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.
A new year. With so much uncertainty of what the next few will bring for environmental and climate work, it’s understandable to feel unease as we press onward. Still, this past year brought important media attention and discussions to climate change in a way that motivates and excites us to keep the conversation growing. So, what better way to kick off a year of renewed focus and activity on climate change than with a beer, a handful of popcorn, and a community meetup on renewable energy? We thought so, too.
Our January meetup was jam-packed with updates from some of Missoula’s key players in the renewable energy world. Diana Maneta, Missoula County’s Energy Conservation and Sustainability Coordinator, gave us the run-down on cryptocurrency and how its current effects on Missoula County could continue to worsen. Cryptocurrency mining, such as the digital currency Bitcoin, is a major energy user that is steadily finding a foothold in Montana. Our state’s cool temperatures and low energy prices have been too good to resist for this industry, and we are already feeling its effects. A cryptocurrency facility in Bonner is estimated to have already increased the county’s energy use by 20%, and representatives have stated publicly that they intend to triple the size of the facility in the near future.
Cryptocurrency is a daunting issue, but our own Missoula County is at the forefront of addressing the industry’s effects, as Diana and others work to understand options to regulate the industry’s impacts and ways to motivate companies to make greener decisions (what if these facilities were required to have solar panels on their roofs to offset their energy use?). We’ll be closely following any developments on this issue and we encourage you all to do the same. For more info, check out our Advocacy page.
After a crash course on Bitcoin, we transitioned our discussion to some direct action items and things to look out for during Montana’s 2019 legislative session happening right now. Andrew Valainis, the Executive Director of Montana Renewable Energy Association (MREA), and his team are watching closely for bills that could help and harm renewable energy transitions throughout the state. We’ll do our best to keep you updated (again, via our Advocacy page), but we also recommend getting on MREA’s email list. MREA does an excellent job here of summarizing the situation and laying out what they expect to see in the coming months. Here are two big things to look out for:
Despite potential challenges, Andrew reminded us that now is still a good time to go solar if you can! We’ve got resources (including 2 new short videos!) HERE.
We’re so grateful for everyone who showed up to delve into these complicated issues with us at this last meetup. These conversations always end in an electric atmosphere (pun intended) with folks riled and ready to get stuff done. In addition to those topics discussed at the meetup, we need to give one more shoutout to an important event happening this week. Our community is currently in the midst of developing Missoula’s Downtown Master Plan, an exciting and meaningful process where community members have the opportunity to share their visions and hopes for the future of downtown Missoula. Some things we’re personally advocating for are more sustainable transportation infrastructure, energy-efficient buildings, climate resilient roofs, and more urban trees to combat the heat island effect. Again, check out our updated Advocacy page for more details on how you can get involved in-person, or share your comments and thoughts through this online form.
At November’s monthly meetup, we tackled a big, daunting, but important bucket: sustainable economic development. What does that even mean? Good question. That’s where our conversation started!
Katie Deuel, Executive Director of Home ReSource, joined us to help facilitate the discussion. She and the HR team have done a lot of work around this topic over the years, and consider it part of their organizational mission to spur opportunities for sustainable business growth across the broader Missoula community. Katie asked us to consider what a sustainable economy would look like in Missoula. Ideas that people shared included:
All of these ideas and more mentioned were great to consider, and we had a lot of new faces at the meeting to help spur some brainstorming. But jeez: with such big visions for a more economically sustainable Missoula, where do you even begin?
The short answer: we don’t know! But we do know that we don’t have to reinvent the wheel. When it comes to climate change and the economy, there are lots of great resources nationally and in other communities that Missoula can draw on, in addition to the wisdom of our homegrown sustainable entities and enterprises.
