Happy Earth Day!
If you're like us, this is probably not the first Earth Day greeting to arrive in your inbox today. It seems like everyone is jumping on the train, with myriad businesses and organizations suggesting things we can do (and even buy!).
On one hand, it's encouraging to see all these Earth-friendly messages. Caring for our planet has never been a more urgent task, and the more that message makes its way into all corners of society, the more momentum we can build for bold action.
Yet we find that too often these Earth Day messages are all about what I should do as an individual - admonitions to buy "green" products or rest easy after recycling. Especially during COVID, when we've been isolated from one another, it's tempting to really focus on individual actions that, understandably, give us some feeling of control.
This Earth Day, as the light at the end of the COVID tunnel is getting brighter and we're dreaming of again gathering in person for community events and celebrations, we're reflecting on what it means to keep WE and US at the center of climate solutions:
Thank you for all the ways you take part in this movement of US, and we can't wait to see you out there.
Amy, Abby and Mason & the Climate Smart Team
Wildfire season is upon us and right now the pollution from wildfire smoke is part of a bigger conversation about the health risks from poor air quality. Unhealthy air can also be a determining factor in the severity of COVID-19 symptoms. This has me thinking: how can our air quality be improved?
Air pollution comes from 4 major sources and while wildfires and other natural phenomena are responsible for a good portion, transportation (cars, trucks, buses, airplanes) is responsible for more than half of all the air pollution in the US. Vehicles also contribute a majority of the greenhouse gas emissions responsible for the climate crisis.
Our current administration is waging a war on clean air and water regulations that protect us from pollution, a burden that disproportionately affects people of color and low-income communities. Not surprisingly, we’ve also seen that COVID-19 is having a greater impact on these communities as well. A devastating double whammy that reveals the extreme inequities at play in our country.
We’ve all seen the reports that frame a recent improvement of air quality in cities and reduction in greenhouse gas emissions as a direct result of the pandemic. As people are telecommuting more, or, sadly, finding themselves ill or out of work, they are inherently spending less time in their cars. And we are all taking significantly fewer trips by plane.
It shouldn’t take something as devastating as a global pandemic to make the changes we need, and it absolutely does not have to!
In order to “build back better” we, ultimately, need to change a lot of things. But in terms of air quality we need stronger, not weaker, regulation of polluters, and we need reliable and affordable clean driving options.
There are a wide range of transportation options to consider and I have my personal favorites: biking, walking and busing. But love having a range of active transportation options, I also understand that people often do need to drive. With that in mind, a primary way to reduce emissions is to go electric.
An electric vehicle (EV) is an increasingly viable alternative to traditionally fossil-fueled cars, and there are currently 1 million of them on the road. Battery tech continues to improve, allowing us to go longer distances. EVs can be less expensive over their lifetime because maintenance costs are minimal. So why don’t we all drive one?
One reason - they often need to be charged while away from home. We need to make fast-charging infrastructure as reliable as the American gas station!
Cities, states, and nonprofits are working to develop fast-charging infrastructure in an effort to provide clean and affordable alternatives as well as follow through on commitments to reduce emissions.
The State of New York is investing $750 million to build 50,000 charging stations and other EV infrastructure by 2025. Fifteen states plus Washington D.C formed a coalition to develop a mandate that 100% of new medium and heavy duty trucks sold are to be zero-emission vehicles by 2050. Businesses, too, are committing to climate goals and tackling transportation related emissions head on. In June of this year, LYFT announced it would be working with policymakers, partners, and drivers to shift to 100% electric vehicles on it’s platform by 2030. Electrify America (EA), a nonprofit, is working to develop the largest public fast-charging network in America, contributing to a convenient and reliable charging infrastructure at workplaces, in communities, and on highways. If you do have an EV, you can use this map to look up charging stations across the US.
Charging infrastructure is expanding and becoming more reliable for longer trips. We have an EA station in Missoula at the Walmart at 3555 Mullan Road that’s open 24 hours a day. There are also two FREE public chargers with priority parking at the Parking Garage at 201 East Front Street.
