This week has been quite the emotional roller coaster. The passing of our visionary, kind, and tenacious Mayor, and the most significant climate legislation in US history becoming law with the signing of the Inflation Reduction Act. Lows and highs. Both more impactful than I can get my head around.
First, John Engen. In the past few days, so much has been written, spoken, and shared about John and his legacy, how much he gave and how much he will be missed, his humor and his heart. His legacy is evident in many different arenas, from building a vibrant downtown, to owning our water system, to bringing zero-fare to Mountain Line, to believing safe, affordable housing is deserved by all.
John’s legacy also includes over a decade of helping Missoula take climate seriously and make bold commitments to act, commitments that we work to accelerate today. It was not as common or popular back in 2011 to dedicate city staff to research our greenhouse gas emissions and create plans to address them. John was the first mayor in Montana to join the national Mayor’s Climate Network and convene a task force to determine what the city can and should do, even asking his task force to “go bold” and set an ambitious goal of carbon neutrality for municipal operations by 2025.
In the years after crafting that first plan, I spent many hours in John’s mayoral office, discussing what was missing in Missoula in the climate sphere, and he helped me imagine what would become our organization, Climate Smart Missoula. He offered to convene the right community partners and ask for their commitments. It’s not that John made climate actions happen himself, but rather he made sure those who could were connected, had agency, set ambitious goals, and kept at it.
I’ll admit that recently, as the climate crisis has intensified, I’ve wanted our mayor to focus more attention on it. (And the City. And everyone.) The pressures on our city are many, and no doubt it’s difficult to meet this moment. So, we’ll keep making noise about it and advocating for solutions that address climate and the other challenges we face at the same time. I am known as someone who tries to (strategically) push for more, act on my values, and build partnerships, and as I reflect, I know I learned this from Missoula’s longest-serving Mayor.
And there is a connection to this week’s signing into law the biggest climate legislation ever passed by Congress. It’s not perfect, and it’s not the end of story, but it took persistence and a “never give up” attitude from countless activists, leaders and policy experts to get this first step passed, setting us on a new course aimed at addressing our climate emergency.
John Engen’s earlier efforts, together with our collective commitments and partners, including the City and the County, have positioned Missoula to avail ourselves of funding included in the Inflation Reduction Act (IRA). John helped lay the groundwork, strengthened relationships, and showed us how to be nimble and keep our eye on the prize – a vibrant and resilient community that works for everyone. We’re increasingly well-prepared to accelerate our work with support from this new legislation, and with more people engaged.
“Historic, imperfect, transformational” -- these seem to be the most common words I hear from fellow climate wonks about the climate and energy provisions in this massive new IRA bill. “Awesome, you must be stoked” – is what I hear from everyone who knows what I do for a living. It’s all those things and more. As these things go, the reality of all the bill contains is nuanced. But in a nutshell, it enables the first sustained period of declining fossil energy consumption in US history, even with its significant flaws.
We’ll have lots more to share about what this legislation means for Missoula residents, businesses, nonprofits and local government, in the coming months and even years.
Climate Smart Missoula is already working in partnership with the City, Missoula County and others to understand and implement efforts to reduce fossil fuels and energy use in buildings, efforts which will no doubt accelerate thanks to the IRA.
Affordable housing is not just about monthly rent or mortgage payments, but also about stable energy bills, healthy indoor air, and the ability to be comfortable in the winter and cool in the summer – and fully electrified buildings with heat pumps are the best way to get at all these.
Funding from this legislation will absolutely help us Electrify Missoula, and we're excited. If you are thinking of electrifying your home or purchasing electric appliances but it’s not essential this year, hold on until 2023. If you’re thinking of going solar this year, go for it. This new IRA legislation will make both possible for more Montanans.
Just as John set the table for momentum to grow climate solutions locally, this new era of federal action is setting the table for so much more climate action the world over. We have this table thanks to climate visionaries, leaders, and activists. We have a seat at that table, thanks in no small part to John Engen’s vision.
- Amy Cilimburg
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.
April was Earth Month - and it was a busy one! We kicked it off with a great conversation as usual at our monthly meetup, on the topic of Local Food & Agriculture. Just in time for the beginning of outdoor farmers market season!
