Call me biased, but our monthly meetups are pretty great. I think you’d be hard pressed to find a more interesting and wide-ranging conversation anywhere in town. Where else can you talk about pumped hydro energy storage technology, the virtues of lentil farming, the perils of human urine, and industrial-scale composting, all in the span of an hour and a half?
If you couldn’t tell, the common thread running through these subjects is water – more specifically, the implications of climate change when it comes to our rivers, our drinking water, and our wastewater. That was the theme on tap for our August 2, 2018 monthly meetup - here's a recap of our conversation.
Alex and Katie from the Clark Fork Coalition joined us to talk about what they’re seeing along the Clark Fork, here in town but also throughout our larger watershed. Alex was one of the authors of the Montana Climate Assessment, so he knows his stuff. CFC measures water all over the river, and this year there was a record snowpack in the upper Clark Fork, and a fairly wet spring. But this July was also the second driest on record – which, sure enough, was what the MT Climate Assessment predicted. Despite this lack of rainfall, we’re still seeing decent flow levels and relatively cooler water temperatures all along the Clark Fork because of something you might not have guessed: groundwater. In fact, we learned that 90% (!) of a watershed’s waterflow is actually underground. Whoa. So despite the trend of more spring precipitation and longer droughts in our region, the snowpack and rain may end up boosting the “natural storage” capacity of the watershed. That might sound good, but we’re definitely not out of the woods climate-wise when it comes to our rivers. Hotter temperatures mean higher rates of evapotranspiration, thus plants need more water to grow. More study is needed on what this means for the long-term evolution of our forest ecology.
Alex reminded us that 95% of our state’s water use is due to agriculture. This is where we wade into the complicated realm of water rights and Helena lobbying interests, and then wade right back out again, because we could really get stuck there. Suffice to say, even when a rancher wants to return their water right to in-stream, it’s super hard to do. And most of the agriculture in our state is low-value commodity ag, so it’s hard to economically justify efforts to conserve water. What we could really use is more lentils! No, seriously – legumes and other dry-farmed products are a growing sector of Montana agriculture, which is pretty cool, and water smart. (Check out the Lentil Underground!)
Ok, one last interesting issue at the nexus of water and climate that I hadn’t considered before. Katie from CFC talked about their recent studies on recreation on the Clark Fork river. As we experience more heat waves during the summer, more and more people are using the river to cool down. On one hand, dunking in the river is better than cranking the A/C. But in addition to bumper-to-bumper tube traffic on certain sections of the river, more river recreators means streambank erosion, more trash, and an overabundance of human urine. Yep. So it’s possible that we might we need more official river access points…with port-a-pottys. Thanks, climate change!
Avoiding overwatering outdoors is important too (those subdivided ranchettes with giant lawns don’t help...), but by all means keep your veggie patch green and water your trees - we need them to keep our city cool! If you’ve ever wondered about graywater systems (where water from sinks and laundry is recycled, either to flush toilets or for irrigation), they are allowed here but you’ll want to read up on the rules and regulations.
Our Wastewater Treatment Plant Rocks!
So, what about that last piece of the water+energy puzzle – the treatment of our sewage and wastewater? Turns out, our humble little municipal wastewater treatment plant is light years ahead of most facilities around the country! Our intern Mattie shared what she recently learned on a tour, which was that there’s resource recovery happening with all three different waste streams created by the plant: the bio-solids (solid waste), the effluent (liquid waste), and methane gas. The City-owned Garden City Compost, right next door, accepts treated bio-solids, which are then turned into compost that’s available for sale, as well as used on the neighboring plantation of poplar trees. The poplar plantation is also a destination for a large volume of the effluent. The trees and soil filter the effluent before it returns to the aquifer, and the nutrients benefit the fast-growing trees, which can then be harvested in succession and sold for wood products. And if that wasn’t enough, the wastewater treatment plant also recently put a new methane cogeneration plant online. This dual technology recovers lost heat as well as generates electricity from the recaptured methane – covering 25% of the plant’s usage at peak! All of these sustainable elements reduce the impact of the resource-intensive process needed to get wastewater to meet the high standards for discharge back into the river, and mean that ultimately less has to get discharged. (Mattie's been working on a "Storymap" project highlighting this story as well as other "energy stories" around town - we're looking forward to sharing her great work soon. In the meantime, check out this handy infographic on the WWTP resource recovery efforts that she created.)