If you are a business owner, nonprofit director, or government agency, there are opportunities for assistance with funding a charging station. The Montana Department of Environmental Quality, via the Volkswagen emissions settlement, has funds available, and you have until August 31 to apply.
There are probably more EVs in Missoula than you might realize! See what Missoulians have to say about their EV ownership:
There are plenty of local and national opportunities to support and advocate for the decarbonization of our transportation sectorif transitioning to a new vehicle isn’t feasible right now.
Check engagemissoula.com to familiarize yourself with infrastructure changes and leave feedback on where our money should be invested. There are some great proposals for allocating funds towards implementing our resiliency plan, Climate Ready Missoula.
Stay happy and healthy and get outside when the air is clear!
Longer days with more sunshine have me reflecting on my years spent in Denmark where the sun would stay up well past 11pm this time of year and never fully set. Riding my bike down to the harbor in the evening for a swim, I was flanked by hundreds of Copenhageners using the city’s extensive protected bikeway to commute home after work, pick up their kids in a cargo bike or head down to the harbor to take a dip for themselves. Even as an avid bike commuter, it was like nothing I’d ever experienced. I quickly felt like a part of the community and fell in love with the biking culture there. Any time of year the bike lanes are filled with people riding the green wave – a system of cycle traffic lights that are coordinated in such a way that if you ride ~12mph you’ll catch green lights all the way during rush hour.
Copenhagen wasn’t always a cyclist’s haven and it didn’t happen overnight. A switch from being car-centric to emphasizing bikes and public transit was jump started in the 1970’s by a combination of the oil crisis and a growing environmental awareness. In an effort to relieve the stress on oil supplies, the City instituted Car Free Sundays and the Cyclist’s Federation held huge demonstrations demanding a car-free city. Planners and government agencies saw the value in transforming the city’s infrastructure and began changing policies and taking space once used for cars to build pedestrian only streets and wide, protected cycle lanes to improve safety. From 1982 – 2001 every budget had funds allocated to cycle path construction and improving existing infrastructure. Today, they have bicycle superhighways that connect 28 municipalities in the Capital Region complete with bridges dedicated solely to bike traffic, an integrated traffic light system, and ample bike parking. Bike traffic has risen by 68% in the last 20 years, over 60% of the population commutes to work and school by bike, and bikes outnumber cars.
Now I’m a Missoulian and biking is my favorite way to experience this town. I wonder what it would be like if there were less cars and more people on bikes with me and how to make that dream a reality.
Like Copenhagen, Missoula is making incremental changes to improve our infrastructure and foster a culture of active and sustainable commuting. Every 4 years the Metropolitan Planning Organization (MPO) establishes regional goals, projects, and investment strategies through a Long Range Transportation Plan (LRTP) update. This year they’re developing Missoula Connect 2050: Missoula LRTP based on goals established in 2016, the existing conditions of our transportation system and our feedback as community members.
I’ve found Missoula Connect to be an incredibly useful tool for familiarizing myself with the sustainable transportation network in Missoula, envisioning the future, and guiding our growth as a community towards safer, more active, and more equitable transportation options.
Right now, the MPO is entering phase 2 of Missoula Connect. If you took the values survey, your feedback was used by MPO planners to develop preliminary goals and desired outcomes for the future of our transportation infrastructure:
(1) Improve safety and promote health to enhance quality of life, (2) advance sustainability and climate resilience to protect natural and historic resources (3) expand mobility choices to improve efficiency and accessibility, (4) connect and strengthen communities to create a more equitable region, (5) maintain assets and invest strategically to boost economic vitality.
Via a citizen advisory committee, we discussed these goals at length, working with other community organizations to ensure they reflect our call for an equitable and resilient community with improved access to sustainable transportation options. Now it’s time to make sure you feel the same. Then we’ll figure out the best ways to meet them. Can you take this short values survey to make sure your voice is heard?