We talked about everything from efforts to protect local farmland via the Missoula Area Mapping project, to the many environmental benefits of mushrooms, to saving seeds and supporting our local farmers. Here's a few links to some of the people, organizations and ideas that were part of the conversation:
We're grateful to be part of a community of locavores who understand and value agriculture and local food as important tools in Missoula's climate resilience toolbox!
We hope you also had a chance to take part in some of the great community festivities around Earth Month. From the International Wildlife Film Festival, to MUD's Annual Earth Day Celebration, to celebrating trees and their climate benefits, we had fun out and about in April.
Next Monthly Meetup is Health & Climate - hope you'll join us on Thursday, May 9!
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
Quick survey: which of the following reasons would be most likely to persuade you to make a change, large or small, in your life: a) it would save you money; b) it’s the right thing to do; or c) it will improve your health?
If you chose C, you’re in good company. Health is a big motivator for many people – and health professionals are some of the most trusted messengers. Combine this with the fact that research has demonstrated the effectiveness of emphasizing positive benefits in motivating people to act, and you get some interesting insights into how to communicate about climate change, especially with those who may not yet be completely convinced of its seriousness.
Climate communication and health was the topic of our March monthly meetup last week – and it was a popular one! The community room at Imagine Nation was packed with folks who came to learn, meet others, and contribute to a great conversation about, well, how to have conversations about climate change.
Many thanks to Beth Schenk, nurse scientist and Sustainability Director at St. Patrick Hospital, who facilitated the discussion. Beth started out by sharing some interesting statistics on perceptions about health and climate change among Americans. A recent groundbreaking study by Yale and George Mason Universities identified “6 Americas”: six different attitudes toward climate change that fall along a spectrum, from “Alarmed” on one end to “Dismissive” on the other. It’s a totally fascinating study – I highly recommend checking it out.
One surprising insight from this study: the “Alarmed” segment was the only group in which the majority of participants could list a specific health impact of climate change. In other words, those who are aware of the health challenges posed by climate change are alarmed.
In our current era of political polarization, it’s tempting to look at the above spectrum and wonder how we could ever bridge the gap. And yet, evidence suggests that changing the conversation around climate change can help move folks further along this spectrum. By emphasizing the co-benefits – those activities, processes, policies, and impacts – of taking action to mitigate climate change, especially in terms of both personal and community health, we can find messages that resonate with all 6 Americas.
Wondering what I mean? At our meetup, we came up with some great examples of co-benefits – things that reduce our carbon footprint, while improving health – and then brainstormed some messages that could help convey the value of these efforts. Take a look:
I hope these examples give you some inspiration for new ways to frame the climate conversation. While we cannot avoid talking about the urgent and serious negative implications of climate change, it is also critical to discuss climate solutions in a way that offers hope and inspires action.
Optimism: Maintaining our Mental Health and Hope
We ended the evening with a powerful discussion about hope and optimism when it comes to working on climate change. I know personally there are some days when I feel overwhelmed and sad – I’d guess that you do too. And that’s only natural. Solastalgia is a word coined in 2003 by philosopher Glenn Albrecht, to describe the feeling of distress we feel when we see the natural world around us changing. Solastalgia is a normal response to the reality of climate change. So how do we maintain optimism?
This question reminded me of an essay I read a few years ago by the environmental writer David Orr, in which he described the difference between optimism and hope. Orr says, “Optimism leans back, putting its feet up, and wears a confident look, knowing that the deck is stacked. Hope is a verb with its sleeves rolled up. Hopeful people are actively engaged in defying or changing the odds.”
So what is the secret? What are some characteristics of these hopeful people? We noticed that they:
So, what would help US to be more hopeful? Here are just a few ideas that folks shared:
A Few Resources
Some suggested reading and viewing ideas that came up in our conversation:
This may sound strange, but I have many childhood memories about waste. I remember picking up trash at campsites and on walks along the beach; my dad methodically separating recyclables in the bins under the kitchen sink; my grandma rinsing out plastic ziplock bags to be reused until they fell apart; my mom bringing her reusable grocery bags to the store before it was cool. We didn’t have a lot of money, so things were used and reused. Leftovers were a hot commodity. The underlying message was: nothing goes to waste. When I moved to Montana a few years ago, it was the first place I’d ever lived where there my recycling wasn’t automatically picked up along with my trash each week. Paying extra for recycling?! That seemed crazy – no wonder it wasn’t common.
