attempted to calculate just how much potential they have to store carbon. We know there’s no silver bullet when it comes to climate action (if hunting season metaphors are your thing, climate solutions are more like silver buckshot). But it’s no wonder people are excited about trees: they have a whole host of benefits beyond taking CO2 out of the air.
Here in Missoula, Climate Smart has partnered with the City and County over the last year and a half on a comprehensive Climate Resiliency Planning process, and it turns out that trees - and shrubs and green infrastructure - are so integral to building our community’s climate resilience that they are part of 8 out of 9 sectors represented in the plan (draft to be released this fall for community input - stay tuned!).
Growing our urban forest and green infrastructure: education
Whether on public land or private, how do we maintain the health of our urban forest given its importance to ensuring a climate-resilient Missoula?
As with so many things, education is key. Some of the education that’s needed is at the citizen level: for example, Trees for Missoula has been working to ensure residents have all the information they need to care for new trees that have been planted on city boulevards, which are generally the responsibility of adjacent property owners - not everyone knows this! Even well-meaning folks with water conservation in mind don’t always know that watering trees and shrubs (and yes, even reasonably-sized lawns!) is okay here, because excess water generally makes its way through our porous valley soils and back into the resilient Missoula Aquifer under our feet. In fact, many of our street trees (there are over 116 species in our public urban forest!) require additional water beyond annual rainfall. Learn more about watering trees HERE.
We can also improve education within our schools. Kids may learn about trees in biology class or understand how they take in CO2 and provide oxygen for us to breathe, but the practical tools to grow and care for trees are a gap that Trees for Missoula and the City Forestry department are working to fill with a new educational course for Big Sky High School’s agricultural cohort. This class has the potential to be replicated in other schools, so kids across our community are equipped to be tree stewards.
Education is also needed within local government agencies tasked with supporting our urban green spaces and builders and developers. The good news is that this education is happening, and even within the last few years, there’s been a shift in how city departments consider green infrastructure, from planning to development to permitting, Missoula Water to Development Services and engineering. Going forward, it’s even more essential to integrate these kinds of climate resiliency considerations into development and redevelopment projects. Silva cells are an interesting example of this: a “suspended pavement system” that allows sidewalk trees to root much more deeply and thrive, Marie and Karen shared how this technology is now becoming the default for many of the redevelopment projects downtown, where more trees can help make pedestrian areas cooler and actually extend the lifetime of asphalt and pavement.
A lively group came together at Imagine Nation on Thursday for our monthly meet-up on Green Building and Energy Efficiency. The group spanned the fields of architecture, real estate, finance, concerned citizens, and some Lord of the Rings aficionados that dropped some references (which this author didn’t fully understand).Green building can sometimes be seen as a daunting and overwhelming topic, especially considering its potential for emissions reductions. Residential and commercial buildings comprise 52% of our community carbon footprint; the opportunity is massive, but it can be difficult to understand which point of intervention will be the most impactful.
Where are the “pinch points,” we asked? What changes can we make that will ripple outwards and push the built environment towards a net zero future? The conversation was wide ranging, but ultimately we coalesced around the following ideas because of their potential to drive change in the building industry:
What if when every home was posted on the market, it included a transparent, easy-to-read label that told you about the home’s energy usage, the materials used to build the home, and what you would need to do if you wanted to make your new home more energy efficient? If you were selling a home, how would knowing your efficiency score change what you did before you listed your property? Conversely, if you were looking to buy a home, how would a label factor into your consideration of multiple properties? The group was very excited by the potential of this idea to create market-driven change, starting from a point of voluntary disclosure and possibly moving towards a requirement to include a label in every sale, as is the case in Portland, Oregon.
The creation of a label program spoke to Thursday’s broader discussion of which sector of the building stock we should focus our efforts. While Missoula is certainly growing and new houses are being built, older structures (pre-1980) make up a much greater percentage of our energy usage, and they are also ripe for cost-effective, energy efficiency improvements that could make a big difference. As a community, we’re getting better at educating homeowners and renters so that they are aware of the potential for energy efficiency and motivated to take action, but we’re lacking a robust workforce to evaluate, advise, and implement the steps needed to move an older home away from “energy hog” status. A few programs that we love from across the country include Oregon Energy Trust and Efficiency Vermont, both of which benefit from strong support from their state government and utility.