Another way to get involved and a major part of phase 2 is identifying specific projects like improving walkability in a neighborhood by adding a sidewalk or safer crossing, creating a bike lane, adding a bus stop to a route, expanding bus service hours, performing road maintenance, etc. You can participate using the interactive map or online form to submit project ideas by June 30th. Our page on transportation and smart growth has more information on the relationship between transportation and climate change and how we can act, advocate, and assist for a healthier and more resilient future.
In wake of George Floyd’s murder and its reverberations across the country, those of us in the climate movement must speak out against racial injustice.
We haven’t spoken loudly enough - or done enough to center voices of the marginalized - in the past. We have feared going out of our “lane” and too often compartmentalize climate action as its own issue. But our silence is wrong - and is part of the problem. Black, Indigenous and other communities of color are disproportionately impacted by the coronavirus pandemic and the climate crisis. The fight for racial justice must be central to the fight for climate justice.
Every day, we work to help our community cope with the impacts of the climate crisis, and to help build a safer future. In this work, we make choices about who to protect: the powerful and privileged, or the vulnerable and oppressed? We cannot stay silent about the racism and inequity that impacts these choices.
Now is the time to listen to and lift up Black voices who are calling for justice, and stand in solidarity with people of color to demand an end to racial violence. At Climate Smart Missoula, we recommit to working towards a just transition that prioritizes frontline communities, centering equity in our work, and to joining with our colleagues and community partners to do the same. Climate change and structural racism are inextricably linked, and we can’t address one without the other.
Abby, Caroline and Amy
NOTE: We don't have all the answers. We hope you're with us. We need you and everyone to build this world. Be in touch. Please consider supporting these Montana groups doing good work:
The Montana Racial Equity Project, Indian People's Action, Montana Human Rights Network
Recommendations from our friends from Soft Landing Missoula:
University of Montana African-American Studies Department- specifically consider donating to the Dianna Riley Fund to support the annual Black Solidarity Summit at UM. University of Montana Black Student Union- website and Facebook
Empower MT and YWCA Missoula- specifically donating to support the new joint position of their Racial Justice Engagement Specialist, Alex Kim. Again, The Montana Racial Equity Project
Additionally, many people from the BIPOC community around the nation have created incredible resources that they have painstakingly developed for the education of white people in this space. Figure out how you can financially support and donate to the work that you are finding value in. Resources for white people in this conversation have never been more easy to access. You can start here.
I’ve seen a post going around on social media in response to COVID-19 that starts with the statement, “We are NOT all in the same boat.” The post goes on to give examples of how very differently this crisis is affecting people, exposing dramatic inequities that have been growing under the surface of our “strong” economy. To extend the metaphor, we may all be in the same storm, but some of us are in sturdy seafaring vessels while others are in dinghies full of holes, about to capsize.
This point is an important one, and one that applies to the climate crisis too. “We’re all in this together” has become a common rallying cry as neighborhoods and communities have formed networks to respond to the coronavirus pandemic. These responses are hopeful and encouraging, and banding together in a time of crisis can certainly bring out the best in us and catalyze meaningful change. But COVID and the climate crisis do not impact everyone equally; in fact, they hit those most vulnerable much harder.
The first Earth Day drew attention to environmental injustice, and catalyzed major cultural and policy changes that have done much to improve health. So on this 50th anniversary of Earth Day, let’s channel the positive force of the “we’re all in this together” spirit to recommit to building a future that’s sustainable and works for everyone. Let’s work to ensure our responses to crises like COVID and the climate emergency center the most vulnerable, and address these deep inequities head on.
What might that re-commitment look like for you or me? Back in February after our Big Climate Event with 700 people at the Wilma (seems like a lifetime ago!) we shared some ideas about what we any of us can do to address the climate crisis: ACT, ADVOCATE, and ASSIST others. We’ve added a few ideas to these lists, and thought they would be worth re-sharing. And we’d love to hear what you’re committing to this Earth Day! Thanks for all you do, and for inspiring us.
Live in line with your values:
Reduce your contribution to the climate crisis (carbon footprint) by going solar, improving the energy efficiency of your home or business, and increasing active and sustainable transportation.
Consider consumption habits and waste. Can you plant a garden or buy food from local farmers? Can you compost and embrace a plant-heavy diet?
