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
Earlier in December we celebrated Year 2! Gathering, as we do monthly, at Imagine Nation Brewing, we celebrated not just our two full years of climate action—from Greenhouse Gas inventories, to building shade and planting trees, to rallies, to providing clean air during our worst-ever wildfire smoke season, to bikes, to twister with a twist—we also gathered to celebrate this community and all the wonderful collaborations and partners!
As is tradition—one whole year of it anyway—we handed out these coveted, well-deserved and super fun Smarty Pants awards. We even made a new webpage to share just why we love these partners. Let’s all celebrate these 2017 community climate do-gooders:
Want to know more about why these seven Missoulians won these awards? It's all HERE.
Guest Blog by John Eric Schleicher
The few Missoulians who walked into the door of the Missoula Fairgrounds Arts Building on a November Thursday night were greeted with friendly smiles and a table full of Mountain Line swag. Sterile light reflected off eight enlarged poster boards, depicting land use maps, bus ridership data, and alternative visions for Missoula bus riders. Though the multicolored maps and data would make any transportation wonk grin, Thursday’s intended audience was citizens with diverse backgrounds and transportation needs.
Mountain Line is seeking citizen input as the transportation agency updates its latest Strategic Plan. As part of its efforts, Mountain Line hosted four open houses in different neighborhoods throughout Missoula so citizens could review and offer feedback to two different alternative service enhancements. Should Mountain Line’s future focus be to increase bus frequency or should it be to expand service to Sundays, holidays, and later on weekday nights? Currently, Mountain Line does not offer Sunday service, provides a reduced Saturday service, and turns in for the night fairly early on weeknights. On the weekdays, Mountain Line has two bus routes that frequent each stop every fifteen minutes. The frequency for the other ten routes that snake their way through Missoula range from thirty to sixty minutes. On Saturday, all available routes decrease to sixty-minute frequency.
Mountain Line’s “Seven Days and Seven Nights” service expansion would add two more hours of operations on weekday evenings, four to six more hours on Saturday, and eight hours on Sunday. Mountain Line’s “Shorter Wait” service expansion would focus investment in creating high weekday and Saturday bus frequency.
In a perfect mass transportation world, both options would be on the citizen table. But Vince Caristo, Mountain Line’s Project Management Specialist, says, “We’re an agency with a fixed budget so we have to make hard choices.”
The hard choices will have a large impact on the many Mountain Line riders. Caristo says over 1.5 million riders rode the blue and green buses in 2016. While transit riding is declining in most American cities, Missoula is an outlier. In the previous three years, Mountain Line has seen a 70% increase in their ridership.
Mountain Line’s success moving more Missoulians from single occupant vehicles to buses is critical in shrinking the city’s carbon footprint. Transportation needs spew more than one third of Missoula’s total emission output, making sustainable transportation a high priority in Climate Smart Missoula’s triage to dull climate change’s impact.
Amy Cilimburg, Climate Smart Missoula’s Executive Director, says, “We need to develop our community to be climate friendly and climate resilient. Mountain Line is a tremendous success story, but we can strengthen it. Each option has trickle down ramifications so people don’t have to rely on cars.”
Mountain Line’s limited weekend service forced, Mallary Langen, a Pre-Nursing student enrolled at the University of Montana, to take a car this past Thanksgiving weekend when she had hoped to take the bus. She laments how she had to spend twenty dollars on an Uber ride from the airport. “I had no idea the bus didn’t go to the airport on the weekends,” Langen says. “I assumed it did since I rode the bus to the airport for my outgoing flight.”
Langen wishes for the transit agency to invest more in weekend and weeknight service. She’s a regular Mountain Line rider, who depends on the bus to get to campus to avoid the high parking costs.
Miles Kinney, an employee at Consumer Direct Care Network Montana, would like the investment to focus on frequency. He relies on the “infrequent service” of route eleven to get to work. In order to avoid long waits, he plans his days around the bus schedule and says, “it would be great if the bus was more available.”
“Then again,” he adds. “Sunday service would also be great. I save all my errands for the weekend.”