Finally, we can’t forget that energy efficiency is also a social justice issue and that green buildings do not exist in a vacuum. Low-income renters and owners are more likely to find themselves in older, more affordable units (often considered naturally occurring affordable housing or NOAH). Older housing is abundant in Missoula, but it often brings cold drafts in the winter, hot air in the summer, and high utility bills throughout the year. These higher bills can lead to energy insecurity, a situation when a household has received a utility shut-off notice for failure to pay bills, foregone a basic necessity like food or medicine in order to pay utility bills, or opted to keep their home at an unhealthy temperature in order to reduce energy bills.
Reducing emissions in our building stock has major implications for human health, job creation, and creating a more equitable Missoula. If you want to join the conversation, email us at firstname.lastname@example.org for more information.
April was Earth Month - and it was a busy one! We kicked it off with a great conversation as usual at our monthly meetup, on the topic of Local Food & Agriculture. Just in time for the beginning of outdoor farmers market season!
We talked about everything from efforts to protect local farmland via the Missoula Area Mapping project, to the many environmental benefits of mushrooms, to saving seeds and supporting our local farmers. Here's a few links to some of the people, organizations and ideas that were part of the conversation:
We're grateful to be part of a community of locavores who understand and value agriculture and local food as important tools in Missoula's climate resilience toolbox!
We hope you also had a chance to take part in some of the great community festivities around Earth Month. From the International Wildlife Film Festival, to MUD's Annual Earth Day Celebration, to celebrating trees and their climate benefits, we had fun out and about in April.
Next Monthly Meetup is Health & Climate - hope you'll join us on Thursday, May 9!
One month since my last blog post, and the sun is shining, the sky is blue, and the snow is melting away--quite a shift from the height of February winter blues! Some things have changed, but here at Climate Smart we're doing the same work: plugging away, advocating, and educating for a resilient, climate and energy smart community. As always, an ever-important part of that transition to cut our greenhouse gas emissions is our ever-popular bucket of Zero Waste: the topic of this month’s meetup!
I’ll set the scene: We’re in Imagine Nation Brewing’s cozy community room, standing room only. Drawings of happy planets and solar-powered spaceships are scattered across the tables, courtesy of the fifth-grade participants of Home ReSource’s Zero Waste Ambassadors Program (ZWAP!). The prompt for the drawings was simple enough: what kind of world do you want to grow up in? Based on the many colored pencil masterpieces we passed around, the students had no trouble answering the question. When Jeremy Drake, Home ReSource’s Community Engagement Manager, asked us what kind of world the adults in the room wanted to live in, however, it gave folks pause. We all know the issues and problems climate change and a dependency on fossil-fuel products presents us, but how do we envision a future beyond the issues?
One idea that resonated with folks was a world where we’ve reduced the barriers to doing the right thing: where composting and recycling services are accessible and it's possible to function throughout a day without needing a single-use plastic item. What a magical world, right? But how do you go about reducing those barriers?
One way Home ReSource and partners are trying to do just that is through the development of the Zero by Fifty Missoula website--Missoula’s one-stop shop for all things waste! When I moved here last summer, it was so difficult to find information about recycling and composting providers, as well as what to do with different harder-to-recycle items like batteries and light bulbs. This zero waste website aims to avoid all the google searching and phone calling by keeping that information accessible and, most importantly, up-to-date.
Not only will you find service providers listed, but the website also provides an awesome tool called “What do I do with…” that allows you to type in an item you’re not sure how to recycle and be directed to information about how to reduce that type of waste, how to reuse it, and how to recycle it if all else fails. Right now, the website has information on over 20 different items, and that number will continue to grow as more feedback comes in on what recyclables people need more information about. The energy behind the development of this web-source comes from the creation of Missoula’s Zero By Fifty plan to move the community towards zero waste. Details of the plan can be found on the website, and future tracking of Missoula’s progress will also be available there once an initial baseline study of our community’s waste is completed (hopefully by this year!). Check it out.