Divest/reinvest. Look into divesting from fossil fuels personally and via your employer.
Learn about and take actions that build community resiliency for all.
Consider how you can be a climate leader in your own context: your workplace, your place of worship, your professional and personal networks.
Be a voice for action:
Advocate for a COVID response and a just recovery that prioritizes people, especially the most vulnerable, over corporate interests, and builds the green economy of the future.
Organize and speak out in support of climate solutions at the local, state, and federal levels.
Support local leaders willing to take action on climate (business, non-profit, education, elected officials, agencies, etc.) and hold elected officials accountable.
Support and organize for candidates that have prioritized climate action.
Talk about climate. We cannot solve a problem we don't talk about.
Share your story and talk about why you care and what you are doing to create change - with friends, neighbors, and colleagues.
Connect with existing organizations that work on climate advocacy.
Sign up for our email list to stay connected to future opportunities!
Join a local mutual aid effort and help your neighbors meet their needs. If you are able, contribute financially to organizations that serve the most vulnerable, such as the Missoula Food Bank, the United Way, and the Poverello Center.
Lend your own or your business's expertise. Share climate-friendly strategies that work for your organization or family with others.
We're working to develop a Footprint Fund, a new program where you can offset your carbon footprint by contributing to local projects that improve energy efficiency for low-income Missoulians. We're still hoping to get this off the ground in 2020 - stay tuned.
Donate to climate organizations like us, and others! (Missoula Gives is coming up April 30-May 1!)
Imagine Missoula as a 1000 piece puzzle. Every piece needs to fit into place for it to be complete. They don’t all touch, but the bottom right corner would be nothing without the top left corner and every piece in between. The Missoula landscape is no doubt a puzzle. In order to complete our “Smart Growth puzzle”, every new development and infrastructure project, or puzzle piece, must echo the smart growth principles if it is to fit. Piece by piece we are developing a resilient, healthy, and connected community.
The COVID-19 pandemic is at the front of everyone’s mind right now. While we are responding to the immediate needs in our community and supporting organizations serving those hardest hit by the crisis, we can also continue our work to build a future that is just and sustainable. What if we told you there was an opportunity right now to design what the next “puzzle pieces” will look like?
The Mullan Area Master Plan is hosting a Public Design Charrette this week, featuring redesigned virtual activities to invite online participation while we are socially distant. Throughout the week, the City and County along with a consultant team of Dover, Kohl & Partners, Territorial Landworks, Inc., and Jacobs, are hosting several virtual sessions where citizens, designers, community leaders, and technical experts can collaborate and develop a vision for future growth. The Mullan Area is a big piece of our puzzle, comprising 2,000 acres between Mullan Rd. and West Broadway, west of Reserve Street and east of the airport. That’s almost double the size of downtown! This master plan is a perfect opportunity to align land use planning within Missoula to our goals and values as a climate smart community, and your involvement is important.
This week there are virtual open studios each morning and afternoon, and live meetings about water quality, transportation, climate adaptation, and more that you can participate in through chat functions and public comment sessions. Check the schedule and join any of the meetings you find relevant. And then offer your online comments. You can read more about the project and how to be involved in the process here.
When Professor Rob Davies gave his presentation in Missoula, he shared many sobering facts, one of which was that if the average American were to never turn on their heat, drive their car, or use fossil fuels in any way, each person would still burn through 6 tons of carbon per year (we are each allotted 44 tons of carbon as our lifetime’s budget). This is because of the systems around us and the infrastructure that has been built to support the way we live. Smarter land use and growth policies are one way we can create systemic change that allows us to lead lower impact lives.
For those of you who want to learn more, take the opportunity to get acquainted with the proposed developments in our community, read a bit about our vision for transportation and smart growth in our community and be an advocate for climate smart transportation, transit-oriented development and pedestrian scale design!
We’ll continue to update our Smart Growth and Land Use Planning page with upcoming development and infrastructure projects and other opportunities for you to support our low-carbon transportation goals and ensure that our community continues to grow wisely.
