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 protected 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 email@example.com 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
Sometimes it can take a trip half way around the world to gain a little perspective on the challenges of our day. And the solutions. I just returned from almost two weeks in Vietnam as part of YSEALI (the Young Southeast Asian Leaders Initiative) and the University of Montana’s Mansfield Center. Via YSEALI, last fall Climate Smart Missoula hosted an activist from CHANGEVN, an NGO based in Ho Chi Minh City. Ms. Chau Nhi was here for over a month learning about climate advocacy and sustainability, Montana style. She got a taste of our work, culture, and blustery fall weather. This March it was my time to sample her work, culture, splendid food, and hot temperatures. And my opportunity to blow up my carbon budget, for which I do feel guilty.
Ho Chi Minh City is not Missoula. It's home to over 15 million people and almost that many motorbikes. Ostentatious wealth can be found right next door to extreme poverty. The City is changing fast, and my new friends helped me navigate this sprawling metropolis so I felt almost at home. Nhi and her CHANGE Team are wonderful and together we worked hard—sharing, strategizing, and navigating on topics from reducing single use plastics and straws, to traffic congestion, landing grants, creative communications, and going solar. Just how do we as a global community transform our planet’s antiquated energy system to one that utilizes renewable energy, particularly solar?
One morning, I accompanied the CHANGE Team to meet journalists who cover sustainability, energy and climate. The Team shared their recent accomplishments and goals for the year ahead. It was an interactive conversation as they all strategized about how to best garner attention and cover the news that matters, or so my interpreter said. Then the CHANGE Team presented each journalist with a solar powered inflatable lantern that I had brought with me (the only “shwag” Climate Smart has). These lanterns demonstrate how easy it is to have solar – a push of the button! None had ever seen solar lights, and one journalist was so excited he followed up with a TV interview of me.
The CHANGE Team and I talked a lot about how solar energy is utilized today and options for the future. We have obstacles here in Montana, with antiquated laws and backward perspectives at our Public Service Commission, but in Vietnam they are up against even greater challenges. Vietnam operates a national electricity company, has little opportunity for individuals or businesses to tie into the electrical grid, and limited rooftop space in their populated areas. They do widely incorporate rooftop solar thermal, effectively heating their water for domestic use. Here, we’re primarily served by an investor-owned energy utility, can incorporate solar PV onto the grid, and, at least in Missoula, have plenty of space on rooftops for solar panels. Nonetheless our conversations found common themes. In both countries (and around the world), conversations about energy systems are shifting as the urgency of addressing climate change becomes more and more evident, though the systems themselves are slow to shift. Energy costs are relatively low in both locales, so enthusiasm for conservation remains a challenge. And the price of solar arrays has them out of reach for to most people, bringing up issues of social equity. Finally, as advocates, we’re both trying to build a movement and inspire action.
Luckily I did find opportunities to travel outside Ho Chi Minh City. My favorite experience was the weekend Nhi and I spent at Cat Tien National Park. I also spent a day touring a part of the Mekong Delta. The famed rice fields are on display—some flooded, some ready for harvest, some dry and scorched. The challenges of managing water across international boundaries and as the climate changes are daunting. Much of the delta is all too susceptible to raising sea levels, reinforcing how critical it is to reduce emissions world-wide.
My perspectives on the climate efforts here in the US shifted during this international excursion. As much as we feel like our hands are tied to make the climate progress we need, we do live in a country with elections (Russian meddling aside), and freedom of speech and association still hold here. To work on climate, the CHANGE Team are necessarily much braver and put themselves on the line. I remain in awe. It feels critical in these times that we meet partners across the globe and learn from each other. Although our two countries are different, inspiring people to act is happening in both places. We all need more art, laughter, NextGen voices, wisdom from our elders, and plain old hope to keep us inspired and moving forward.
Enjoy a handful of photos...
By Sydney Lang, Climate Smart Missoula Intern
Our March meetup was all about zero waste! We had great discussions on individual contributions and community collaboration to reduce reuse and recycle materials. With the room jam packed, it was evident Missoula has strong momentum to reduce waste, which was encouraging and inspiring. The meeting kicked off with an overview of Missoula’s ZERO by FIFTY plan from Chase Jones, the City of Missoula Energy Conservation and Climate Action Coordinator. ZERO by FIFTY is an effort to reduce landfill waste 90 percent by 2050 and the four pathways and strategies that help achieve it - access, infrastructure, education and policy. So what’s the significance of the four pathways and what are some initiatives already in motion?
Access involves a push for universal recycling and compost collection services, zero waste stations in public spaces, and generally making waste reduction easy and accessible for all Missoulians. Recognizing that Missoula recovers only 20 percent of total waste, it was encouraging to hear from successful local initiatives that will improve our waste recovery rate. Logjam Presents - Going Green initiative partnered with the City of Missoula's ZERO by FIFTY, and Missoula Compost Collection, is expanding access for reducing and recycling waste at the Top Hat Lounge, Wilma and Kettlehouse Amphitheater. They’re doing smart things like teaming up with Klean Kanteen to create a line of reusable cups and water bottles to reduce the amount of single-use container waste, and implementing a compost program which will eliminate all plastic single-use cups. Additionally, all single-use cups, straws and water bottles will be replaced with 100 percent compostable products. A representative from Logjam announced at the meetup that they have already saved 95 percent of their cups from the landfill! They even allow event attendees to come in with their own reusable cups. Entertainment venues are such a great space to make a difference. Everyone loves to come to a concert and have a drink, so it is a great platform to take advantage of sustainable opportunities.