After we were taken through a tour of the new website, folks shared the inspiring ways that their organizations and businesses were taking on zero waste structures and transitions. From the replacement of plastic water bottles with recyclable aluminum bottles at Logjam Presents (woohoo!), to local artist Bonnie Tarses collecting bottle caps to make big beautiful art pieces, our community is bursting with energy and new ideas. And there are so many ways folks can plug in! This spring is chock full of opportunities to learn about zero waste, so bare with me as I lay them all out for you:
Whew. That’s all for now. As we move into what we’ve dubbed Earth Month (aka April), keep checking out our calendar and Happenings page for all the info on what’s going on. We’re grateful as always for such an engaged and active community--it’s a true privilege to be so busy.
One theme we touched on several times throughout our conversation was the intersection of sustainable transportation and health. Beyond the seemingly obvious connection that the physical activity of walking and biking is good for you, fuel emissions from vehicles have a large and negative effect on our air quality. Because of how inversions affect Missoula, vehicle emissions, especially during the winter time, have a significant effect on the city’s air pollution, and consequently community health.
That is why Mountain Line’s unveiling of its six soon-to-be new electric buses is exciting on many levels. Not only do these buses represent the city transitioning away from carbon-dependent transportation, a necessity for electrifying our grid and transitioning off fossil fuels, but the shift will also positively affect air quality by 1) those buses not contributing emissions, and 2) a thriving public transportation infrastructure encouraging more ridership and subsequently less people to be driving their cars-- how good can it get? We celebrated these transitions at our meetup, and discussed other ways to make both the Mountain Line and UDASH bus systems more efficient.
Our meetups provide awesome opportunities for collaboration with local organizations already fully invested in the work of each climate action plan “bucket” that Climate Smart is committed to advocating for. We were joined this month by one such group, Missoula in Motion, a program of the City of Missoula’s Transportation Division that encourages and educates Missoulians about sustainable transportation. After leading us in a rousing round of sustainable transportation “speed dating” (tis the season, what can we say?), they told us about their many initiatives and how to get involved, especially their Way To Go! Missoula program. By using their Way To Go trip planner, you can find all the ways you can get where you need to be by using sustainable transit. For each transportation method, it will even tell you how many calories you burn and the pounds of CO2 you save from being emitted--how cool is that? On top of all that, you can log those sustainable trips on their website and receive awards to different local businesses each month for free or discounted food, vouchers, and gifts. I’m still dreaming about the incredible free Chai latte I got from Lake Missoula Tea Company last month! Check it all out.
Finally, we rounded out the night with some updates from Bob Giordano, the director of MIST (Missoula Institute for Sustainable Transportation). MIST is committed to developing infrastructure in Missoula that makes sustainable transportation options safe, accessible, and equitable. We heard some awesome statistics from him about roundabouts (or traffic circles..whatever you call them) that are too cool not to share. We learned that a well-designed roundabout can lead to a 65% decrease in idling and 95% fewer crashes at that intersection, let alone the electricity that is saved from not needing stoplights! Personally, I’ve never been more interested in roundabouts than after our conversation.
In addition, Bob alerted us to an action item: the Higgins Avenue Bridge Rehabilitation. Wouldn’t it be great to actually walk side-by-side with someone on that walkway? What a dream. The city has been working away to come up with a rehabilitation plan of the bridge, and they have proposed designs. Check it all out here, and please take a moment to leave a comment on the project here. Public comments are truly read and considered in these processes, and are an excellent opportunity for direct action! We’re urging the city to keep bike and walk lanes wide, and cut down to two lanes of traffic, or at least maintain the bridge to be able to be retrofitted in the future through this process as our city continues to grow and develop in new ways.
That’s all for now! Stay warm out there, fellow Missoulians--you’ll see me walking to work bundled up in a giant scarf this month, racking up those Missoula in Motion points: free latte at Clyde Coffee, I’m coming for you.