Water, Climate, and Missoula’s Future
As our climate changes and our population here grows, keeping our rivers cool and plentiful for fish and humans, and conserving water and the energy embedded in it will be more and more critical. We’re grateful for the visionary and hard work of the Clark Fork Coalition, our Wastewater Treatment Plant staff, Missoula Water, Garden City Compost, and so many more great organizations that maintain this resource which is so important to our identity as Missoulians as well as to building climate resilience for a hotter, drier future that is already here.
Join us next month for our September meetup on Renewable Energy! Thursday, September 6th, 5-7pm at Imagine Nation as usual. Snacks, tasty beverages, and good conversation guaranteed!
Last October, I started my 11 month journey as an AmeriCorps Energy Corps service member with Climate Smart Missoula. I was thrilled to get started on my primary project, developing a pilot weatherization program aimed at enhancing energy efficiency, health and safety of manufactured homes, with an emphasis on homes built before the 1976 federal building code. I was surprised to learn that there are 6,000 manufactured homes in Missoula, and about half of them were built before this time. An estimated 1200 of these homes could be lost by 2025 due to deteriorating conditions and issues with moving them. To address and help preserve community members' homes, Climate Smart has partnered with NeighborWorks Montana, the Human Resource Council, and Home ReSource (full disclosure Climate Smart is in awe of our partner organizations). We're now a Team, and our Team has done a lot to set ourselves up for success: defining the scope of our efforts, building community awareness, engaging stakeholders, and providing resources directly to residents. I’m proud of our accomplishments.
I’ll share a few examples of the work we’ve done this year and upcoming efforts:
This Spring, our Team hosted the first ever Manufactured Home Resource Fair. Our goal: provide resources for manufactured home residents around Home Repair, Weatherization, Financing, Legal Counseling and Health.
Along with our Team, a handful of local organizations joined. MUD co-hosted at their site. The National Center for Appropriate Technology (NCAT) generously donated “light weatherization materials”. We gave away LED lights, weather-stripping, window insulation kits, and water pipe insulation. Climate Smart provided informational pamphlets on the energy savings associated with each. These materials can benefit manufactured homes in particular because upgrades are especially cost-effective, given rates of heat loss and wasted energy. Participants were thrilled with what they received, and we have more left to give out! We're planning mini “pop up” fairs in manufactured home communities in July and August to provide resources directly to residents.
To assist with financial counseling, HomeWord provided materials on their financial education program that can help residents looking to save for improvements on their homes. MoFi provided information on their small dollar loan program, a low interest loan specifically for manufactured home repairs. as did the Missoula Federal Credit Union. Additionally, Montana Legal Services offered legal counseling resources.
For help with home repair, MUD offered discounts to their “Tool Library” where folks can access tools for home repair projects. Home ReSource provided coupons for their store which has a plethora of hardware, tools, and home repair materials. Other groups shared assistance programs.
The goal of the Fair was to support residents as they work to improve the safety, health, energy efficiency, livability and longevity of their homes, and ultimately to preserve existing affordable housing. Manufactured housing, in fact, represents the largest supply of unsubsidized affordable housing in the country. I was grateful for the all the organizations that came out and for the opportunity to help coordinate this effort. I'm hopeful for more of these Resource Fairs in the future!
We hosted a “design charrette” in February aimed at building community awareness, engaging key stakeholders and generating designs for our energy retrofit. We invited local builders, architects, weatherization professionals and manufactured home residents to design models of skirting that fir our project goals: energy efficiency, health and comfort. We sought improvements that were long lasting, safe and affordable. We split into teams and, working together, successfully generated new and creative ideas for improvements in this sector which we're excited to implement.