Miles Kinney, Mallary Langen, and you still have the opportunity to let Mountain Line know how to expand their service. The four open houses have concluded, but the agency has an online survey open where you can state your preference. The survey will be open through November 30th and can be found at HERE. Though the survey will only take a few minutes to complete, your time will be well spent towards moving Missoula closer towards a sustainable transportation future.
John Eric Schleicher is a freelance writer based here in Missoula. When not typing on the computer, you can find him playing on the abundant trails in and around Missoula. Visit his website at montanafreelancewriter.com.
One truly rewarding thing about Missoula is the active and engaged community our city fosters. At Climate Smart Missoula’s Monthly meetup focused on sustainable transportation and smart growth it was clear much of our community is engaged and ready to make our communal transportation system more sustainable! In a jammed packed room at Imagine Nation Brewery, community members put their active minds and bodies together in hopes of formulating ideas and initiatives which help people reduce their transportation footprint. Transportation is an exciting and essential sector to discuss as it accounts for nearly 37 percent of our communities total emission output.
Many community experts in the transportation sector attended the meetup, including Bill Pfeiffer, the community outreach coordinator at Mountain Line, Bob Giordano, director of Free Cycles and Chase Jones, Missoula’s Energy Efficiency and Conservation Coordinator. Transportation and smart growth is multi-dimensional, involving aspects of personal contribution, education, funding and urban planning. These transportation experts helped lead the conversation through the different dimensions by engaging in a dialogue regarding upcoming initiatives that promote sustainable transportation and allow community members to make a personal impact.
Here’s some exciting opportunities and ways to get involved:
Director of Free Cycles and long-time bike advocate Bob Giordano has helped nearly 15,000 people gain access to a bicycle in Missoula. Bob and other transportation leaders in our community would like to shift the dynamic away from a car dominated transportation system towards a system that’s more inclusive of bikers and users of public transit. Bob admits that significant barriers remain for reducing single occupancy vehicles (SOVs), like accessibility to bike lanes and comfort level in a vehicle centered urban landscape. In order to help solve this issue, street design and policy change is needed. Bob was excited to discuss a proposed city council resolution regarding a 5th and 6th street bike lane change that would increase accessibility and safety for bicycles. He encouraged the group to contact their city council representatives and spread the word about the proposed bike lanes.
In addition to education and personal contribution, a transportation plan needs “smart growth” in order to meet long term GHG reduction goals. So what does smart growth mean? “Smart growth” refers to planning that promotes multiple route options and multiple transportation systems to increase efficiency and reduce congestion in a transportation system. A few exciting “smart growth” city planning projects were discussed at the meet up.
First, Missoulians have an opportunity to become directly involved in city planning through a project called Missoula Design Excellence. Essentially, the project seeks to define and “implement a system that will promote high quality commercial building development in terms of design, materials, construction and character.”
The design of new buildings in our community have implications on accessibility for bikers and users of public transit. In order to achieve a holistic plan, which meets the needs and wants of Missoula, the project needs community engagement. The public comment period is currently open, so make your voices heard! If you feel inclined, please Review the Draft Strategy Report and submit comments to by Friday, October 13th.
Another important aspect of “smart growth” was mentioned by Bill Pfeiffer, Mountain Line’s community outreach coordinator. Bill spoke about the ability to reduce single occupancy car dependence through increased accessibility to the public transportation system. Bill shared our community’s Long Range Transportation Goals . MPOs Long Range Transportation Plan Ambitious Mode Shift includes goals of 20,000 fewer drive along commute trips, reduction of drive along to 34 %, triple biking, walking and transit shares and provide a carpooling increase by 2045.
To achieve these goals, it will be important to provide multiple options of public transportation and come up with intriguing incentives for Missoulian’s to use them. Ultimately, says Bill, using our public transportation system “needs to be really easy”. Checkout the entire Long Range Transportation plan here:
With these goals in mind, our community is off to a great start, engaging in productive dialogue and brainstorming ways to build partnerships.
The room was still rolling, ready to solve issues and build partnerships when the 7:00 end time came around. The group decided to plan a follow up meeting which we encourage community members to attend. Time and date TBD – stay tuned. Let’s continue to advance Missoula’s quest for sustainable transportation and smart growth.