-Alli and Caroline
We, like so many of you, are settling in to a new rhythm at work. The "office" is now our kitchen table or old puzzle table, and our typical office banter has been replaced with phone calls and e-mail chains. There are so many things to hold in our heads and hearts right now, and I've struggled with the uncertainty of what the next few weeks will look like in our country, state, and city. It's critical for all of us to be responsible citizens and socially distance ourselves from one another - and it's scary and hard. But it's also an opportunity to move closer to nature, think deeply about the things we care about but don't have time for in a typical day, and reconnect with the ordinary wonders that surround us every day in Missoula. It's a time to both reflect and look forward, to take stock of and give thanks for what we have and prepare for the future. In that spirit, we'll be sharing more of what we're reading, listening to, and thinking about with all of you regularly on our blog, as well as offering some things you can do so you can turn off the news notifications for a bit and take a moment to breathe.
In the meantime, we'd like to offer a social isolation bingo card (it's climate and action related!) for you to enjoy while you're maintaining a respectful 6-foot space. We'll be featuring various squares on our social media channels and in our newsletter, so please tag us or e-mail us if you have photos or stories you'd like to share while doing the activity. Everyone who successfully completes B - I - N - G - O (up, down, or diagonal) and e-mails us a picture of their bingo, will be entered to win a raffle.
More soon - Caroline and the Climate Smart Team
On February 19, Dr. Rob Davies, spoke to a packed audience (700+!) at the Wilma Theater about the scale of the planetary crisis and the urgent action needed to address it. Suffice to say, we were blown away by his presentation - and we’ve seen our share of climate talks.
If you weren’t at the Big Event, we highly recommend watching the video of Rob’s presentation HERE (thanks, MCAT!). And, check out our post-event page with a whole slew of ideas for how to ACT, ADVOCATE, and ASSIST others.
We’ve been thinking about the presentation A LOT since we’ve seen it, and thought we’d share some of our big takeaways in the form of a conversation between Caroline and Abby. And we’d love to hear your takeaways, too!
Abby: Well, that wasn’t your average climate talk. What were the things that stuck with you?
Caroline: So many things! Davies really made clear the need for both individual and systemic change, especially in the United States. My favorite statistic spoke to this - if we took the planet’s total carbon budget (how much we can emit and still get to zero by mid-century) and divided it by the world’s population, each of us would have 44 tons of carbon as our lifetime’s budget. The average American would use their budget in 2.5 years.
Abby: Yikes. That’s crazy.
Caroline: I know. I heard this and thought, ‘Well, we all need to shrink our footprints as close to zero as possible,” but then Davies hit us with another incredible fact. If the average American were to never turn on their heat, drive their car, or use fossil fuels in any way, each person would still burn through 6 tons of carbon per year. As Davies put it, even if we were to go into our basements tonight and decompose on some garden seeds, we only buy ourselves an extra 5 years. This is because of the systems around us and the infrastructure that has been built to support the way we live. We need individual change, but it only gets us so far. We desperately need structural change, too.
Abby: Absolutely. Endless growth can’t be our global economic ideal anymore. That’s not politics, it’s just physics. Rob really nailed home that point - he actually called growth a “pathology” underlying the symptom of climate change. But he also gave us a hint as to what a more sustainable level of consumption could look like, which helped me put this in perspective. Global emissions would drop by a third if us wealthy high-emitters were to adopt a lifestyle more like that of the average European citizen. Or as Rob put it, for those of us in the top 20 percent of global material and energy consumption (virtually all Americans) that produce 80 percent of global carbon emissions, “there’s a lot of slush at the top” that can be cut without reducing our quality of life. If our goal is not growth but a society and planet that is sustainable, just, and vibrant, making the necessary changes will be hard but maybe not as scary as one might think.
Caroline: No, not as scary. But we certainly need to avoid the tipping points that he described.