During the event, I interacted with homeowners who'd received weatherization services from the Human Resource Council (HRC) and gained a sense of the profound effect an energy retrofit can have on an individual's life. A mobile home resident commented that the weatherization work the HRC recently did allowed her to be comfortable and was so thankful that her house “wasn’t cold in the winter anymore”. She also mentioned saving nearly $50/month on utility costs. Speaking to residents personally about the benefits of weatherization was really encouraging. The models created at the design charrette could improve many community members’ lives, making their homes more energy efficient, comfortable, and healthy. Bringing experts to the table was incredibly beneficial, and we plan to use the re-skirting ideas on manufactured homes in July and August.
Re-skirting Five Manufactured Homes
After all this good work, our Team is now poised to work on skirting replacements for 5 homes in the Missoula area and are in the process of creating a “design refine team”. This team will visit five homes and refine the "charrette" skirting designs based on the specifications of the home and wishes of the homeowner. If you have building, architecture or weatherization experience and are interested in helping with our skirting repair model, please reach out to me, Max.
Stay tuned, and check for updates on the Home Rehab section of our web page.
- Max Longo, Energy and Climate Coordinator
Late last August I eagerly packed my things while profusely sweating in the hot and humid climate of northern Indiana. I naively looked forward to the cooler, drier weather of my new home in Missoula where I would be attending graduate school. Instead I arrived to a hot, smoke filled valley. Looking out my window on one of my first morning I mistook the smoke for a beautiful morning fog.
Since then I have heard many horror stories of the impacts of wildfire smoke on physical and mental health. I had a professor who skyped in from Seattle because she was so sick she couldn’t be in Missoula. A parent told me their child could not play outside for nearly two months. While a sort of post-traumatic stress may keep wildfire smoke at the forefront of Missoulian minds, this is just one example of how climate change and community health are related.
At Thursday night’s monthly meetup covering the topic of health and climate, participants helped generate a list of what we knew about the possible global health consequences of climate change. Here are some of the things we came up with:
A recurring theme throughout the night’s discussion centered on how we define vulnerable populations. In the context of climate and health, vulnerable populations have traditionally been defined as the young and elderly. Several participants called for outdoor workers to be included in this definition as they face numerous occupational hazards. Think local farmers and highway workers.
Let’s Be Proactive
Thankfully, as the meetup’s title “Healthy Community and Summer Smart” suggests, Thursday night’s discussion was not all doom and gloom. Nurse scientist, St. Patrick Hospital’s sustainability coordinator, and Climate Smart executive team member Beth Schenk spoke with us about some of the exciting efforts she, the hospital, and local health researchers are making to create a healthier community. Amy added to this proactive message by discussing some of Climate Smart’s “Summer Smart” work.
Nurses: The New Climate Messengers
Beth mentioned a few of the efforts she has been involved with both nationally and around Missoula:
More local efforts
Check out our “Summer Smart” tab for information about some of our health and climate efforts. Here are a few highlights:
Since August I have come a long way from mistaking smoke for fog. As a new member of the Climate Smart team, I am excited to continue learning about the local effects of climate change and what we can do here in our own community. I found the proactive message of Thursday’s discussion an inspirational launch point as I dive into the world of climate change work this summer.
- Mattie Lehman, Intern and UM Brainerd Fellow
Plastic is all around us. Take a look down at what you’re wearing. I bet there is plastic in your shoes. Look in your bag, those car keys, plastic. Your cell phone, plastic. The use of plastic seems almost unavoidable, with a society so dependent on a single material. If your interested in the environmental effects of plastic, check out tomorrow's Climate Smart sponsored short film called Defying Plastics at the International Wildlife Film Festival . This 5 minute film is part of a 50 minute "Ocean Block" in which half of the films are about plastics and what we can do, starting at 6:15 at the Roxy Theater.
Itching for tomorrows film block to learn more about plastics and what we can do? Keep reading!