We’ve been doing our Climate Smart Monthly Meetups for almost 2 years now, but every time, I’m amazed at the depth of knowledge and energy around the room – from folks who are experts in their fields, to curious citizens, and everyone in between. I guess what I’m saying is, Missoula is full of awesome people who care deeply about our community. But you probably already knew that!
It was smoky outside, but inside the INBC community room last Thursday, our friends Andrew Valainis with the Montana Renewable Energy Association and Paul Herendeen with Missoula Federal Credit Union helped us get a clearer view of the renewable energy landscape in Missoula and Montana.
As you might guess, that landscape is not always easy to navigate, as it’s full of jargon and acronyms and politics. MREA and MFCU are two valuable guides through this landscape. Through public outreach, policy advocacy, and engagement with renewable energy businesses, MREA works to expand renewable energy in our state. Their annual Clean Energy Fair, which brings together all three of MREA’s areas of expertise, is happening this weekend, in fact – Saturday September 16th in Helena. It’s a great event – we highly recommend checking it out!
It was also exciting to learn about another brand-new MREA initiative, the Montana Solar Community Project. Thanks to funding from the Department of Energy, MREA will be heading on tour to 8 towns large and small across the state this fall to learn about their visions for community solar, and ultimately, how those visions might become reality. Mark your calendars – the Missoula stop will be on October 10th! Community solar can take different forms, but the basic idea is a solar installation whose electricity is shared by multiple users. Several of the electric cooperatives in the state have implemented successful community solar projects, including Missoula Electric Co-op, but one reason we don’t see more of these projects is that virtual net metering, the mechanism that allows households to get credit for the electricity produced by solar panels that aren’t on their own property, is not permitted for the state’s investor-owned utilities (IOUs - Northwestern Energy and MDU). Dang!
Let me pause for a brief PSA as we make our way through the renewable energy landscape: the state Public Service Commission (PSC) is responsible for regulating our IOUs. They’re pretty powerful when it comes to setting the terms for renewable energy development. But they’re elected officials – so it’s important that they hear from us about removing barriers to renewable energy!
Another behind-the-scenes but important part of navigating renewables is financing – which is where MFCU comes in. While our major electric utility may not be going solar nearly as quickly as we’d like, individual homeowners and businesses are really jumping on the bandwagon (including via our Solarize program). But not every homeowner who wants to put up solar panels has the cash up front to do so. MFCU has two different loans for renewable energy, plus a super-helpful checklist for anyone considering solar and comparing bids from installers. (Side note – Paul researched the financial performance of solar, and turns out that, aside from being a climate-friendly choice, solar is also a smart investment from a strictly financial perspective. Cool! White paper to be published soon.) Rooftop solar is shiny and exciting, but of course using less energy in the first place is important too, which is why MFCU’s Home Energy Loan also works for energy efficiency upgrades (and they’re a key sponsor of our Energy Smart Challenge too – thanks MFCU!).
At the meetup, our tour of the renewable energy landscape was focused on solar, but there are other clean energy stories to be told. Wind is a potent source of power in Montana, though largely east of the Divide. Battery storage technology continues to improve. Several large buildings in downtown Missoula are heated geothermally with ground-source heat pumps. Historically a cheap supply of local coal has been a factor hindering greater clean energy development in our state, but we know coal is getting more expensive and renewables are getting cheaper. Let’s continue to do our part as individuals to expand renewables and advocate as a community for a level playing field for clean energy. Start by heading to the Clean Energy Fair next weekend to learn more, then we’ll see you on October 10th to talk more about community solar for Missoula!
Easily my favorite part of commuting to work is crossing Higgins Bridge for my daily glimpse at the Clark Fork River. We are fortunate enough in Missoula to be at the confluence of three beautiful rivers, a healthy aquifer, and fairly reliable rainfall. It’s also safe to say the Clark Fork is integral to the identity of our town. So how are these waterways impacted by climate change? Last night, we gathered at Imagine Nation Brewing for our August Monthly Meetup to discuss the nexus of water, energy and climate in Missoula.
It was only about a month ago that we were feeling pretty optimistic in our Climate Smart office about water flows and fire potential this summer. Those heavy spring rains had us daydreaming of high rivers and minimal wildfire smoke, but no such luck. Last August, our water Monthly Meetup was all about the impacts of extraordinarily low flows we were experiencing at the time. Though we haven’t seen the same growth of algae blooms this year, we are starting to see lower flows and fishing restrictions as hot temperatures persist and drought conditions worsen throughout the state.