Over the course of our conversation, three main sustainable economic development pathways seemed to emerge:
Programs and policies that recognize and incentivize existing local businesses and buildings to become more sustainable
Strategies and policies to attract sustainable/climate-friendly businesses and industries to locate in Missoula
This is an interesting approach, another one that has tons of potential for Missoula. How might we attract businesses or industries that are compatible with our community’s short- and long-term climate and energy goals (and on the flipside, disincentivize those that are not, such as energy-intensive industries like cryptocurrency mining). The time seems ripe for more of an intentional conversation among “economic development” professionals and organizations - like Missoula Economic Partnership, Missoula Downtown Association, Destination Missoula and more - to think about how Missoula can become known for building the green, climate-friendly economy of the 21st century.
Policies and approaches to ensuring that expansion of our community’s physical infrastructure (e.g. residential and commercial buildings and services) happens sustainably
There are a lot more folks that we would like to have join this conversation going forward!
We unfortunately didn’t have time to draw up an entire plan. But we did discuss what has already been done and the clear need for a way to connect the sustainability efforts that are already happening in our community. A big bucket like sustainable economic development requires cooperation and partnerships between all facets of our community--including businesses both local and non-local, nonprofits, municipal agencies, and our creative community members. As we more forward with discussions about our city’s growth, it’s important to keep in mind something we all share: we all love Missoula, and we all want it to grow in a sustainable, forward-thinking way!
And on that note, come celebrate these developing partnerships and love for community with us at our Year 3 Celebration on December 6th. Details HERE. We hope to see you there!
-Abby & Anna
As a former Midwesterner and a two-month-old Missoulian, I was excited to talk and connect with community members at Climate Smart’s Monthly meetup on transportation. As I began navigating my new home in pursuit of used furniture and cheap bulk foods, I was excited to see the level of accessibility Missoula provides (zero-fare buses, wow!) but also acknowledged ways it can improve (what’s up with the tiny walkway on the Higgins Bridge?). Our conversation on transportation this month echoed that feeling of hope and excitement at what has already been accomplished, as well as reminded all of us of what work we can still do to make our community more sustainable and healthy.
With a room full of experts, there’s so much to discuss with so little time. Much of our conversation focused on ways the city was (or should) be transitioning its streets into more walkable and bikeable avenues for the community. Missoula has been developing its public transportation infrastructure since the 1970’s, which luckily allows plenty of room for green development. Bob Giordano, the director of Free Cycles and the Missoula Institute for Sustainable Transportation, discussed the idea of “complete streets,” streets that are usable for all people, no matter their form of transportation or accessibility needs (cars, bikes, crosswalks, sidewalk ramps, etc.). He also talked about “road diets,” decreasing the number of lanes on a street, and how they provide benefits for all commuters, whether driving a car or riding a bike. He along with Aaron Wilson, a Transportation Planner with the City of Missoula, emphasized that we’ve done a lot to develop these types of infrastructure, but there are always ways we can improve.
Giordano brought up many exciting opportunities for community engagement in our city’s transportation decisions. This fall, the city council will be voting on whether to shift 5th and 6th streets from a two-lane road to one, with a buffered bike lane. (Head here for more info.) This will increase bike and pedestrian safety without cutting down travel times for car drivers. The vote is happening at the council meeting at 7pm on Monday, December 3rd in City Council Chambers --feel empowered to come share your voice or simply be there for support! The issue will be heard in committee the previous Wednesday (11/28), and supporters would also be welcome there. Please email Bob directly if you have further questions about how to be involved - and we’ll also do our best to remind you of these opportunities for action.
Additionally, the first open community meeting of the year on the revitalization of the city’s Downtown Master Plan is happening October 18th at 5:30 pm at the Wilma Theater. The master plan is a comprehensive strategy set to strengthen and invigorate Missoula’s downtown into the economic and cultural center of the city; it covers everything from housing and retail to transportation and parking. This will be a great opportunity to hear how downtown Missoula might be changing in the coming decades--come share your vision! If you want to get more involved in how transportation will look in the updated plan, consider joining the Transportation Focus Group starting in mid-October. Contact Bob Giordano at firstname.lastname@example.org for details.