A report from The National Center for Biotechnology Information estimates “over 300 million metric tons of plastics are produced in the world annually and about 50% of this volume is for disposable applications, products that are discarded within a year of their purchase.” Plastics cause great harm to humans, animals and our environment. An article from the journal Environmental Health News, titled “The Environmental Toll of Plastics,” reports: “more than 180 species of animals have been documented to ingest plastic debris, including birds, fish, turtles and marine mammals.” Not only are animals affected, humans also pay a huge price. “Humans are exposed to chemicals from plastic multiple times per day through air, dust, water, food and use of consumer products,” Our landfills are full of single use plastics, that could potentially be avoided.
The idea of trying to reduce plastic use has been on many cities, states and countries minds for a long time. Globally, governments have taken bold action, banning plastic bags and containers. France recently introduced a ban to take place in 2020 on all plastic cups, plates and cutlery, ensuring that they will only allow ones that are compostable. Taiwan has also banned all plastic bags, straws and utensils. Due to China’s new recycling regulations, many places in Montana are no longer recycling type 1 and 2 plastics, calling even louder for new ideas regarding use reduction.
There are so many ways to take action! Businesses in Missoula such as the Top Hat, Wilma and Kettlehouse are taking action as apart of Zero By Fifty - the city wide effort to reduce landfill waste 90 percent by 2050. These businesses have set up requirements that all single use plastics they use are compostable. Plastic consumption is something that consumers do have power in changing. If you are at a restaurant, you can ask for no plastic straw, or bring your own mug to a coffee shop. With a strong community & individual efforts, Missoula is taking action and leading in reducing plastic waste.
Again, don't forget to check out Climate Smarts sponsored short film "Defying Plastics" and get inspired for further action to reduce plastic use !
- Sydney Lang, CCS Intern
Let’s say you walk into a large Missoula park on a boiling hot summer day. You're hoping to have a picnic and are looking for some shade. You spy a large oak tree on the corner, casting a huge net of relife. You set up your blanket and enjoy a cool picnic in the shade. Can you imagine what your picnic would have been like without the surrounding trees? Trees provide so many benefits, cooling us off in the summer and providing a windbreak in the winter. They're invaluable to our water systems and air quality.
Climate Smart Missoula's April monthly meetup was all about the importance of trees in our city, neighborhoods, and surrounding wildland forests. Dave Atkins came to speak about TreeSource, a new-ish website that "includes original stories, photo essays, videos and podcasts that take readers into North America’s forests and the cities that rely upon them for everything from drinking water and building materials to carbon storage, renewable energy, recreation and biodiversity.” Do check TreeSource out for the latest in forest journalism. Dave began by talking about the concept of biophilia. Like most in attendance, I’d never heard this term before. Biophilia is defined as “the recognition that human beings are wired towards nature.” Scientific studies have shown that humans work better while surrounded in nature or natural materials, such as wood buildings. Stress levels are brought down and productivity is proven to be significantly higher. More here.
This rings true for me. As a student at UM, I've noticed the buildings at the University where I get the most work done are naturally lit with views of trees, rather than under the dim glow of the basement library lights. When I work near or outside my stress level decreases, creating a space where I can produce my best work.
Back to the meetup. Representatives from the City of Missoula's Urban Forestry Division and Trees For Missoula spoke about the amazing work they do to maintain, enhance, and expand Missoula’s urban forest through pruning, planting and hazard removals. According to Trees for Missoula, the beautiful trees that line our streets, parks and homes were planted 80 years or more ago and most have life spans around 50-100 years, meaning it is essential to plant their replacements now.
So how can folks get involved in enhancing and maintaining our urban forests? One important aspect of our urban forests maintenance is the work of volunteers. The Urban Forestry Division is fairly understaffed and currently on a 51 year pruning cycle. I was shocked to learn that for trees to be healthy, they should be on a 10-15 year pruning cycle! Even while understaffed, 400 trees were pruned this winter. Want to shorten the pruning cycle? Check out all the great ways to volunteer for Trees For Missoula here. As they explicitly say “No forestry or technical background is required, only a passion for enhancing and maintaining Missoula's trees". Also, don't forget to register for “Run for Trees” this Saturday, April 14 located at Silver Park, 900 Cregg Lane, Large Pavilion west of The Missoula Osprey's Ogren Park Allegiance Field.
