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Guest column

Resolve to take action to address the climate emergency

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Caroline Lauer and Abby Huseth, Climate Smart Missoula

Caroline Lauer (left) and Abby Huseth (right), Climate Smart Missoula

On Feb. 19, Dr. Rob Davies spoke to a packed audience at the Wilma Theater about the scale of the planetary crisis and the urgent action needed to address it. Davies, a physics professor and noted speaker, clearly and devastatingly illustrated the catastrophic changes, or disruption, we face if we stay on our current trajectory.

Catastrophic, he pointed out, means something very specific in the science community: unadaptable. Indeed, some people in some places are already experiencing catastrophic, unadaptable changes, but there is still time to avoid tipping points that would unleash such disruption on a global scale. It is the difference between a planet that is livable and one that is unadaptable.

We have a limited window to make rapid changes. The next decade is critical: heat-trapping greenhouse gas emissions must peak, then drop quickly to zero no later than mid-century. Such a dramatic decline in emissions requires changes at every scale, and directly challenges our deep-seated cultural and economic paradigm of endless growth and acquisition. We are a big world on a small planet, and we must act accordingly.

As Davies said, acknowledging that we are in a climate emergency changes our mindset about the response that’s necessary. Knowing the scale of the risk, it would be radical to continue with business as usual. What once seemed radical is now rational; what’s necessary becomes what’s viable.

The task ahead is herculean, and may feel daunting. But Davies put it this way: “When you’re in a burning building, you don’t waste time hoping or despairing, you just get out. You take the next step, then the next step, then the next. It’s about absolute, unwavering resolve and commitment.” You can resolve to take the next step, even if you cannot yet see the top of the mountain.

To reduce our emissions the necessary 15% each year, change on a household scale will only get us so far. The systems we are embedded in must change, too. So what can you do? What might the next step look like? Here are some ideas.

Act. Go solar if you can; improve the energy efficiency of your home or business; increase sustainable transportation. Consider consumption habits and waste. Learn about and take actions that build community resiliency. Consider how you can lead in your own context: your workplace or place of worship; your professional and personal networks.

Advocate. Democracy doesn’t start or end with the ballot box: speak out in support of climate solutions at the local, state, and federal levels; organize for and support candidates and leaders willing to take action on climate; hold elected officials accountable. Talk about the climate crisis - share your story about why you care and what you are doing with everyone you know. Join existing organizations that work on climate advocacy.

Assist. We're working with partners to develop a “Footprint Fund” for Missoulians to invest in local projects that reduce our community’s carbon footprint, like energy efficiency for low-income homes, our urban forest, and rooftop solar; stay tuned for more. Lend your own or your business's expertise to community climate efforts. Share strategies that work for your organization or family with others. Donate to climate action organizations. Help those who may not have the resources to act independently.

In her book Hope in the Dark, author Rebecca Solnit writes, “Inside the word ‘emergency’ is ‘emerge’; from an emergency new things come forth. The old certainties are crumbling fast, but danger and possibility are sisters.” Together, let’s resolve to take the next steps towards ensuring a sustainable, just, and vibrant future for all.

Abby Huseth is the outreach director and Caroline Lauer is the program director at Climate Smart Missoula. 

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