Did you know that we are in the Top 10 list for biking accessibility in U.S. communities our size? How cool is that! And we’re not finished yet. As part of Missoula’s Long Range Transportation Plan, the city has committed to an ambitious mode split by 2045 that would triple the number of bikers, walkers, and public transit users while cutting the number of drive-alone commuters by about 30%. Not only does this increase road safety and community health, but it also decreases the amount of greenhouse gas emissions our community is releasing into the atmosphere. Are you interested in shifting your commuter mode of travel but you don’t know how? Katherine Auge, Missoula in Motion’s program specialist, told us all about the organization’s exciting program, Way to Go! Missoula. By simply entering your starting and ending points on their website, you’ll be provided with information on all the different modes of transportation and routes you can use to safely arrive at your destination including distance, travel time, and the pounds of carbon that are emitted from your chosen method (hint: biking and walking emit zero!). This includes ride-sharing or carpooling opportunities. You can also participate in the organization’s Commuter Challenge to motivate those at your workplace to try a different mode of commuting to work every day.
Not only do Missoulians bike, but we love our public transit. Ever since the Mountain Line Bus system went zero-fare in 2015, ridership has increased 70 percent! Vince Caristo, Mountain Line’s Project Management Specialist, filled us in on some of the exciting developments they are considering for the bus line. More expansive routes as well as buses running on Sundays were a few of the possibilities he mentioned. Mountain Line is currently strategizing to expand their services even further. Check out this recent article in the Missoula Current for more details on what Mountain Line’s future could look like.
The meetup made it clear that Missoula is passionate about transportation and accessibility. Not only does a diverse transportation mix lead to better environmental and community health, but it just as importantly provides options and amenities for low-income, disabled, and elderly community members. Providing better and safer transportation options for everyone is important for the prosperity of our beautiful city.
I was as excited as anyone about our conversation. I’m happy to be here in an engaged community with such ambitious goals for safety, sustainability, and health. Join us next month for a discussion on how to develop Missoula’s economic prosperity in a sustainable, equitable way. I know I’ll be there!
-Anna Weinberg, Energy and Climate Educator
Call me biased, but our monthly meetups are pretty great. I think you’d be hard pressed to find a more interesting and wide-ranging conversation anywhere in town. Where else can you talk about pumped hydro energy storage technology, the virtues of lentil farming, the perils of human urine, and industrial-scale composting, all in the span of an hour and a half?
If you couldn’t tell, the common thread running through these subjects is water – more specifically, the implications of climate change when it comes to our rivers, our drinking water, and our wastewater. That was the theme on tap for our August 2, 2018 monthly meetup - here's a recap of our conversation.
Alex and Katie from the Clark Fork Coalition joined us to talk about what they’re seeing along the Clark Fork, here in town but also throughout our larger watershed. Alex was one of the authors of the Montana Climate Assessment, so he knows his stuff. CFC measures water all over the river, and this year there was a record snowpack in the upper Clark Fork, and a fairly wet spring. But this July was also the second driest on record – which, sure enough, was what the MT Climate Assessment predicted. Despite this lack of rainfall, we’re still seeing decent flow levels and relatively cooler water temperatures all along the Clark Fork because of something you might not have guessed: groundwater. In fact, we learned that 90% (!) of a watershed’s waterflow is actually underground. Whoa. So despite the trend of more spring precipitation and longer droughts in our region, the snowpack and rain may end up boosting the “natural storage” capacity of the watershed. That might sound good, but we’re definitely not out of the woods climate-wise when it comes to our rivers. Hotter temperatures mean higher rates of evapotranspiration, thus plants need more water to grow. More study is needed on what this means for the long-term evolution of our forest ecology.