While we can volunteer and get involved directly in the maintenance and growth of our urban forest, it's still necessary to educate and advocate to fellow community members about the importance of trees. Many at our meeting spoke to the idea of advocating for a mandate on planting trees or green space in commercial development areas. Trees serve to cool the area, decreasing the Urban Heat Island affect and providing shade especially in the peak of summer. They benefit everyone in the community! Our group agreed that a great way to enhance our urban forest is to help people understand all the benefits of trees and the need to plant and water them. For more, check out this Sustainable Missoula piece Trees for Missoula's Karen Sippy. Finally, Urban and Wildland Forests is a focal area in our community's Climate Smart Action Plan, with strategies and more info here.
At this meetup, I learned very quickly that there is a lot more to trees than you may think. They're wonderfully complex parts of our world that do so much good. They store carbon, make us happy and healthy, and create more aesthetically appealing streets. You may not have the time or skills to become a professional arborist, but we can all be advocates for maintaining, enhancing and expanding Missoula’s urban forest!
- Sydney Lang, Climate Smart Intern
Sometimes it can take a trip half way around the world to gain a little perspective on the challenges of our day. And the solutions. I just returned from almost two weeks in Vietnam as part of YSEALI (the Young Southeast Asian Leaders Initiative) and the University of Montana’s Mansfield Center. Via YSEALI, last fall Climate Smart Missoula hosted an activist from CHANGEVN, an NGO based in Ho Chi Minh City. Ms. Chau Nhi was here for over a month learning about climate advocacy and sustainability, Montana style. She got a taste of our work, culture, and blustery fall weather. This March it was my time to sample her work, culture, splendid food, and hot temperatures. And my opportunity to blow up my carbon budget, for which I do feel guilty.
Ho Chi Minh City is not Missoula. It's home to over 15 million people and almost that many motorbikes. Ostentatious wealth can be found right next door to extreme poverty. The City is changing fast, and my new friends helped me navigate this sprawling metropolis so I felt almost at home. Nhi and her CHANGE Team are wonderful and together we worked hard—sharing, strategizing, and navigating on topics from reducing single use plastics and straws, to traffic congestion, landing grants, creative communications, and going solar. Just how do we as a global community transform our planet’s antiquated energy system to one that utilizes renewable energy, particularly solar?
One morning, I accompanied the CHANGE Team to meet journalists who cover sustainability, energy and climate. The Team shared their recent accomplishments and goals for the year ahead. It was an interactive conversation as they all strategized about how to best garner attention and cover the news that matters, or so my interpreter said. Then the CHANGE Team presented each journalist with a solar powered inflatable lantern that I had brought with me (the only “shwag” Climate Smart has). These lanterns demonstrate how easy it is to have solar – a push of the button! None had ever seen solar lights, and one journalist was so excited he followed up with a TV interview of me.
The CHANGE Team and I talked a lot about how solar energy is utilized today and options for the future. We have obstacles here in Montana, with antiquated laws and backward perspectives at our Public Service Commission, but in Vietnam they are up against even greater challenges. Vietnam operates a national electricity company, has little opportunity for individuals or businesses to tie into the electrical grid, and limited rooftop space in their populated areas. They do widely incorporate rooftop solar thermal, effectively heating their water for domestic use. Here, we’re primarily served by an investor-owned energy utility, can incorporate solar PV onto the grid, and, at least in Missoula, have plenty of space on rooftops for solar panels. Nonetheless our conversations found common themes. In both countries (and around the world), conversations about energy systems are shifting as the urgency of addressing climate change becomes more and more evident, though the systems themselves are slow to shift. Energy costs are relatively low in both locales, so enthusiasm for conservation remains a challenge. And the price of solar arrays has them out of reach for to most people, bringing up issues of social equity. Finally, as advocates, we’re both trying to build a movement and inspire action.
Luckily I did find opportunities to travel outside Ho Chi Minh City. My favorite experience was the weekend Nhi and I spent at Cat Tien National Park. I also spent a day touring a part of the Mekong Delta. The famed rice fields are on display—some flooded, some ready for harvest, some dry and scorched. The challenges of managing water across international boundaries and as the climate changes are daunting. Much of the delta is all too susceptible to raising sea levels, reinforcing how critical it is to reduce emissions world-wide.
