Talking climate

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The rain is finally falling in Montana, and our southern coastal states are drying out. It’s finally time to have a serious conversation about climate change.

Climate Smart Glacier Country invites you to join us at four community forums this fall focused on emerging climate challenges and local solutions. Our recently formed public-private partnership is focused on pragmatic ways to develop a clean energy economy and prepare our Flathead communities for a new climatic normal. We want to set the table for constructive conversations about what’s at stake and what we can do about it.

This month has been a personal trial for me as it may have been for you. The choking smoke was oppressive at the end of a fiery summer that was 4 °F hotter than the average Montana summer. Meanwhile, my cousin in Houston struggles to salvage his flooded home and my niece in southern Florida spent 16 frightening hours on a congested highway fleeing Hurricane Irma.

As most climate scientists are quick to point out, you can’t say that any of this weird weather is directly caused by anthropogenic climate change. But we can say that 2017 is on track to join the past three years as the hottest four years in global records. Warmer-than-usual oceans and increased evaporation supercharged the hurricanes. We can say that another hot, dry summer in Montana, long predicted by climate models, created the conditions to torch rangeland, 20-year-old clearcuts, mature forests, and homes in the wildland-urban interface.

Perhaps it’s simply random that the Earth has experienced four record-breaking years of heat in a row. But let’s be honest with ourselves – it’s probably not coincidence. While annual global temperatures fluctuate year to year, the trend is clear. Average annual temperatures in Glacier National Park increased 2.4 °F over the past 100 years. Fire seasons are almost a month longer. And unless humankind rapidly reduces our emission of carbon pollution, western Montana will see another 7 °F increase this century. That’s downright scary, but it’s a choice that’s still ours to make.

Too many Americans have the mistaken impression that physics is political, even though the basic science of the climatic “greenhouse effect” due to carbon dioxide emissions has been understood for more than 150 years. This false sense that science is an ideology contributes to a spiral of silence in which most Americans are concerned about climate change but few dare discuss it with friends and family.

The premise of Climate Smart Glacier Country is that many Flathead County residents are ready to have mature, adult conversations about this threat to our way of life. We believe the best way to do this is by focusing on local solutions. We can conserve energy and save money. We believe that clear-eyed understanding of climate trends and projections will help us build resilient communities.

On Oct. 16, Montana’s top climate scientists from UM and MSU will present the first statewide Montana Climate Assessment at FVCC, 1-4 p.m. The assessment applies the best available science to outline anticipated impacts to Montana’s water, agriculture and forest sectors.

Hunting and ski season take the stage on Wednesday, Nov. 8 with a multi-media evening in Whitefish focused on fishing and hunting, climate change and snow. And a Nov. 16 forum in Columbia Falls will envision Montana’s transition to a clean energy economy.

Full details of the educational series can be found at www.ClimateSmart

GlacierCountry.org.

Former climate skeptic Senator Steve Daines recently acknowledged that global warming is happening and human activity is a major contributor. “The question is what then should we do,” he told a radio journalist. I agree. Let’s get on it!

— Steve Thompson, Chairman of Climate Smart Glacier Country

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