Alex reminded us that 95% of our state’s water use is due to agriculture. This is where we wade into the complicated realm of water rights and Helena lobbying interests, and then wade right back out again, because we could really get stuck there. Suffice to say, even when a rancher wants to return their water right to in-stream, it’s super hard to do. And most of the agriculture in our state is low-value commodity ag, so it’s hard to economically justify efforts to conserve water. What we could really use is more lentils! No, seriously – legumes and other dry-farmed products are a growing sector of Montana agriculture, which is pretty cool, and water smart. (Check out the Lentil Underground!)
Ok, one last interesting issue at the nexus of water and climate that I hadn’t considered before. Katie from CFC talked about their recent studies on recreation on the Clark Fork river. As we experience more heat waves during the summer, more and more people are using the river to cool down. On one hand, dunking in the river is better than cranking the A/C. But in addition to bumper-to-bumper tube traffic on certain sections of the river, more river recreators means streambank erosion, more trash, and an overabundance of human urine. Yep. So it’s possible that we might we need more official river access points…with port-a-pottys. Thanks, climate change!
Avoiding overwatering outdoors is important too (those subdivided ranchettes with giant lawns don’t help...), but by all means keep your veggie patch green and water your trees - we need them to keep our city cool! If you’ve ever wondered about graywater systems (where water from sinks and laundry is recycled, either to flush toilets or for irrigation), they are allowed here but you’ll want to read up on the rules and regulations.
Our Wastewater Treatment Plant Rocks!
So, what about that last piece of the water+energy puzzle – the treatment of our sewage and wastewater? Turns out, our humble little municipal wastewater treatment plant is light years ahead of most facilities around the country! Our intern Mattie shared what she recently learned on a tour, which was that there’s resource recovery happening with all three different waste streams created by the plant: the bio-solids (solid waste), the effluent (liquid waste), and methane gas. The City-owned Garden City Compost, right next door, accepts treated bio-solids, which are then turned into compost that’s available for sale, as well as used on the neighboring plantation of poplar trees. The poplar plantation is also a destination for a large volume of the effluent. The trees and soil filter the effluent before it returns to the aquifer, and the nutrients benefit the fast-growing trees, which can then be harvested in succession and sold for wood products. And if that wasn’t enough, the wastewater treatment plant also recently put a new methane cogeneration plant online. This dual technology recovers lost heat as well as generates electricity from the recaptured methane – covering 25% of the plant’s usage at peak! All of these sustainable elements reduce the impact of the resource-intensive process needed to get wastewater to meet the high standards for discharge back into the river, and mean that ultimately less has to get discharged. (Mattie's been working on a "Storymap" project highlighting this story as well as other "energy stories" around town - we're looking forward to sharing her great work soon. In the meantime, check out this handy infographic on the WWTP resource recovery efforts that she created.)
Water, Climate, and Missoula’s Future
As our climate changes and our population here grows, keeping our rivers cool and plentiful for fish and humans, and conserving water and the energy embedded in it will be more and more critical. We’re grateful for the visionary and hard work of the Clark Fork Coalition, our Wastewater Treatment Plant staff, Missoula Water, Garden City Compost, and so many more great organizations that maintain this resource which is so important to our identity as Missoulians as well as to building climate resilience for a hotter, drier future that is already here.
Join us next month for our September meetup on Renewable Energy! Thursday, September 6th, 5-7pm at Imagine Nation as usual. Snacks, tasty beverages, and good conversation guaranteed!
Last October, I started my 11 month journey as an AmeriCorps Energy Corps service member with Climate Smart Missoula. I was thrilled to get started on my primary project, developing a pilot weatherization program aimed at enhancing energy efficiency, health and safety of manufactured homes, with an emphasis on homes built before the 1976 federal building code. I was surprised to learn that there are 6,000 manufactured homes in Missoula, and about half of them were built before this time. An estimated 1200 of these homes could be lost by 2025 due to deteriorating conditions and issues with moving them. To address and help preserve community members' homes, Climate Smart has partnered with NeighborWorks Montana, the Human Resource Council, and Home ReSource (full disclosure Climate Smart is in awe of our partner organizations). We're now a Team, and our Team has done a lot to set ourselves up for success: defining the scope of our efforts, building community awareness, engaging stakeholders, and providing resources directly to residents. I’m proud of our accomplishments.