Education is fundamentally about changing the way we think about things and is particularly impactful when starting with kids. Home ReSource has an effort to educate the community and change the culture around waste by partnering with Missoula County Public Schools. Their ZWAP program teaches 5th graders lessons about zero waste, helping kids understand the life cycle of waste, where it comes from, how we use it and how much ends up in the landfill. The students quickly gain perspective and brainstorm ways they can divert from the landfill through interactive presentations, classroom exercises and creative thinking. 5th graders realize that almost everything can be diverted from the trash, their perspective is changed and hopefully become ambassadors of zero waste throughout life. While zero waste is challenging, this program has the ability to change the culture around waste by starting with our future leaders.
As one of the 5th grade teachers at Franklin Elementary School said at the meetup, “the flipside of challenge is opportunity.” Her classroom is absolutely running with the opportunity, using cloth towels instead of paper, real silverware for snacks and more. It was amusing hearing the teacher explain that custodians comes into her classroom and chuckle because they dump the trash only once a week. I didn’t realize until much later than 5th grade what actually happens when I put something in the trash, so I think these lessons are phenomenal.
Policy is a big one, and a lot of times when we hear the word policy, our minds skip right to government, the big towering beast that can sometimes feel very out of our control. Home ReSource reminded the audience that there are many spheres of influence into local and national government. Missoula is exploring a zero waste ordinance and working to change policy around construction waste. The audience also suggested some policy ideas, such as creating a ban on single use disposables and extending producer responsibility. For example, a company might send you an item, all wrapped up and in a box. When you get this package the customer would take their item out and then send the box and packaging back to the company to be reused.
We wrapped up our meetup with a discussion on ways individuals can reduce waste, brainstorming different methods every person had the power to implement. Some neighbors discussed sharing trash cans and others expressed the impact of buying foods in bulk. Parents discussed simple solutions like buying glass containers for packing their kids’ lunches instead of using plastic bags. One audience member explained her effort to remain aware of the waste cycle everyday. Everytime she throws away any trash she imagines it following her for the rest of the day, reminding her that just because trash is out of site doesnt mean its vanished. This was a powerful idea. It is also a terrifying idea, and one that could potentially weigh you down, but on the flipside, it is a reminder that our individual choices do matter.
Home ReSource closed the event with a wise words. So far, they’ve diverted 1.8 million pounds from the landfill. One of their mottos is “you can’t recycle your way to zero waste”: it takes changing our culture’s relationship with things. They inspire us all to work hard to reuse items and channel energy into creative ways to reduce waste.
The lively neon green room of Imagine Nation Brewing was filled with even livelier individuals last Thursday evening while community members contributed to an invigorating and educational conversation on energy efficiency and green building. With a room full of diverse stakeholders, including real estate agents, sustainable podcast owners, builders and public officials, the group narrowed the topic down to the local level and provided insight on energy efficiency through different lenses. The main points of conversation surrounded reducing our communal energy use, an in-development energy tracking tool, and a new community project to weatherize and rehabilitate manufactured homes. Missoula has many energy efficiency initiatives to keep on your radar and participate in!
There's a new way to make an individual impact with a push for energy efficiency and reducing energy use at home. Working with Climate Smart, a group of computer science students from the University of Montana are developing a new web platform with tips and a tracking system to help save residential energy use. Users will be able to see data on energy savings in engaging forms and be able to compare to an average. The group discussed the impact that participant’s awareness of individual energy cost savings has on the motivation to implement further energy cutting measures. Some people are much more motivated to implement further energy saving measures when they have a good sense for energy cost savings. As a college student, the idea of being able to track my energy use on a computer is really fascinating. Energy consumption can sometimes be a little confusing, and thinking of ways to cut back is challenging when we don’t know exactly where to focus. This web tool will allow the user to focus on key saving measures and see energy use with visuals, rather than just numbers on an energy bill at the end of the month. I'll be sure to check this tool out when it's ready, hopefully late spring!
Climate Smart’s Energy Corps member Max Longo explained his work with community partners at Home ReSource, NeighborWorks Montana, and the Human Resource Council. They are working on weatherizing manufactured homes with the goal of improving energy efficiency, health and overall well being for residents. The project is poised to address vulnerable community members energy needs, while re-purposing building materials and creating climate resilience. The potential benefits of this project led to a discussion on the many motivators for weatherizing homes. One of the main motivators was to promote health and comfort of residents. Homes that receive weatherization services see improvements in ventilation and insulation, which is especially beneficial for seniors in our community. I was fascinated by the discussion of weatherizing mobile homes. Before moving to Missoula, I maybe knew one or two people that lived in a mobile home. The community is much more prominent here and it was great to hear the energy efficiency measures one can implement to make these homes more energy efficient, healthier and more resilient to warming summers.
Finally, although most of the conversation was around energy in the built environment, we did tie back to the January Meetup where transportation featured prominently. Missoula in Motion’s February Clear The Air challenge is a fun way to make an individual impact reducing our communal emissions and track the amount of diversion. The challenge allows you to log sustainable trips during the month of February and track your positive impact. It's a fun way to compete with other Missoulian's with similar commute lengths and possibly win prizes for big diverters. As an avid biker, this challenge is super motivating. Sustainable transportation empowers me and allows every individual to make a difference reducing our carbon footprint in easier ways than we might think. Besides the positive impact of CO2 reduction, sustainable transportation can be a blast!
The community at Imagine Nation pitched ideas, challenged opinions and shared in drinks and many laughs. I learned an incredible amount about the motivations of energy efficiency and the momentum in Missoula to reduce the size of our energy pie!
- Sydney Lang, Climate Smart Missoula intern