My perspectives on the climate efforts here in the US shifted during this international excursion. As much as we feel like our hands are tied to make the climate progress we need, we do live in a country with elections (Russian meddling aside), and freedom of speech and association still hold here. To work on climate, the CHANGE Team are necessarily much braver and put themselves on the line. I remain in awe. It feels critical in these times that we meet partners across the globe and learn from each other. Although our two countries are different, inspiring people to act is happening in both places. We all need more art, laughter, NextGen voices, wisdom from our elders, and plain old hope to keep us inspired and moving forward.
Enjoy a handful of photos...
By Sydney Lang, Climate Smart Missoula Intern
Our March meetup was all about zero waste! We had great discussions on individual contributions and community collaboration to reduce reuse and recycle materials. With the room jam packed, it was evident Missoula has strong momentum to reduce waste, which was encouraging and inspiring. The meeting kicked off with an overview of Missoula’s ZERO by FIFTY plan from Chase Jones, the City of Missoula Energy Conservation and Climate Action Coordinator. ZERO by FIFTY is an effort to reduce landfill waste 90 percent by 2050 and the four pathways and strategies that help achieve it - access, infrastructure, education and policy. So what’s the significance of the four pathways and what are some initiatives already in motion?
Access involves a push for universal recycling and compost collection services, zero waste stations in public spaces, and generally making waste reduction easy and accessible for all Missoulians. Recognizing that Missoula recovers only 20 percent of total waste, it was encouraging to hear from successful local initiatives that will improve our waste recovery rate. Logjam Presents - Going Green initiative partnered with the City of Missoula's ZERO by FIFTY, and Missoula Compost Collection, is expanding access for reducing and recycling waste at the Top Hat Lounge, Wilma and Kettlehouse Amphitheater. They’re doing smart things like teaming up with Klean Kanteen to create a line of reusable cups and water bottles to reduce the amount of single-use container waste, and implementing a compost program which will eliminate all plastic single-use cups. Additionally, all single-use cups, straws and water bottles will be replaced with 100 percent compostable products. A representative from Logjam announced at the meetup that they have already saved 95 percent of their cups from the landfill! They even allow event attendees to come in with their own reusable cups. Entertainment venues are such a great space to make a difference. Everyone loves to come to a concert and have a drink, so it is a great platform to take advantage of sustainable opportunities.
Education is fundamentally about changing the way we think about things and is particularly impactful when starting with kids. Home ReSource has an effort to educate the community and change the culture around waste by partnering with Missoula County Public Schools. Their ZWAP program teaches 5th graders lessons about zero waste, helping kids understand the life cycle of waste, where it comes from, how we use it and how much ends up in the landfill. The students quickly gain perspective and brainstorm ways they can divert from the landfill through interactive presentations, classroom exercises and creative thinking. 5th graders realize that almost everything can be diverted from the trash, their perspective is changed and hopefully become ambassadors of zero waste throughout life. While zero waste is challenging, this program has the ability to change the culture around waste by starting with our future leaders.
As one of the 5th grade teachers at Franklin Elementary School said at the meetup, “the flipside of challenge is opportunity.” Her classroom is absolutely running with the opportunity, using cloth towels instead of paper, real silverware for snacks and more. It was amusing hearing the teacher explain that custodians comes into her classroom and chuckle because they dump the trash only once a week. I didn’t realize until much later than 5th grade what actually happens when I put something in the trash, so I think these lessons are phenomenal.
Policy is a big one, and a lot of times when we hear the word policy, our minds skip right to government, the big towering beast that can sometimes feel very out of our control. Home ReSource reminded the audience that there are many spheres of influence into local and national government. Missoula is exploring a zero waste ordinance and working to change policy around construction waste. The audience also suggested some policy ideas, such as creating a ban on single use disposables and extending producer responsibility. For example, a company might send you an item, all wrapped up and in a box. When you get this package the customer would take their item out and then send the box and packaging back to the company to be reused.