Last night, we were excited to discuss the City’s recent acquisition of Mountain Water, and the opportunities a city owned water system opens up. Though it may not be the first thing you think about, a lot of energy goes into pumping water from the aquifer below us to our taps. We know that our pump system is old, inefficient, and in desperate need of upgrades. According to Chase Jones, acquiring the water system adds about 90 Northwestern Energy accounts to the municipal portfolio. We now have an incredible opportunity to improve the system’s efficiency with innovative strategies and technology and to engage the community on water and energy conservation.
Speaking of water conservation and energy efficiency, have you check out our Energy Smart Challenge yet? Our theme for August is all about the connection between water use and energy! This week’s Energy Smart email focused on how to reduce your water use outside while still keeping your garden and plants alive. It’s important to note that, though saving water is the goal, we don’t want to skimp on watering our trees. As we discussed in June’s Monthly Meetup, our urban forests provides so many benefits it’s worth the resources to keep those trees healthy. So please take time to water your trees! They will repay you in countless ways.
Our other focus of conversation was an important one. We had representatives from Montana Trout Unlimited and Montana Conservation Voters present to discuss the Trump Administration’s decision to repeal the 2015 Clean Water rule that protects headwater streams and water sources. This rule not only protects 60% of stream miles in the country, it is provides vital protection from pollution of the cold, clean waters that make up 50% of Montana’s trout streams, includes exemptions to ensure farmers and ranchers do not get penalized for using the water they need, and safeguards the drinking water sources of one in three Americans.
The 30-day comment period is open until August 28th. Follow this link to learn more and take action. You can also join Montana Trout Unlimited for a beer on August 8th at Great Burn Brewing and August 15th at Imagine Nation Brewing to learn more and submit comments.
We know cold, connected streams are already at risk due to increasing temperatures and longer fire seasons. Repealing protections that keep our waters clean would have dramatic impacts on ecosystems and our access to useable water on top of losses due to increased drought conditions. Stay tuned for a detailed map from Trout Unlimited to see what streams would be at risk if the Clean Water Rule is repealed.
Water is major part of our way of life in Western Montana, it is important that we protect our water resources and work to mitigate the effects climate change can have on them. Be honest, can you imagine a Missoula summer that does not include fishing a floating? So let’s celebrate our healthy aquifer and rivers and remember it’s up to us to keep them flowing! Stay cool out there.
A couple weeks ago, New York Magazine published a detailed and downright terrifying account of worst-case projected climate impacts that represent the upper limit of current scientific models. The article stirred up a social media firestorm and quickly spawned a range of reactions from climate scientists, journalists, and academics. Interestingly, most critiques were aimed at the tone and framing of the article rather than its accuracy. Some argued that this apocalyptic, doomsday narrative was so depressing it would never motivate people to action; others suggested that this kind of alarmism is precisely what we need to shock us into urgent response to the climate crisis. So which is it? How can we contemplate and understand the real risks that climate change poses, without being paralyzed or overwhelmed by anxiety? Is fear useful? I found myself pondering these questions all last week.
Meanwhile, on Friday night I watched “Inside Out”, the recent animated film about the emotional journey of a young girl, Riley, from childhood into early adolescence, told from the point of view of her emotions themselves: Anger, Fear, Disgust, Sadness, and Joy. If you haven’t seen it, do! It’s one of those kid movies that’s definitely not just for kids. As I watched, I was impressed by the subtle genius of the story and how it illustrates the complexities of our human responses to the world around us. In “Inside Out”, all the emotions play their own important roles at different times. In the end, Sadness and Joy end up working together to motivate Riley’s reconnection with her family. The more I thought about it, the more I realized these messages might offer some wisdom to those of us wrestling with how to respond to climate science and solutions. Skeptical that a cartoon can help? Fair enough - just indulge me for a moment here.