Abby: For sure. That was one of the truly astonishing things Rob communicated in his presentation: we’re approaching tipping points not just in our climate system, but in ALL systems that support life: air, water, soil. Crossing the threshhold of these tipping points would unleash global, catastrophic disruption. Rob pointed out that catastrophic means something very specific in the science community: unadaptable. And some people in some places are already experiencing such catastrophic, unadaptable changes, but there is still time to avoid tipping points that would lead to such disruption across the globe. It’s a difference between a planet that is livable and one that is unadaptable.
Caroline: Yeah, it’s hard to hear that, but important to know the reality of the situation we’re in, so we can respond in a way that meets the moment.
Abby: Exactly. And I don’t know about you, but Rob’s description about how to respond to the climate emergency was maybe the most powerful piece of his whole talk, which is saying something.
Caroline: I totally agree. Davies talked about a shift from a mindset of hope/despair, to one of resolve and determination. So often I have wanted to ask climate scientists and activists, “Are you hopeful?” Maybe this is the wrong question. “Hope isn’t free,” said Davies. If we want hope, we have to act - not the other way around. We must be resolved to “take the next step,” even if we cannot see the entire path to the top of the mountain. This reframing has made it easier for me to take action even on the days when I am sad, scared, or anxious.
Abby: Exactly. It is reasonable to feel daunted by the challenge in front of us. But knowing that we are in a climate emergency changes our mindset about our response, and can actually help us take action. It was so helpful to hear Davies put it this way: “When you’re in a burning building, you don’t waste time hoping or despairing, you just get out. You take the next step, then the next step, then the next. It’s about absolute, unwavering resolve and commitment.”
Caroline: And I loved this idea: that in an emergency, what once may have been radical, is now rational. And what is necessary becomes what is viable.
Abby: Yes! That was a revelation. Any other revelations?
Caroline: Lately I’ve been reflecting on Davies’ presentation in the context of a book I recently finished, We are the Weather by Jonathan Safran Foer. Foer references the Bible - go with me here - where there are several moments when God asks people where they are. Foer writes, “His questions are not about the location of a body in space but about the location of a self within a person,” and he points to our own modern day versions of this, when we ask people where they were at pivotal moments in our shared history: the assassination of John F. Kennedy, the fall of the Berlin Wall, or September 11th. “As with God in the Bible, we are not really trying to establish someone’s coordinates. We are asking something deeper about their connection to the moment, with the hope of situating our own...Future generations will almost certainly look back and wonder where we were in the biblical sense: Where was our selfhood? What decisions did the crisis inspire?” I hope one day we’ll ask: Where were you when you made your decision to take the next step to address the climate emergency?
Abby: I hope that, at least for some of those in the audience, they can mark February 19th at the Wilma as one of those decision points. I know I’ve had those moments that have given me the resolve to continue doing this work, and Rob’s presentation was definitely one of them.
Caroline: Any last thoughts?
Abby: So many - but I’ll just mention one more! I read a quote the other day by the author Rebecca Solnit, from her book Hope in the Dark. It said, “Inside the word ‘emergency" is ‘emerge’; from an emergency new things come forth. The old certainties are crumbling fast, but danger and possibility are sisters.” That’s what Rob’s presentation was all about. Every day we are resolved to take the next step, we show that a livable future is possible.
Over the next several weeks, we'll be sharing letters for our DearTomorrow project. We hope you'll read, get inspired, then write your own! It's a great way to commit to taking action in 2020 and motivate and engage others in our community.
I am sitting here writing this letter on a quiet Sunday afternoon. The wind is gusting, blowing the piles of leaves into the air and depositing them in dusty, forlorn and forgotten corners. The leaves, most of them still clinging to the trees, crinkly and brown, are unwilling participants in the changing climate. A reminder of the record breaking cold snap from last month, having frozen them in place, denying them their time of glory and natural order of business. The subtle ringing of the wind chimes, a harbinger of the cold front that is moving in.