I’ll share a few examples of the work we’ve done this year and upcoming efforts:
This Spring, our Team hosted the first ever Manufactured Home Resource Fair. Our goal: provide resources for manufactured home residents around Home Repair, Weatherization, Financing, Legal Counseling and Health.
Along with our Team, a handful of local organizations joined. MUD co-hosted at their site. The National Center for Appropriate Technology (NCAT) generously donated “light weatherization materials”. We gave away LED lights, weather-stripping, window insulation kits, and water pipe insulation. Climate Smart provided informational pamphlets on the energy savings associated with each. These materials can benefit manufactured homes in particular because upgrades are especially cost-effective, given rates of heat loss and wasted energy. Participants were thrilled with what they received, and we have more left to give out! We're planning mini “pop up” fairs in manufactured home communities in July and August to provide resources directly to residents.
To assist with financial counseling, HomeWord provided materials on their financial education program that can help residents looking to save for improvements on their homes. MoFi provided information on their small dollar loan program, a low interest loan specifically for manufactured home repairs. as did the Missoula Federal Credit Union. Additionally, Montana Legal Services offered legal counseling resources.
For help with home repair, MUD offered discounts to their “Tool Library” where folks can access tools for home repair projects. Home ReSource provided coupons for their store which has a plethora of hardware, tools, and home repair materials. Other groups shared assistance programs.
The goal of the Fair was to support residents as they work to improve the safety, health, energy efficiency, livability and longevity of their homes, and ultimately to preserve existing affordable housing. Manufactured housing, in fact, represents the largest supply of unsubsidized affordable housing in the country. I was grateful for the all the organizations that came out and for the opportunity to help coordinate this effort. I'm hopeful for more of these Resource Fairs in the future!
We hosted a “design charrette” in February aimed at building community awareness, engaging key stakeholders and generating designs for our energy retrofit. We invited local builders, architects, weatherization professionals and manufactured home residents to design models of skirting that fir our project goals: energy efficiency, health and comfort. We sought improvements that were long lasting, safe and affordable. We split into teams and, working together, successfully generated new and creative ideas for improvements in this sector which we're excited to implement.
During the event, I interacted with homeowners who'd received weatherization services from the Human Resource Council (HRC) and gained a sense of the profound effect an energy retrofit can have on an individual's life. A mobile home resident commented that the weatherization work the HRC recently did allowed her to be comfortable and was so thankful that her house “wasn’t cold in the winter anymore”. She also mentioned saving nearly $50/month on utility costs. Speaking to residents personally about the benefits of weatherization was really encouraging. The models created at the design charrette could improve many community members’ lives, making their homes more energy efficient, comfortable, and healthy. Bringing experts to the table was incredibly beneficial, and we plan to use the re-skirting ideas on manufactured homes in July and August.
Re-skirting Five Manufactured Homes
After all this good work, our Team is now poised to work on skirting replacements for 5 homes in the Missoula area and are in the process of creating a “design refine team”. This team will visit five homes and refine the "charrette" skirting designs based on the specifications of the home and wishes of the homeowner. If you have building, architecture or weatherization experience and are interested in helping with our skirting repair model, please reach out to me, Max.
Stay tuned, and check for updates on the Home Rehab section of our web page.
- Max Longo, Energy and Climate Coordinator
Late last August I eagerly packed my things while profusely sweating in the hot and humid climate of northern Indiana. I naively looked forward to the cooler, drier weather of my new home in Missoula where I would be attending graduate school. Instead I arrived to a hot, smoke filled valley. Looking out my window on one of my first morning I mistook the smoke for a beautiful morning fog.
