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Clean the Air Challenge encourages New Year sustainability in Missoula

Car emissions
Posted at 7:41 AM, Jan 10, 2023
and last updated 2023-01-10 09:41:36-05

MISSOULA - January is the month for resolutions, and the Clean the Air Challenge is looking to kickstart sustainable living in 2023.

The annual challenge is hosted by Missoula in Motion, which is dedicated to encouraging sustainable transportation such as biking, walking and taking the bus. This will be the contest's sixth year.

Because some of these options seem less appealing in the winter, the group decided to create a fun competition to inspire people to uphold these values throughout the colder months.

Participants record their sustainable transportation routes every week, and those with the best sustainability at the end of the month will win a prize.

The Missoula County's health department sees the worst air during the winter, particularly during January, according to Missoula in Motion program manager Katherine Auge.

This is due to inversion caused by colder temperatures. A layer of cooler air gets trapped under a higher layer of warm air, meaning air pollution is stuck closer to the ground.

“We know that during the winter it’s often the hardest time to choose sustainable transportation options, but we also know that it really matters the most because of our inversion, the emissions from vehicles tend to get trapped in our airspace and have really harmful effects, so we want to raise awareness about that through this program," Auge says.

After looking at greenhouse gas emissions inventories, it shows the transportation sector is the second highest contributor, according to Auge. Changing to sustainable transportation modes even a few days out of the week can help reduce air pollution.

“We really emphasize that it’s not all or nothing, so even if you just replace one or two car trips a week by riding the bus or carpooling with a friend that can really collectively, throughout our community, have a big impact," Auge says.

Anyone can join the challenge at any point during January and backlog their transportation. All participants are placed in a raffle for a $50 gift card provided by Trail Head.

Prizes for the top contributors include three $50 gift cards to various Missoula restaurants and a screening pass to Big Sky Documentary Film Festival.

Auge says they were able to get community support from local businesses because of the communal push for sustainability in Missoula.

“I think our community is really just aware of sustainability issues, and really dedicated to making our community more sustainable," Auge says.

While signing up for the competition, contestants are also reminded to limit the amount of time they allow their car to idle. Auge says unnecessary idling can be very harmful to air quality, and she wants to remind parents at school pickup to be conscious of this. The exhaust that leaves the vehicle is at the same level of the breathing air for children.

Additional information about the Clean the Air Challenge and how to join the contest can be found here.