The weather is as unsettled as I am. I fear for your future and what it may bring. I used to dream of grandchildren, now I no longer do. I don't want you to have to carry the burden of bringing children into this devastatingly sad, changing and unknown world. Will you have the ease of life that we do now? Will you have secure food, jobs, the ability to travel and adventure as I did in my youth? Will you be able to watch the confident and gregarious chickadees at the feeder, frantically filling up with food in order to survive the upcoming frigid night? I’ve just read that they are one of the many bird species that are slated to disappear here in Montana. Will you be able to spend your summers outside, or will they be spent escaping the choking smoke from wildfires? Will you be able to observe the docile bumble bee, fuzzy backside protruding from the flowers? The remaining ones are now endangered, many species already extinct. I’ll continue to plant their beloved flowers and fill up the colorful bee bath daily, hoping that it makes a difference.
Gabe, will the rivers run dry in summer heat? Will you be able to spend your summers in frigid, swirling waters stalking the elusive trout that you love so much? The water flow in our rivers and streams are running lower now.
Mica, will you be able to climb the high peaks in search of your beloved pikas? Is it too late? They are running out of the higher elevations on their mountain top homes to escape from the increasingly oppressive heat of summers. When will there be nowhere else for them to go?
Mayana, will you be able to seek your peace and quiet in the woods around your home, wandering thoughtfully and observantly? Reading in the hammock while the warm summer breezes cool your damp skin? Or will the ponderosa and aspen trees no longer have the precipitation needed to grow. Instead, will you have treeless, dry hillsides to wander on? I read that this may be the case. I was told that we need to prepare ourselves for a changing landscape as trees make way for grasslands. Forest fires will instead become grass and scrubland fires.
This is why I act. Not because I want to, but because I must. Doing exactly what introverts find so hard. But I do it for you and those who come after me. For the animals and plants, the trees and the rivers. I must hope that it will be enough, otherwise it becomes too much to contemplate. For now I act. And make plans. Plans to visit the places that are disappearing, that your children will never see, and the places that you may not get a chance to experience if we don’t go soon. The special places of my youth. Already changed, remnants of what they once were, but still hanging on. To see, touch, and smell the receding glaciers. The birds and flowers. The pikas living above the tree line, frantically preparing for a winter that they hope will still come.
For you my children, I hope.
This letter submitted by Rachel K in Missoula. Submit your letter online today.
Missoulians thought it was just another strong gust of wind Saturday afternoon when the flaps of the Caras Park tent billowed, but soon they realized that it was the result of two unusual visitors and their spaceship. Al and Ian, from Planet Alien, made a surprise visit to Missoula’s Clean Energy Expo on September 28th to understand how energy works here on Earth. Al and Ian spent time with community experts as they unraveled a series of confusing topics about our current technology and the future of energy on Planet Earth. They were kind enough to share their translators’ recordings with us so we could share it with everyone who was not able to meet our intergalactic guests at the Expo.
AL: Ian, you don’t have your translator on! No one can understand anything you are saying.
IAN: Shoot. Thanks, Al. Where are the enlightened ones? We need to speak with them. I have many questions.
AL: Yes, I want to know how they power their civilization. Our Great Leader provides energy for our planet only, so what do they use? Do they use the dinosaur juice?
IAN: Dinosaur juice? What are you talking about, Al?
AL: You saw it! The dinosaur juice from the pump. The sign said S - I - N - C - L - A - I - R. People used the plastic card and then they funneled the dinosaur juice into their spaceships.
IAN: Yes, yes. I remember now. I’ve found an enlightened one! Enlightened one, what is this dinosaur juice and how does it work?
Enlightened One: I think you mean gasoline, which is a fossil fuel. So you’re right - it is sort of like “dinosaur juice.” It may seem crazy to you, but for the past century we have been digging into the Earth for fossil fuels to power our civilization. We’ve used so much dinosaur juice though that it’s changing our climate, and it’s creating negative effects for people, animals, and plants all over Planet Earth. Luckily for you, you’re visiting at a time when we’re moving away from fossil fuels and towards other ways to power our civilization. We call it clean energy, and we’re celebrating it today at this Expo.
IAN: Clean energy? What type of juice is clean energy?
Enlightened One: Clean energy means things like power from the sun, wind, and water.
AL: Sun juice! Wind juice! This is very exciting. We know a little about sun juice from our own planet.