It’s true, we’ve got our work cut out for us here. Montanans make more waste than the national average, at 7 lbs per person, per day, compared with 4.3 lbs. Another dubious distinction: Missoula’s recycling rate of 22% is well below the national average of 35%. I often talk to people who share my frustration about the lack of recycling options here in Missoula. But I’ve also come to learn that the problems with waste are much bigger than what happens to stuff when we dispose of it, either in the landfill or the recycling bin.
Every pound of waste we recycle or throw away represents a shocking 71 pounds of waste that was created upstream (through raw materials extraction, manufacturing, transportation, and everything that happens before stuff gets to us)
Ultimately, we can’t recycle our way to Zero Waste – there’s a reason Reduce and Reuse are the first two Rs! Zero Waste is a lofty aim, but Missoula is making progress. In fact, one big goal within Climate Smart Missoula’s Zero Waste Bucket has already been checked off the list: in February 2016, our city council passed a Zero Waste Resolution, which committed our community to creating a Zero Waste Plan, a blueprint for reaching the ultimate goal of a 90% reduction in waste by 2050.
The process of creating that plan is now underway, and to make it a real, practical guide and not just shelf art, we need your input and ideas! Do you think there should be an incentive for developers to hire a deconstruction crew instead of demolition? Would you like to see a municipal composting program for food scraps? Tell us! Here’s how to get involved:
Moving toward zero waste is about recognizing the impact our stuff has across its life cycle – where it comes from, how we use it, and what happens to it when we're done using it. When we Reduce, Reuse, and Recycle, we come closer to living within the natural limits of our planet, creating a healthier, wealthier, and more responsible community for generations to come. -Abby
After the hustle and bustle of the holidays, the sudden arrival of the new year often sneaks up on me. The fully decorated Christmas tree still standing in my living room seems like a painful reminder of unfinished business. There never seems to be quite enough time! Are we ever really ready for a new year to begin?
Ready or not, 2017 is here. And we at Climate Smart Missoula are ready to dive back in and keep working towards the big picture we know is achievable when we all work together: a low-carbon, healthy, resilient community. We had a great group of folks join us to kick off our first Monthly Meetup of the year last night at INBC, focused on education and outreach and our community emissions inventory. These two things are connected pretty closely – and both are at the heart of why Climate Smart Missoula exists.
Educating our community about the nexus between climate change and lots of important issues (like water, energy, local food and more) is a big part of our work. We’ve got a website and facebook page with resources which we’re updating constantly, but we need your help coming up with more creative ways to do education and outreach. Send your fun and artistic ideas our way!
Last night we also shared some very preliminary insights from our forthcoming first-ever community emissions inventory: basically a carbon footprint for Missoula which breaks down where our emissions come from. Spoiler alert: transportation and home energy use are big. (We’re working on the full report – stay tuned...) Armed with data from our inventory, we can work strategically to shrink our community’s carbon footprint in ways that have a big impact. So, you might be wondering…what might that look like?
At our Meetup, our friends from Missoula in Motion joined us to share what they’re doing to promote sustainable transportation. MiM is one of the movers and shakers behind great community events like Walk and Roll Week, Sunday Streets, and Commuter Challenges. Their Way to Go Club is another way to encourage Missoulians to choose an alternative mode of transportation than driving alone in our cars. (This program is making some big changes soon that will make it even more accessible – learn more here!) In fact, our city’s new Long Range Transportation Plan will include an ambitious “mode split” goal of increasing the number of sustainable trips. Check out more information about the planning process here.
On the home energy side, we’ve got some big ideas – and we’d love your feedback! Our goal is to reduce residential energy use by 10%. That’s no small potatoes, but together we can do it, and we’re working on a program that’s designed to help you find ways to save energy. The idea is a community energy-saving challenge, where households sign up and commit to cutting their utility bills as much as possible, then compete with one another to earn rewards along the way and see who can make the biggest dent. There would also be an option to join a group (like your workplace, church, neighborhood, or favorite brewery) and compete against other groups for prizes. So…what do you think? Are you in? What incentives would entice you to participate, beyond saving money on your power bills? Let us know!
