Climate Change is Real: What Then Should We Do?

A clear-eyed understanding of climate trends and projections will help us build resilient communities and businesses

By Steve Thompson

It’s a topic that many of us would rather not discuss. But the clear-and-present reality of climate change is bringing this difficult subject out into the open. And that’s where it needs to be.

The new Montana Climate Assessment released in September by scientists at the University of Montana and Montana State University sets the table for constructive community dialogue about what’s at stake and what we can do about it. These conversations are happening across the state, including in Kalispell on Monday, October 16.

Warming global temperatures and the connected increase in weird and extreme weather events no longer can be considered a speculative theory about what might happen to other people in the distant future. Instead, this summer demonstrates that those changes are upon us now in Montana and across the country.

Here in western Montana, a wet winter and spring quickly yielded to a hot, dry summer and a lung-burning fire season. Scientists have coined a new term, “flash drought,” to describe this scenario. While we can’t say that any particular year’s seasonal weather pattern is caused by climate change, we can say with high confidence that such events are more likely to occur. Indeed, the MCA warns that hotter, drier summers are becoming the new norm even while rainfall is expected to increase the rest of the year.

Similarly, warmer-than-usual oceans and increased evaporation supercharged the hurricanes that battered America’s southern coasts. Ocean temperatures naturally fluctuate over time, but it doesn’t take a super-sleuth to connect the dots: 2017 is on track to join 2014-2016 as the hottest four years in global records.

While scientists continue to argue about critical details, such as the rate of sea level rise, there is an international consensus that emission of heat-trapping gases will continue to fuel the warming trend.

It’s time to discard the mistaken notion that physics is a political ideology. This attitude has contributed to a spiral of silence in which most Americans are concerned about climate change but few dare discuss it with friends and family. But discuss it we must; otherwise it will roll over us unprepared.

As Tristan Scott reported last week in the Beacon, Montana’s agricultural leaders are at the table. “The Montana Climate Assessment offers the ranching community valuable insight into recent and future climate variability,” said Errol Rice, executive vice president of the Montana Stockgrowers Association.

The premise of Climate Smart Glacier Country is that many Flathead County residents also are ready to talk about this. We believe the best way to have this discussion is to focus on local solutions. We can conserve energy and save money. A clear-eyed understanding of climate trends and projections will help us build resilient communities and businesses.

Flathead farmers, foresters and water experts will join the state’s top climate scientists at the Climate Science Day forum Oct. 16 at FVCC, 1-4 p.m. At 7 p.m. Glacier Superintendent Jeff Mow will discuss his takeaways from the Montana Climate Assessment in a talk entitled, “Fire and Ice: Are Extreme Conditions the New Normal in Glacier National Park?”

On Nov. 8, hunters, anglers and snow enthusiasts will tackle the issue at the O’Shaughnessy Center in Whitefish at 7 p.m. And on Nov. 16, local clean energy businesses will join a UM researcher to explore the positive economic and social impacts of Montana’s transition to a clean energy economy. That will be at 7 p.m. at the Cedar Creek Lodge in Columbia Falls.

I don’t always agree with Sen. Steve Daines, but he said something recently that nails it. Global warming is happening, he said, and human activity is clearly a contributing factor. That debate is over. “The question is what then should we do,” he told a statewide audience. I couldn’t agree more strongly. Now let’s have that conversation.

Steve Thompson, Whitefish
Chair, Climate Smart Glacier Country

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