IAN: Yes, we also use sun juice, but we have three suns that bask our planet in perpetual light. We have to wear night goggles to sleep. I heard you have problems with something in-the-mittens?
AL: It’s nothing about mittens, Ian! You mean intermittency. Is intermittency a problem? I only see one sun here and my understanding is that your planet is only lit for part of the day. How do you power your civilization at night? And, could you please explain what intermittency is to Ian so they don’t bring up mittens again?
Enlightened One: Intermittency is the idea that energy from renewables isn’t constant - the sun isn’t always shining and the wind isn’t always blowing, but there are still things we can do to lessen the impact of intermittency. The main things we’re focusing on here one Earth are creating dispatchable renewable energy, load flexibility, geographic balancing, and storage. You’ve probably already heard of storage, and there has been a lot invested in storage here. We’re trying to make better batteries so we can store energy when the sun is shining a lot, for example, and use it when it’s dark outside. As for the other three things we’re working on, dispatchable renewable energy comes from sources like hydropower, which can be used on demand. We can also locate our different sources of renewable energy in different geographic locations, and we have models that can show us how to balance our generation sites appropriately. Finally, we can invest in load flexibility and demand response, which uses smart appliances and other technology to quickly lower energy demand and balance the grid.
AL: This is very innovative! We are impressed that you are able to do these things without a Great Leader who provides all of your energy. We are so lucky to have our Great Leader who not only provides clean energy but provides it for free. How do you pay for your clean energy?
Enlightened One: It’s great that you ask! Most people who want to buy clean energy in Montana install solar panels on their homes -
IAN: These panels make the sun juice?
Enlightened One: Yes, this is what makes the sun juice, or what we call solar energy. The price of solar panels continues to go down. It’s cheaper now than ever, and there are both federal and state tax credits available to help people afford to install the panels. There’s also low-interest financing available from both the Montana Department of Environmental Quality (DEQ) and Clearwater Credit Union. With increased research and development, the trends indicate that it’s likely the cost of solar will continue to go down.
AL: You speak very excitedly about these descending numbers.
IAN: Of course, Al! It’s very exciting that the cost of renewables is going down. But if the cost of renewables is going down, why do they have signs that say 0 - 50 - 100. Those numbers go up! And 0 + 50 do not equal 100. What is 0 - 50 - 100?
Enlightened One: 0 - 50 - 100 summarizes our main sustainability goals as a community. 0 means Zero Waste. With the help of our Zero by Fifty plan, Missoula’s pathway to Zero Waste, we hope to send almost nothing to the landfill by 2050. 50 means that 50% of Missoula-area trips are made by sustainable modes by 2040: walking, biking, busing, scootering, skateboarding, or carpooling. Anything but steering your spaceship by yourself! Finally, 100 means 100% clean electricity for Missoula by 2030, 100% of Missoulians are engaged in sustainable actions, and climate solutions work for 100% of Missoulians.
IAN: 50% sustainable trips, hm. Can you travel intergalactically?
AL: No, of course they can’t Ian! You know we’re the first to do it. Even though they can’t yet visit us on Planet Alien, I see them move at incredible speeds. Are there clean ways to power your movement?
Enlightened One: Yes! We have a very exciting new addition to our community transit system: Mountain Line’s electric buses. Six, 35-foot zero emission buses arrived in Missoula in July of 2019, and there are plans to transition more of the fleet to electric buses. As our grid has cleaner generation, these buses will be even more environmentally sound. In addition to riding the bus, you can also bike or walk if you want to opt for cleaner transportation. Making sure that people can safely and easily bike or walk to work is something our urban planners think about a lot here. We’re also trying to promote denser and smarter urban development so people can live near where they work, grocery shop, play, and all of the other things one needs to live a happy and healthy life.
AL: Wow, there is much possibility!
Enlightened One: Yes, it’s very exciting! We’ve made a lot of progress but there is still much work to be done. Hopefully we’ll be using even more sun and wind juice the next time you come.
IAN: Yes, and I hope you stop using all of that dinosaur juice.
Enlightened One: Me too, Ian. Me too.