Sustainable Missoula: Energy Corps members help Missoula make lasting, climate-smart changes

Energy Corps service member Alli Kane weatherizing a window at the Climate Smart Office.

In Missoula, the risks associated with climate change are inspiring collaborative, multi-scale efforts to create lasting change.

The wide range of strategies outlined in Missoula’s Community Climate Smart Action Plan and those being developed for the Climate Ready Communities resiliency planning effort exemplify the complexity of and partnerships inherent in transforming a community.

In October, the Montana AmeriCorps Energy Corps deployed seven new service members in Missoula to strengthen and enhance existing climate partnerships and programming, while also bringing new momentum to our community.

Their work occurs at many scales, ranging from education in schools to private and public sector transformations. Energy Corps members provide much-needed capacity to advance Missoula’s climate action goals and are a microcosm of the multi-sector change that is needed to effectively combat climate change. I’m lucky enough to be one of those members.

Private Sector Transition 

The private sector is an important part of this equation, and preparing the local economy to better respond to climatic changes is critical for our community’s mitigation and resiliency initiatives. Climate change poses a serious risk to business models through the disruptions that it can bring. Engaging businesses and nonprofits in discussions and programs that foster sustainable transitions is one way that Missoula is pushing forward.

The city of Missoula is working with two Energy Corps members, Casey Brandon and Sierra Deimling, to move Missoula’s Zero by Fifty goal forward by engaging local businesses in a zero waste pledge program. This program hopes to provide businesses with a waste audit and waste reduction plan tailored to their specific impact and needs, reducing our community’s solid waste emissions.

In addition to engaging smaller businesses, Energy Corps is also working with Missoula’s larger institutions. Providence St. Patrick Hospital is committed to reducing the environmental impacts associated with health care through their Green4Good program, where I serve part-time. Nationwide, health care accounts for 8% of our total emissions, and my charge is to help St. Patrick Hospital reduce their carbon emissions from waste and increase energy conservation and sustainable commuting through data analysis and education projects.  

Public Sector Transition

Along with my work at the hospital, I’m serving part time with Climate Smart Missoula, straddling the private and public sectors and highlighting the existing community partnerships that are vital to this work and Climate Smart’s role as a hub connecting local partners. I’ll be working on increasing community resilience, a process that relies on cross-sector input from both public and private partners and fosters collaboration to develop solutions tailored to Missoula. Additionally, I’ll be compiling “energy smart” stories from across the community that will be featured in an online story map, connecting the inspiring initiatives taken by local government, businesses, nonprofit organizations, and residents. 

Education

Increased education and outreach is an essential element of improving environmental literacy and many of Missoula’s Energy Corps members are working to grow greater awareness. Strengthening environmental literacy, especially among our youngest Missoulians, can empower and motivate young people to address the key issues facing their generation. Home ReSource, the Clark Fork Coalition and the National Wildlife Federation are all hosting Energy Corps members to lead various youth-oriented outreach initiatives. 

At HomeResource, Hillary Sward is working to expand ZWAP, the Zero Waste Ambassador Program which serves to reduce demand on resources and inspire future sustainability leaders in fifth-grade classrooms. She’ll be expanding the program to include another grade level and mainstream this information using a teacher-led curriculum. Additionally, Hillary will engage the community through Fixit Clinics, Western Montana Fair Creative Reuse and the Zero Waste Missoula group, as well as partnering with Missoula County Public Schools to expand the zero waste schools initiative.

Educational opportunities must occur in and out of school, something both Claudia Hewston with the National Wildlife Federation in Missoula and George Gehrig with the Clark Fork Coalition are both focused on during their service terms.

Claudia will engage teachers through the Eco-Schools program, offering sustainability curriculum support. George will engage hundreds of students from surrounding schools in developing the foundational knowledge, hands-on skills, and place-based experience needed for an ethic of sustainability and stewardship, through programs such as Creeks in the Classroom, Riparian Rx, and Hands on the Ranch.

George and Claudia will both be outside of the classroom and in the community at a handful of events as well, including the annual River Clean Up and Trash Line, and Claudia will be encouraging people to incorporate habitat elements into their gardens as part of the Garden for Wildlife initiative. Together, these programs touch upon the importance of our natural resources and the key role they play in making Missoula more resilient. 

Energy Corps’ educational efforts extend into Frenchtown as well. Olivia Kersey-Bronec, with Freedom Gardens, provides space for students to learn about food production while taking ownership of what they produce. As the greenhouse liaison, she’ll bring attention to the need for local and sustainable food sources in schools and encouraging students to ask the question, “where does my food come from?”   

Missoula’s broad yet targeted approach to the complex nature of climate change is both mirrored in and strengthened by the Energy Corps members who are contributing to diverse projects with the same overarching goals. This presents an opportunity to prepare for the future, reduce our carbon emissions, and to do so in an integrated and participatory manner that is just and equitable.

A resilient Missoula will rely on existing and emerging partnerships to continue to implement and connect creative, multi-scale solutions. Each of these aspects combined has the capacity to inspire innovation and champion a swift transformation.

Alli Kane is the 2019-20 AmeriCorps Energy Corps Service Member with Climate Smart Missoula. 

This Sustainable Missoula column is brought to you – via the Missoula Current – every Friday by Climate Smart Missoula and Home ReSource.

Upcoming Sustainability Events

Saturday, November 2. Fundraiser for 1000 New Gardens, Soil Cycle and Free Cycles. Live music, homemade food, silent auction (from home baked treats to restaurant meals to music lessons to garden assistance). $8 donation gets you in. Free Cycles, 732 S 1st St. W, Missoula. 6pm. More info here.

Sunday, November 3. Pumpkin ReHarvest Ride. Save pumpkins from death at the landfill. Bike riders and drives will take to Missoula neighborhoods to save pumpkins so they can feed goats, chickens, and hogs. How cool is that? 10 a.m.-3 p.m.

Tuesday, November 5. Restoring a wild bison herd on the Charles M Russell National Wildlife Refuge. A panel hosted by Sierra Club, Montana Wild Bison Restoration Coalition & National Wildlife Federation. A first in a series of forums on bison restoration. UM’s University Center room 331, 7-9 p.m. More info & RSVP here.

Wednesday, November 6. Are Montana’s Trout in HOT Water? A talk by Dr. Clint Muhlfeld, aquatic ecologist with USGS & University of Montana’s Biostation. Learn how climate change is impacting our native fish. Free and open to all. Imagine Nation Brewing, 6 pm. 

Wednesday, November 13. Missoula Chapter of Montana Conservation Voters annual gathering. Learn more about MCV’s local electoral and environmental work. Goodworks Ventures. 5:30. More info here.

Wednesday, November 13. Organize for our Outdoors. MT conservation groups will explain the Land & Water Conservation Fund & how citizens can work for it to be fully funded. Hosted by MontPIRG. UM’s University Center room 330, 6-8pm.

Thursday, November 14. Climate Smart Missoula’s Monthly Meetup. Sustainable Communities from Missoula to Our Sister City Palmerston North New Zealand.  Imagine Nation, 5-7 pm. 

Friday, December 6. Sunrise Movement Climate Strike. Details to follow.

Thursday, December 12. Climate Smart Missoula’s Year End Celebration and Smarty Pants Awards. Details here.