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Climate professionals urge state action amid heat, drought in Montana

MT Climate Solutions Council members pen letter to Gov. Gianforte
Sun and Heat
Posted at 4:37 PM, Aug 28, 2021
and last updated 2021-08-28 22:01:55-04

MISSOULA — Members of the Montana Climate Solutions Council are urging Gov. Greg Gianforte to act on climate change.

On Aug. 11, 19 council members penned a letter to the governor on the heels of a summer of extreme temperatures, a statewide drought emergency, and unseasonably early wildfires.

“We are not prepared for heat, drought, wildfire smoke and the health implications, physical, mental health, and we need to jump start that too. So I think a lot of people are feeling that urgency because we're feeling it in our bones. And then we're understanding it at a deeper level given the science,” Amy Cilimburg, Climate Smart Missoula Executive Director told MTN News this week.

Cilimburg is one of 29 council members, established in 2019 by former Gov. Steve Bullock, to create a Climate Solutions Plan for Montanans.

At that time, Bullock joined Montana to the U.S. Climate Alliance. Gianforte later discontinued the state’s membership.

Last August, that plan was released with 50 recommendations housed within three categories: Preparing Montanans for Climate Impacts, Strategies to Reduce Greenhouse Gas Emissions, and Accelerating Decarbonization and Innovation.

“Even when the plan was done, we knew that it was a plan that was really written to be durable into the next administration. At that time we didn't know who that was going to be," Cilimburg said.

Now, one year later with new state leadership, the council’s membership is ready to jump back into action so they reached out to the newly elected governor.

State Climatologist Dr. Kelsey Jencso runs the Montana Climate Office, an independent state-designated body that tracks and interprets complicated climate information. He said that climate change is a big deal because it's a threat to the Montana way of life, and broke down some key figures from theIntergovernmental Panel on Climate Change Sixth Assessment Report, released earlier this month.

IPCC Report released earlier this month

“These models have gotten really good, we've refined them over time, and this latest IPCC report is based on the best available science," Jencso said.

The IPCC reports that without shifting human activities, global average temperatures are expected to rise.

IPCC global temperature projection

“We can expect to see upwards of 3 degrees warming by end of century. That is a significant change our way of life here in Montana would be fundamentally different,” Jencso said.

According to Jencso, while the end of the century may seem far away, "the IPCC report said that we’re going to see in the next 10 to 20 years 1.5 degrees global warming.”

IPCC global temperature projection 10 to 20 years

That’s stacked onto historic warming trends.

”Since the pre-Industrial Age, we've warmed by about 1.1 degrees Celsius. So that's today, and I want all Montanans to think about the conditions that they've experienced this summer," Jencso said. “In reality here in Montana, we’ve warmed by about 2.7 degrees Fahrenheit since 1950. We’re warming a little bit faster relative to the rest of the world and the rest of the United States because we’re at a slightly higher lattitude."

Dr. Kelsey Jencso, Montana State Climatologist, on Montana's warming

According to Jencso, these temperature changes are impacting one of Montana’s largest sectors - agriculture.

Weather stations installed by the Montana Climate Office track meteorological information and soil moisture to inform those farmers and ranchers already affected. Jencso frequently interacts with those working in the fields.

"It just hurts to see the pain in their eyes because they, they're hardworking people who have always made things work, but they're facing some, some pretty dire effects in terms of this drought and climatic changes," Jencso said.

The Montana Department of Natural Resources and Conservation reports record low snowpack has resulted in abnormally dry to severe drought conditions this spring.

According to Jencso, future changes in temperature will exacerbate problems currently hitting Montana.

“This drought is kind of the new normal here in Montana. Things can actually get worse and they're projected to get worse if we continue to emit fossil fuels and burn fossil fuels at the rate that we are,” Jencso said.

MTN News reached out to Gianforte for comment on this story. His office sent over a statement that said;

“The governor appreciates the collaborative approach of the council, the contributions and ideas of each member, and their completion of the report. The governor will continue to consider the council’s recommendations, as well as the ideas of all Montanans, as he address climate change by focusing on promoting American innovation, not imposing burdensome, job-killing government mandates.”

To view the letter sent to the governor by the Montana Climate Solutions Council, click here.