Since then I have heard many horror stories of the impacts of wildfire smoke on physical and mental health. I had a professor who skyped in from Seattle because she was so sick she couldn’t be in Missoula. A parent told me their child could not play outside for nearly two months. While a sort of post-traumatic stress may keep wildfire smoke at the forefront of Missoulian minds, this is just one example of how climate change and community health are related.
At Thursday night’s monthly meetup covering the topic of health and climate, participants helped generate a list of what we knew about the possible global health consequences of climate change. Here are some of the things we came up with:
A recurring theme throughout the night’s discussion centered on how we define vulnerable populations. In the context of climate and health, vulnerable populations have traditionally been defined as the young and elderly. Several participants called for outdoor workers to be included in this definition as they face numerous occupational hazards. Think local farmers and highway workers.
Let’s Be Proactive
Thankfully, as the meetup’s title “Healthy Community and Summer Smart” suggests, Thursday night’s discussion was not all doom and gloom. Nurse scientist, St. Patrick Hospital’s sustainability coordinator, and Climate Smart executive team member Beth Schenk spoke with us about some of the exciting efforts she, the hospital, and local health researchers are making to create a healthier community. Amy added to this proactive message by discussing some of Climate Smart’s “Summer Smart” work.
Nurses: The New Climate Messengers
Beth mentioned a few of the efforts she has been involved with both nationally and around Missoula:
More local efforts
Check out our “Summer Smart” tab for information about some of our health and climate efforts. Here are a few highlights:
Since August I have come a long way from mistaking smoke for fog. As a new member of the Climate Smart team, I am excited to continue learning about the local effects of climate change and what we can do here in our own community. I found the proactive message of Thursday’s discussion an inspirational launch point as I dive into the world of climate change work this summer.
- Mattie Lehman, Intern and UM Brainerd Fellow
Plastic is all around us. Take a look down at what you’re wearing. I bet there is plastic in your shoes. Look in your bag, those car keys, plastic. Your cell phone, plastic. The use of plastic seems almost unavoidable, with a society so dependent on a single material. If your interested in the environmental effects of plastic, check out tomorrow's Climate Smart sponsored short film called Defying Plastics at the International Wildlife Film Festival . This 5 minute film is part of a 50 minute "Ocean Block" in which half of the films are about plastics and what we can do, starting at 6:15 at the Roxy Theater.
Itching for tomorrows film block to learn more about plastics and what we can do? Keep reading!
A report from The National Center for Biotechnology Information estimates “over 300 million metric tons of plastics are produced in the world annually and about 50% of this volume is for disposable applications, products that are discarded within a year of their purchase.” Plastics cause great harm to humans, animals and our environment. An article from the journal Environmental Health News, titled “The Environmental Toll of Plastics,” reports: “more than 180 species of animals have been documented to ingest plastic debris, including birds, fish, turtles and marine mammals.” Not only are animals affected, humans also pay a huge price. “Humans are exposed to chemicals from plastic multiple times per day through air, dust, water, food and use of consumer products,” Our landfills are full of single use plastics, that could potentially be avoided.
The idea of trying to reduce plastic use has been on many cities, states and countries minds for a long time. Globally, governments have taken bold action, banning plastic bags and containers. France recently introduced a ban to take place in 2020 on all plastic cups, plates and cutlery, ensuring that they will only allow ones that are compostable. Taiwan has also banned all plastic bags, straws and utensils. Due to China’s new recycling regulations, many places in Montana are no longer recycling type 1 and 2 plastics, calling even louder for new ideas regarding use reduction.
There are so many ways to take action! Businesses in Missoula such as the Top Hat, Wilma and Kettlehouse are taking action as apart of Zero By Fifty - the city wide effort to reduce landfill waste 90 percent by 2050. These businesses have set up requirements that all single use plastics they use are compostable. Plastic consumption is something that consumers do have power in changing. If you are at a restaurant, you can ask for no plastic straw, or bring your own mug to a coffee shop. With a strong community & individual efforts, Missoula is taking action and leading in reducing plastic waste.
