Notebook: 2019 is the year we (the media) give climate change the attention it deserves

During a panel discussion late last year, I was asked why the local media hadn’t placed much focus on climate change. Given its gravity, the audience suggested, it was a topic worthy of attention.

They were right.

It’s no longer a question of whether we believe in the science behind climate change, but rather what we’re doing to address it. The facts are no longer disputable.

That’s the opinion of the Missoula Current and its reporting staff, and throughout 2019 we’ll explore the issue of climate change and its many facets, from the research taking place at the University of Montana to what state, city and county leaders are doing to reduce our carbon footprint.

“Right now with no leadership at the federal level, these activities at the local level are the most important thing going on,” global climate expert Steve Running told the Missoula Current back in October. “There’s so many different things all of us can do to start turning the corner on our carbon footprints.”

While some will certainly cherry-pick their news from a shrinking number of climate deniers, the facts are in, and nearly ever day the news wire is filled with gloomy stories from reputable scientific sources.

In 2018, the planet recorded its fourth hottest day on record. In case you missed it, the three hottest years outside 2018 were recorded in 2015, 2016 and 2017. The planet’s 10 hottest years on record have all been recorded since 1998.

In Montana, forest elevations are creeping up, landscapes are changing and habitats are evolving. Some species will thrive, others may disappear. Fire seasons are longer than they used to be and the runoff, evidenced by last year’s floods, is coming sooner, leaving rivers and streams dangerously low in the summer months when the water is needed the most.

Certainly these are worthy stories deserving of our attention.

In the larger world, water is growing scarce as droughts and heat waves intensify. Further north, Greenland’s ice cap is melting four times faster than it was just 15 years ago. That carries implications for the very ocean currents that influence the planet’s climate.

“In Montana, the projections of business as usual take us up on the order of a 12- to 14-degree temperature increase by the end of the century if we continue with our fossil fuel-energy economy,” Running said.

What does that mean for your children’s children?

The threats we face today will leave future generations with a less hospitable planet. In his state of the union address in 2015, then-President Barack Obama put it this way: “No challenge poses a greater threat to future generations than climate change.”

When the Missoula Current’s team of reporters sat down to discuss the issue late last year and chose to make climate change a topic of focus in 2019, it was in no way meant to be a partisan series. We stand by that today, believing that climate change doesn’t take sides and we mean no offense to those who don’t believe.

But it’s important to note that 47 percent of conservatives now say the climate is changing, an increase of 19 points since the midterm elections in 2014, according to a survey by Yale and George Mason universities.

We no longer believe it’s sufficient to ask if climate change is real. It is. We’ll take it as a matter of fact and ask the new question: What are we doing to address it?

Martin Kidston

What role will clean energy sources play in NorthWestern Energy’s new Resource Procurement Plan? Where do Montana’s political candidates stand on the issue as their campaigns for 2020 gear up? How will climate change impact Missoula’s plans for its future?

Already, local government is teaming up with Climate Smart Missoula to complete a threat analysis posed by climate change – think fires, smoke and floods. That will be followed later this year by a climate adaption report and what they’ll do to lessen the threats.

As future generations look back on 2019, they will know at least that climate change didn’t come without discussion and the focus it deserves. While Montana alone can’t alter the course we’re on, it can at least do its part in creating change, and we look forward to facilitating the discussion.

Martin Kidston is a former U.S. Marine, a University of Montana graduate, a Rocky Mountain native and the founding editor of the Missoula Current.