Missoula climate strike

Students from Hellgate High School and Big Sky High School gather in front of the Missoula County Courthouse in March with signs demanding action for climate change.

Climate change is a massive, worldwide problem that calls for massive, worldwide solutions. Missoulians can take pride in the fact that we are doing our part from our humble corner of the world to help reduce the rate of global warming and, in many respects, even leading the way for the rest of Montana.

This past Friday many young people in Missoula, with hearty support from a lot of older residents, participated in the first day of a week-long Global Climate Strike. Instead of attending regular classes, striking youth will spend the week ahead attending various climate-focused events and educational forums lead by half a dozen knowledgeable speakers, and also helping to create “an action plan for survival.”

Thus the week’s activities are expected to culminate Sept. 27 with a list of demands, along with plans for regular strikes in the future until those demands are satisfied.

Ideally, these demands will include research-backed, clearly defined, meaningful actions. Further, they should recognize and build on the good work already accomplished by local government leaders, educational institutions, private businesses and nonprofits.

Missoula’s commitment to reducing its contribution to climate change goes back more than a decade, when the city teamed with the University of Montana’s Environmental Studies Program to perform an “emissions inventory” that provided a snapshot of the city’s carbon footprint. Also in 2009, the city council passed a resolution to reduce municipal fuel and energy use by 10% from 2007 levels by mid-2011. In early 2013, Missoula reached for higher goals with the adoption of a new Conservation and Climate Action Plan that set a target for carbon neutrality by 2025.

In the years since taking those strides, the city has continued to make incremental but steady progress while reaching for higher targets. Just last year the Missoula City Council approved the ambitious Zero by Fifty waste reduction plan with a goal of cutting the amount of waste in Missoula by 90 percent by 2050. This plan offers dozens of ideas the city could begin implementing right away – from installing recycling bins next to garbage cans to expanding the types of materials accepted at the compost center.

And earlier this year both the city and county agreed to support a transition to 100% renewable energy sources such as solar and wind by 2030 – making Missoula the first community in Montana to do so.

Local government leaders wisely recognize that these policies are more effective when they are carried out in partnership with other organizations in the community. The nonprofit Climate Smart Missoula, for one, has become a vital link, working with various groups to provide information about the local impacts of climate change and promote on-the-ground improvements. Its executive director, Amy Cilimburg, also serves on Gov. Steve Bullock’s Climate Solutions Council. Next up, Climate Smart Missoula will host a Clean Energy Expo in Caras Park on Sept. 28.

Enterprises both public and private have been helping to build Missoula into one of the most environmentally friendly communities in the state. The Garden City currently counts 35 LEED-certified buildings or projects in progress, according to the U.S. Green Building Council. LEED stands for Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design, and rates best practices on a point system.

Back in 2011, the Missoula offices of Garlington, Lohn and Robinson (also recognized as a Law Firm Climate Challenge Partner by the American Bar Association) became one of the first to Gold-level LEED certification in the state.

Then in 2017, Missoula became home to the first building to receive a LEED V4 Platinum certification. The six-story Stockman Bank building on the corner of Broadway and Orange boasts solar panels, a graywater recycling system and open deck complete with trees and landscaping, among other unique features.

And in planning to remodel or renovate nearly every one of its schools, Missoula County Public Schools incorporated many energy conservation and environmental sustainability measures. Both Hellgate and Sentinel high schools are expected to meet stringent LEED standards following their recently completed remodels and building additions.

The University of Montana has undeniably helped set the bar with its new buildings as well. Both the the new Missoula College on Broadway and the Gilkey Center for Executive Education on the main campus have achieved Gold certification. The Payne Native American Center, the first facility of its kind in the nation, has been certified Platinum.

Of course, this commitment to sustainable building design is in keeping with the university’s own Climate Action Plan, which has helped guide the university’s decision-making for nearly a decade. UM remains Missoula’s primary resource for research and education about climate change. Even before the Climate Strike kicked off last week, the university’s Climate Change Studies Program and Sustainability Office hosted a Climate Action Roundtable to start the discussion on local climate action.

The Missoulian has been thoroughly covering the myriad effects of climate change on western Montana and beyond, from melting glaciers to hotter wildfires. There’s much more to cover, of course, as these problems are only expected to continue to get worse.

One community’s efforts to fight climate change may seem negligible in the face of the enormity of the problem, but if enough of us join together in these efforts, it can make a monumental difference. The repercussions of doing nothing are too dire to accept. 

In either case, our youth will be the ones living with the consequences of the decisions we make today, as so eloquently pointed out by prominent activist Greta Thunberg, a 16-year-old girl from Sweden and the inspiration for the Global Climate Strike. "You are never too small to make a difference," she said in a speech last December. 

To learn more about the Missoula Climate Strike and related events taking place this week, visit missoulaclimatestrike.org.

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