We wrapped up our meetup with a discussion on ways individuals can reduce waste, brainstorming different methods every person had the power to implement. Some neighbors discussed sharing trash cans and others expressed the impact of buying foods in bulk. Parents discussed simple solutions like buying glass containers for packing their kids’ lunches instead of using plastic bags. One audience member explained her effort to remain aware of the waste cycle everyday. Everytime she throws away any trash she imagines it following her for the rest of the day, reminding her that just because trash is out of site doesnt mean its vanished. This was a powerful idea. It is also a terrifying idea, and one that could potentially weigh you down, but on the flipside, it is a reminder that our individual choices do matter.
Home ReSource closed the event with a wise words. So far, they’ve diverted 1.8 million pounds from the landfill. One of their mottos is “you can’t recycle your way to zero waste”: it takes changing our culture’s relationship with things. They inspire us all to work hard to reuse items and channel energy into creative ways to reduce waste.
The lively neon green room of Imagine Nation Brewing was filled with even livelier individuals last Thursday evening while community members contributed to an invigorating and educational conversation on energy efficiency and green building. With a room full of diverse stakeholders, including real estate agents, sustainable podcast owners, builders and public officials, the group narrowed the topic down to the local level and provided insight on energy efficiency through different lenses. The main points of conversation surrounded reducing our communal energy use, an in-development energy tracking tool, and a new community project to weatherize and rehabilitate manufactured homes. Missoula has many energy efficiency initiatives to keep on your radar and participate in!
There's a new way to make an individual impact with a push for energy efficiency and reducing energy use at home. Working with Climate Smart, a group of computer science students from the University of Montana are developing a new web platform with tips and a tracking system to help save residential energy use. Users will be able to see data on energy savings in engaging forms and be able to compare to an average. The group discussed the impact that participant’s awareness of individual energy cost savings has on the motivation to implement further energy cutting measures. Some people are much more motivated to implement further energy saving measures when they have a good sense for energy cost savings. As a college student, the idea of being able to track my energy use on a computer is really fascinating. Energy consumption can sometimes be a little confusing, and thinking of ways to cut back is challenging when we don’t know exactly where to focus. This web tool will allow the user to focus on key saving measures and see energy use with visuals, rather than just numbers on an energy bill at the end of the month. I'll be sure to check this tool out when it's ready, hopefully late spring!
Climate Smart’s Energy Corps member Max Longo explained his work with community partners at Home ReSource, NeighborWorks Montana, and the Human Resource Council. They are working on weatherizing manufactured homes with the goal of improving energy efficiency, health and overall well being for residents. The project is poised to address vulnerable community members energy needs, while re-purposing building materials and creating climate resilience. The potential benefits of this project led to a discussion on the many motivators for weatherizing homes. One of the main motivators was to promote health and comfort of residents. Homes that receive weatherization services see improvements in ventilation and insulation, which is especially beneficial for seniors in our community. I was fascinated by the discussion of weatherizing mobile homes. Before moving to Missoula, I maybe knew one or two people that lived in a mobile home. The community is much more prominent here and it was great to hear the energy efficiency measures one can implement to make these homes more energy efficient, healthier and more resilient to warming summers.
Finally, although most of the conversation was around energy in the built environment, we did tie back to the January Meetup where transportation featured prominently. Missoula in Motion’s February Clear The Air challenge is a fun way to make an individual impact reducing our communal emissions and track the amount of diversion. The challenge allows you to log sustainable trips during the month of February and track your positive impact. It's a fun way to compete with other Missoulian's with similar commute lengths and possibly win prizes for big diverters. As an avid biker, this challenge is super motivating. Sustainable transportation empowers me and allows every individual to make a difference reducing our carbon footprint in easier ways than we might think. Besides the positive impact of CO2 reduction, sustainable transportation can be a blast!
The community at Imagine Nation pitched ideas, challenged opinions and shared in drinks and many laughs. I learned an incredible amount about the motivations of energy efficiency and the momentum in Missoula to reduce the size of our energy pie!
- Sydney Lang, Climate Smart Missoula intern
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.