A group of city, state and tribal representatives met this week in Bozeman to share ideas about how to address climate change in Montana. A guest speaker at the conference said Rocky Mountain states are going to see catastrophic changes on our current path.
Around 200 people filled up Inspiration Hall at Montana State University Tuesday evening for an event organized by MSU, the city of Bozeman and Climate Smart Missoula, a non-profit advocacy group.
Physicist Rob Davies from Utah State University said if we continue burning carbon on our current trajectory, we can expect a 13 degree Fahrenheit increase across North America by the end of the century.
In Montana, that looks like reduced snowpack and streamflows, more frequent and longer droughts and wildfires, more weed and insect pests, and a transition of forests into grasslands.
Davies said everyone needs to adopt an emergency mindset.
“In a very technical sense, an emergency is a situation that requires immediate action to prevent catastrophic outcomes, and that’s what we need. The tipping points, the risk of these tipping points is just far too high,” Davies said.
He said public officials should be taking on climate change like they approach public health emergencies, such as the coronavirus or Covid-19 outbreak.
“All across the country, there are public health departments, national and local, meeting to decide what to do. The people showing up at the table are not saying, ‘Well, the coronavirus is not a thing or it’s not dangerous,’” Davies said.
Davies said immediate, global scale action in the next ten years is needed to drop the projected 13 degree increase to a 4 degree increase.
Following Davies’s presentation, local, tribal and state-level representatives shared some of the challenges and solutions they are working on.
Termaine Edmo, the climate change coordinator for the Blackfeet Tribe, said her community has been facing more extreme and unpredictable weather events like snowstorms and droughts. She says climate change puts lives, livelihoods and traditions at risk.
“I find myself as a grievance counselor and not only for agriculturalists, but you know just from our extreme weather. We have a lot of impacts that hit our community hard. So dealing with that, it does have a big toll on our mental health,” Edmo said.
Several years ago, the tribal government created the Blackfeet Climate Change Adaptation Plan. It contains information about how climate change will impact areas like agriculture and wildlife.
Edmo says one of the projects they’re working on now mimics beavers. They’re building small dams with rocks, sod and willows to adapt to more droughts and floods.
“The project has increased natural water storage, restored streams, wetlands, culture and our history,” Edmo said.
On the Montana State University campus, Dan Stevenson, associate vice president for university services, says the school is working to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by incorporating geothermal, solar and water source heat pumps into buildings.
Bozeman City Commissioner Terry Cunningham said Bozeman, Missoula, Helena and Whitefish have all set aggressive goals to reduce greenhouse gas emissions.
“Here’s where we want to go. We want to reduce our greenhouse gas emissions by 26 percent by 2025. We want to be at 100 percent net clean electricity by 2030, and we’re going to need the help of our utility in order to do that, and we want to be a carbon neutral community by 2050,” Cunningham said.
Cunningham said Bozeman’s climate team is looking at a list of ideas including developing a city-wide compost program, protecting wetlands, incentivizing energy efficient homes and prioritizing pedestrian friendly transportation. He said he’s not seeing enough leadership on this issue at the state or federal government level.
“Change is going to have to come from the bottom up because it’s not going to come from the top down,” Cunningham said.
Patrick Holmes, Governor Steve Bullock’s natural resources policy advisor, said the majority of Montanans believe global warming is real, according to a Yale University study, but they don't all agree on how to respond.
“We do not have that common sense of framework or vision for how we should respond. So much of the work of our council is to begin to build some of that foundation,” Holmes said.
Last week, the Governor’s Climate Solutions Council, which consists of state agencies, energy utilities and climate advocacy groups, released a list of draft recommendations to bring greenhouse gas emissions from Montana’s electrical grid to net-zero by 2035.
People can comment on the draft recommendations through March 31. The recommendations will then go to Bullock in June, which is the deadline for a finalized Montana Climate Solutions Plan.