Major forest fires have become the norm, draining state budgets and making the summer air dangerous. The winter snowpack we depend on for water is dropping every year. We’re seeing fewer pollinators like bees and more pests and disease like the pine beetle. Drought is on the rise. We’re seeing more very hot days every year. Outside our state, global changes are putting our food supply at risk. Soon many people on coastlines will be looking for safer shelter in places like Bozeman1.
Yet Montana has a D-, one of the lowest grades of all 50 states in preparedness for extreme weather, drought, and fire2. Our local economy is overly dependent on tourism, which could fall in the wake of extreme conditions. We’re already struggling with growth–how will we be ready for an even bigger influx?
We’ve always had droughts and wildfires, but extremes in our climate mean that everything is more fragile. We can know how vulnerable we are, but still not be able to predict exactly when and where crises will hit. Most of the talk now is about limiting the number of people in certain places. But as more come fleeing worse conditions elsewhere, that kind of thinking will fail. We have to do more.
The big idea
What if we decided that every development, every piece of infrastructure, and every land management policy should improve our natural environment as more people interact with it. Nature works in cycles, so that the life of one thing helps create the life of the next. We need to do the same with the things we build, make, and take.
Things you should know
- By 2050, our new climate reality will cut jobs in Montana’s outdoor economy by 85%! That’s $1 billion every year in lost wages3. A full half of Bozeman’s regional economy depends on these jobs4.
- Angling is expected to be cut by a full 1/3, and big game hunting by 15%5.
- Extreme weather alone cost Montana $11 billion in the decade from 2007-2016 6.
- 60,000 homes in Montana are at high risk of loss to fire by 2050, at a cost of $18.4 billion7.
- By 2050, we’re expected to spend $260 million a year fighting wildfires alone. That’s double what we spend now8.
- 26,000 Montanans are highly vulnerable to heat waves, and we’re about to get 15-30 more days of them a year9.
- In the next 30 years, drought in Montana is expected to be more severe than it was anywhere in the country from 1950-200010.
- Bozeman’s reliable water supplies can only support 66,000 people, which we’re expected to hit in 10 years11.
10 ways we can cut our impact and prepare for an uncertain future
1. Create a top-level Stewardship Department at the city that tracks well-being for humans and nature, maintains emergency preparedness plans, and ensures all policy is in line with both.
Other cities are already tracking their work in preparedness, and sharing that data and what they’ve learned. Bozeman is already collecting important data, but it’s often scattered across departments or relegated to one-time projects. A Stewardship Department would make sure local government is being held accountable, and give the city and our citizens a dashboard for progress.
2. Set higher standards for new buildings that make healthy, green, resilient neighborhoods.
We can make all our new neighborhoods beautiful, nearly energy independent, and pay for it in short order. The City estimates that nearly half of our water use could be cut through strong and sensible conservation measures. Even in a cold climate like Bozeman, homes built to use nearly zero net energy could be paid off by the time most people move out12. We already have development standards for green space, but that too often results in irrigation-heavy laws, rather than beautiful, low-water, native landscapes.
3. Partner with Northwestern Energy to build pilot projects that test if and how we can use new energy technology all year round.
We won’t get by waiting for the utility company, the state legislature, or the Public Service Commission to get the job done on an energy transition. And net-metering will never be enough: it’s only practical for the few who can afford it, and our grid infrastructure needs to change to make efforts scale. Instead of waiting, we can work to green-light small pilot projects now to find out what’s possible right at home.
4. Set tiered water pricing that cuts the most wasteful uses and makes everyday use affordable.
5. Preserve and expand dedicated bike lanes and trails.
6. Expand historic preservation.
New construction can take decades to offset the impact of construction, even for highly efficient buildings13. Older buildings generate less carbon and keep our neighborhoods full of character.
7. Build a beautiful, reliable transit system that makes it easy to leave the car at home.
8. Convert public green space to drought-resistant landscaping and community gardens.
9. Stop building new large roads.
10. Set an energy independence mandate.
In 2004, Aspen, CO set a mandate to use 100% renewables by 2015. It succeeded. Local renewable energy combined with smart microgrid technology will make us less vulnerable to disasters here and elsewhere, and reduce our overall usage without changing habits. The technology is there, but incentives won’t be enough. We have to set an ambitious goal, make it law, and stick to it.References
- For more see the MT Climate Assessment Report
- See the Preparedness Report Card from Climate Central
- See a study done by an economist and geoscientist about the Economic Impact of Climate Change in Montana
- From an economic analysis publish in National Geographic’s May 2016 issue
- See above note.
- You can see a map comparing $1 billion+ extreme weather events in every state here
- See the Impact of Climate Change study above
- See above
- See the States at Risk Montana summary
- See the above Drought analysis here.
- From the City of Bozeman’s Integrated Water Resources Plan Update
- From a report by the Rocky Mountain Institute
- See this study from the Preservation Green Lab