There’s so much more on the radar for 2017. Stay tuned, and keep in touch!
Climate Smart Year 1 Celebration: Introducing the Inaugural "Smarty Pants" Award Winners!
Our Year 1 Celebration was a smashing success! We were thrilled to have so many friends join us at Imagine Nation Brewing to toast a year-plus of Climate Smart Missoula. We’re grateful for the support of so many of you. Building a sustainable, smart community truly does take a village.
Our Celebration was the perfect chance to recognize a few of the committed folks who are finding innovative climate solutions and building a resilient Missoula and who have helped Climate Smart grow during our first year. Thus was born the first annual Smarty Pants awards! Drumroll please…
Master of Solar: Diana Maneta
Catalyst for Change: Jack Lawson
Doctorate of Dedication: Beth Schenk
Masters in (the) Fine Art of Community Building: Fernanda Menna Barreto Krum, Robert Rivers, and the INB Team
Thank you all - and here's to 2017!
We wished we could have given out even more awards – there are so many of you who have contributed to making our first year a success!
Want to get more involved in 2017? We need you! We’ve got some ideas of how to plug in here and of course, your year-end support means so much to us today. Get in touch - and stay tuned for more...
Community Health and Climate Summit: Creating a Happy, Healthy, and Resilient Missoula
On Friday, over 100 people, from health professionals to city planners to affordable housing advocates and more, turned out for Climate Smart Missoula's third Community Climate Summit, this time to discuss all things climate and health. This diverse cross-section of the Missoula community heard from a panel of excellent speakers about current efforts to address public health challenges at the neighborhood level, the latest cutting edge research on local climate change projections (spoiler: it's going to get hot), and how we can work together to address the mental and physical health impacts wrought by a changing climate, especially for the most vulnerable groups like low-income folks and children. (It's no coincidence that's a key part of our Summer Smart program!) Speaking of Summer Smart - we also unveiled a new video about wildfire smoke - now live on our website. More videos to come soon!
For the second half of the morning, we turned the tables: attendees had a chance to share their ideas for how to improve community health for all Missoulians in light of climate challenges. In breakout groups, there were insightful and productive conversations about wildfire smoke and extreme heat, healthy homes and emergency shelters, mental health, wellness and livability, and long-range planning strategies. So much good stuff!
We were thrilled by the great turnout and dynamic conversations around the room. Like our previous summits, we were impressed with our community's creativity, collaborative spirit, and dedication. We know that, together, we can take bold action to create the Missoula we want to see.
Here are a few more good things to check out:
Hello there! For the majority of you who don’t know me, I’m Hailey Jorgensen (read my short bio here) and I will be spending the next year working on all the amazing initiatives here at Climate Smart Missoula as the new Energy Corps Service Member.
I first moved to Missoula from Seattle six years ago to start my undergrad at the University of Montana. I couldn’t tell you exactly what made me want to move to Montana other than the way my grandma’s face light up every time she told me about Missoula. Back in 1957, my grandpa was a professor at the University and the lone faculty member of the newly formed Radio-TV department. They didn’t stay long, but something about this place stuck with her, as it has with me.
After graduating from the University in 2014, and living in Oregon for a few years I couldn’t be happier to be back. I am even more excited to be apart of Climate Smart Missoula’s efforts! One of the more integral parts of climate action is having meaningful conversations and making connections with people in your community. Climate Smart has continually worked to provide space for these types of conversations from the Monthly Meetups this past year to our upcoming Health and Climate Summit next week.
I am also super excited to be helping with the second round of Solarize Missoula, a partnership with several organizations, to help Missoulians simplify the process of adding solar to their homes.
Part of what I love about Missoula, and Montana as a whole, is that people seem to genuinely care what happens to the natural world around them. I am continuously inspired by all the different events and initiatives taking place in Missoula with the goal of bettering the community we live in. This next year will be an amazing roller coaster and I can’t wait to work with each and every one of you to help make Missoula climate smart!