In the movie, the stress and shock of a cross-country move jolts Sadness and Joy out of Riley’s “control room”, leaving Disgust, Fear, and Anger, haplessly at the helm. With only this limited range of emotions, Riley lashes out at her parents, withdraws into herself, and even tries to run away. If you read that New York Magazine article, maybe this kind of response sounds familiar. Disgust at the damage we have done to our planet, fear of harm to myself and loved ones, anger that we are not acting fast enough to prevent these extreme outcomes - these were certainly the first emotions I felt. Maybe it’s no surprise that critics accused author David Wallace-Wells of exaggeration, fear-mongering, or despairing. When we’re presented with shocking information, it’s natural to try to find a way to discount it or run away from it.
Sadness and joy are two sides of the same coin: our love for the world and our delight in its wonders is what makes us sad to see it changing! Not to get too sappy, but I believe that acknowledging and giving space for both deep sadness and joy can truly motivate us to action. It can help us harness all our emotions, to see solutions more clearly, and to work together to protect each other and the world we love.
One last thing - some critics of the article said, “Where’s the hope?” It's true - let’s not forget that the reason why this doomsday scenario is unlikely to play out is that people across the globe are putting creative climate solutions into action, through individual and collective efforts. We’ve been reading some interesting articles on this topic too - stay tuned for another blog soon.
In the end, of all the responses to the original NY Magazine article, journalist David Roberts’ cool-headed analysis seems pretty spot on to me - check it out if you haven’t. The gist: some fear is ok. It’s important to be informed by the latest climate science and models, but it’s worth remembering that we’re only human, and our emotions are real and valid. When we let our emotions do their jobs, we can move forward and find solutions - and hope - together.
Has all this 90-degree-plus weather made you a little cranky lately? A little quicker to anger? Maybe you worry about your crops, or the fish in your favorite stream, if we face another drought. Personally, I can get sucked into feelings of hopelessness just thinking about the monumental tasks of reducing our carbon footprint and creating a more sustainable society.
Since I finished researching and writing our new Climate and Mental Health page (which you should really check out!), I’ve been thinking a lot about how climate change affects our state of mind. Did you know that extreme heat, increased wildfire smoke, drought, and even the threat of climate change itself can all be major stressors? That the repercussions of extreme weather events and the alteration of our most cherished landscapes can lead to anxiety, chronic stress, depression, substance abuse, increased levels of domestic violence, and even suicide? Heat and wildfire smoke actually affect brain chemistry, with the former increasing stress hormones and the latter causing brain inflammation.
Luckily for my own emotional well-being, I’ve also been learning how we can use the challenges we face in positive ways. Climate change can be a catalyst for improvements in the mental and emotional health of our entire community, including the well-being of Missoulians who are most at risk. Heat and wildfire smoke take a much larger toll on homebound senior citizens, on those who live in substandard housing or are homeless, on those who live in neighborhoods with few trees, and on refugees who have been forced to flee their homes due to drought, sea level rise, or other changes. People with existing mental health problems and other disabilities are at greater risk, too.
The time to start is now. Because if you think the weather is uncomfortable this week, consider this: if current carbon emissions trends continue, by 2100 summers in Missoula will resemble summers in Yucaipa, California – a city near the Mexican border where the average summer temperature is currently 92 degrees. Missoula’s average summer temps hover around 80 degrees, but that’s quickly changing. (You can see the future summertime trajectories of 1,001 U.S. cities, all based on the latest climate science, on this neat interactive map.)
Improving the mental and emotional health of all Missoulians is a worthy goal. So is reducing our carbon footprint so we don’t become as hot and dry as southern California. Isn’t it great that the twin ideals of better health and a more sustainable, equitable Missoula go hand in hand? I’m starting to feel a little less cranky already.
What about you? How are our changing summers affecting your emotional health? Are you a health professional who's seeing impacts on your patients? What concerns you most about climate change and mental health? Let's keep the conversation going! Comment on this post, or send your thoughts and experiences to firstname.lastname@example.org. I'd love to share a wider range of views in an upcoming blog post.
(If you missed the link at the top, don’t forget to check out our new Climate and Mental Health page for more information on what you can do to make Missoula a healthier and more resilient place. You can also check out our overall strategies for a Healthy Community.)
Terri Nichols is a graduate student in the University of Montana's Environmental Studies program. She's working as Climate Smart Missoula's Summer Smart Intern this year thanks to a Brainerd Conservation Fellowship.