Again, don't forget to check out Climate Smarts sponsored short film "Defying Plastics" and get inspired for further action to reduce plastic use !
- Sydney Lang, CCS Intern
Let’s say you walk into a large Missoula park on a boiling hot summer day. You're hoping to have a picnic and are looking for some shade. You spy a large oak tree on the corner, casting a huge net of relife. You set up your blanket and enjoy a cool picnic in the shade. Can you imagine what your picnic would have been like without the surrounding trees? Trees provide so many benefits, cooling us off in the summer and providing a windbreak in the winter. They're invaluable to our water systems and air quality.
Climate Smart Missoula's April monthly meetup was all about the importance of trees in our city, neighborhoods, and surrounding wildland forests. Dave Atkins came to speak about TreeSource, a new-ish website that "includes original stories, photo essays, videos and podcasts that take readers into North America’s forests and the cities that rely upon them for everything from drinking water and building materials to carbon storage, renewable energy, recreation and biodiversity.” Do check TreeSource out for the latest in forest journalism. Dave began by talking about the concept of biophilia. Like most in attendance, I’d never heard this term before. Biophilia is defined as “the recognition that human beings are wired towards nature.” Scientific studies have shown that humans work better while surrounded in nature or natural materials, such as wood buildings. Stress levels are brought down and productivity is proven to be significantly higher. More here.
This rings true for me. As a student at UM, I've noticed the buildings at the University where I get the most work done are naturally lit with views of trees, rather than under the dim glow of the basement library lights. When I work near or outside my stress level decreases, creating a space where I can produce my best work.
Back to the meetup. Representatives from the City of Missoula's Urban Forestry Division and Trees For Missoula spoke about the amazing work they do to maintain, enhance, and expand Missoula’s urban forest through pruning, planting and hazard removals. According to Trees for Missoula, the beautiful trees that line our streets, parks and homes were planted 80 years or more ago and most have life spans around 50-100 years, meaning it is essential to plant their replacements now.
So how can folks get involved in enhancing and maintaining our urban forests? One important aspect of our urban forests maintenance is the work of volunteers. The Urban Forestry Division is fairly understaffed and currently on a 51 year pruning cycle. I was shocked to learn that for trees to be healthy, they should be on a 10-15 year pruning cycle! Even while understaffed, 400 trees were pruned this winter. Want to shorten the pruning cycle? Check out all the great ways to volunteer for Trees For Missoula here. As they explicitly say “No forestry or technical background is required, only a passion for enhancing and maintaining Missoula's trees". Also, don't forget to register for “Run for Trees” this Saturday, April 14 located at Silver Park, 900 Cregg Lane, Large Pavilion west of The Missoula Osprey's Ogren Park Allegiance Field.
While we can volunteer and get involved directly in the maintenance and growth of our urban forest, it's still necessary to educate and advocate to fellow community members about the importance of trees. Many at our meeting spoke to the idea of advocating for a mandate on planting trees or green space in commercial development areas. Trees serve to cool the area, decreasing the Urban Heat Island affect and providing shade especially in the peak of summer. They benefit everyone in the community! Our group agreed that a great way to enhance our urban forest is to help people understand all the benefits of trees and the need to plant and water them. For more, check out this Sustainable Missoula piece Trees for Missoula's Karen Sippy. Finally, Urban and Wildland Forests is a focal area in our community's Climate Smart Action Plan, with strategies and more info here.
At this meetup, I learned very quickly that there is a lot more to trees than you may think. They're wonderfully complex parts of our world that do so much good. They store carbon, make us happy and healthy, and create more aesthetically appealing streets. You may not have the time or skills to become a professional arborist, but we can all be advocates for maintaining, enhancing and expanding Missoula’s urban forest!
- Sydney Lang, Climate Smart Intern