Last week, I ventured deep into Eastern Montana to Ashland where the rolling hills are seemingly endless and the sky is bigger than ever. Every year, Americorps and its many programs recognizes MLK day as a national day of service and, in that spirit, our Energy Corps program organized a light weatherization project in Ashland and the surrounding Cheyenne reservation lands.
I had the opportunity to put together and present a short lesson on home energy efficiency and conservation with the help of other Energy Corps members. The tips and tricks we discussed were meant to be simple changes with noticeable impacts. It is easy to glance at your energy bill once a month, but it’s a whole other step to think critically about what is causing those energy spikes and how. Beginning to think about energy use in this way can often spark a continued commitment to creating a more sustainable lifestyle. (Find out how you can start saving in your home!)
Following the presentation, we spent two days visiting homes and installing basic materials meant to make the home more comfortable during the cold winter months. We were able to offer window plastic and metal door weatherstripping to minimize cold drafts, insulation blankets for water heaters, LED light bulbs, outlet gaskets, and water conservation fixtures. Though these offerings felt pretty minimal compared to what the homes really needed, it gave us the opportunity to learn about the families and history that make up these communities.
I met a woman whose home burnt down in the Ash Creek Fire during the summer of 2012. We were sent to weatherize the FEMA trailer she now shares with her husband and five grandchildren. She shared with us the pain of losing the first real home her grandchildren had after spending five years in foster care and the frustration with inadequacy of their now permanent living situation. What she really needed was insulation in the walls of the trailer, a new door that fit the frame, or in an ideal world… a new home. Even through all of this, she was bursting with pride and joy when she told us her oldest grandson was just accepted to MSU where he hopes to study social work. A truly remarkable and resilient family.
We had close to 40 community members attend our energy efficiency and conservation lesson on Tuesday morning, and as a team, we were able to weatherize 28 homes. Our efforts only scratched the surface of what that community really needs, but it reminded me all we have to be grateful for. Today, I am grateful I had the opportunity to share my knowledge with people who can use and benefit from it. I am grateful for the families who welcomed us into their homes and shared their stories. I am also grateful I got to enjoy sunny, 45 degree weather and pet LOTS of puppies last week.
After the hustle and bustle of the holidays, the sudden arrival of the new year often sneaks up on me. The fully decorated Christmas tree still standing in my living room seems like a painful reminder of unfinished business. There never seems to be quite enough time! Are we ever really ready for a new year to begin?
Ready or not, 2017 is here. And we at Climate Smart Missoula are ready to dive back in and keep working towards the big picture we know is achievable when we all work together: a low-carbon, healthy, resilient community. We had a great group of folks join us to kick off our first Monthly Meetup of the year last night at INBC, focused on education and outreach and our community emissions inventory. These two things are connected pretty closely – and both are at the heart of why Climate Smart Missoula exists.
Educating our community about the nexus between climate change and lots of important issues (like water, energy, local food and more) is a big part of our work. We’ve got a website and facebook page with resources which we’re updating constantly, but we need your help coming up with more creative ways to do education and outreach. Send your fun and artistic ideas our way!
Last night we also shared some very preliminary insights from our forthcoming first-ever community emissions inventory: basically a carbon footprint for Missoula which breaks down where our emissions come from. Spoiler alert: transportation and home energy use are big. (We’re working on the full report – stay tuned...) Armed with data from our inventory, we can work strategically to shrink our community’s carbon footprint in ways that have a big impact. So, you might be wondering…what might that look like?
At our Meetup, our friends from Missoula in Motion joined us to share what they’re doing to promote sustainable transportation. MiM is one of the movers and shakers behind great community events like Walk and Roll Week, Sunday Streets, and Commuter Challenges. Their Way to Go Club is another way to encourage Missoulians to choose an alternative mode of transportation than driving alone in our cars. (This program is making some big changes soon that will make it even more accessible – learn more here!) In fact, our city’s new Long Range Transportation Plan will include an ambitious “mode split” goal of increasing the number of sustainable trips. Check out more information about the planning process here.
On the home energy side, we’ve got some big ideas – and we’d love your feedback! Our goal is to reduce residential energy use by 10%. That’s no small potatoes, but together we can do it, and we’re working on a program that’s designed to help you find ways to save energy. The idea is a community energy-saving challenge, where households sign up and commit to cutting their utility bills as much as possible, then compete with one another to earn rewards along the way and see who can make the biggest dent. There would also be an option to join a group (like your workplace, church, neighborhood, or favorite brewery) and compete against other groups for prizes. So…what do you think? Are you in? What incentives would entice you to participate, beyond saving money on your power bills? Let us know!
There’s so much more on the radar for 2017. Stay tuned, and keep in touch!