The weather news, to state the obvious, is daunting. All you have to do is read the headlines, like this July 1 sub-headline from Yale Climate Connections: “It’s not hype or exaggeration to call the past week’s heat wave the most extreme in world weather records.”
Or this July 8 AP article: “The deadly heatwave that roasted the Pacific Northwest and western Canada was virtually impossible without human-caused climate change… a new quick scientific analysis found.”
This is both weather news and climate news. And though the headlines might be unnerving, we’ve known this was coming. For decades. The effects of the climate crisis are upon us.
We know some of you may want to stop reading now so as not to ruin the rest of your day with grim talk of the climate crisis. Please keep reading!
Yes, we know that our drier and hotter summers are bringing smokier and more intense wildfire seasons. Yes, we’re likely in for a long summer. (The National Interagency Fire Center is predicting above-average wildfire potential throughout our region.) But no, we shouldn’t give up.
The truth is, there are things we can do as a community to be resilient to these changes, and there are things we can do to stop the worst from happening.
As climate scientist Kim Cobb says, “Science tells us that it’s not too late, but we have to pull hard, every day, together, to make a difference…You don’t have to know where we’ll end up. You just have to know what path we’re on.”
While we need to work hard as a community to reduce carbon pollution and blunt the worst effects of climate change, we also need to prepare for the impacts that are already here. Last May, our City and County adopted Climate Ready Missoula, our community’s official effort to build a more equitable and climate resilient community and region, and that is the path we are on, together.
As two leaders of the plan, we know that we, collectively, have the ability to not only address the most significant and urgent risks we face, but to build a more just Missoula by proactively addressing those risks.
Talking about, working on, or even just thinking about climate change is likely to cause a stress response (are you a little clammy reading this?), but that doesn’t have to be a bad thing. Instead of the well-known “fight or flight,” what if we “tend and befriend”? What type of world could we build together if we looked out for those who are on the margins (tend) and relied on our social and professional networks to be more than the sum of our parts (befriend)?
In that spirit, a team of partners (Missoula City-County Health Department, Climate Smart Missoula, United Way of Missoula County, Missoula County Sustainability, and more*) have come together to launch Missoula’s first-ever Wildfire Smoke Ready Week July 12-18.
It is the implementation of Climate Ready Missoula in action. We’ve organized a week of outreach and events about the risks posed by wildfire smoke (yes, it is bad for you) and the simple strategies everyone can take to reduce their exposure and protect their health. Our goal is to make it as easy as possible for everyone in our community to stay safe when smoke fills our valley.
It will be a fun and informative week, and you may even find yourself humming this jingle! We hope you’ll join us:
- Monday, July 12 – City Club Presentation: It’s Too Hot! It’s Too Smoky!: How we’re addressing Missoula’s changing climate (11:30 – 1pm). Together with our colleague Diana Maneta (Missoula County’s Sustainability Program Manager), we’ll inspire you with climate adaptation and mitigation efforts, including what to do about wildfire smoke! Register at here.
- Wednesday, July 14 – Ask an Expert + Deep Breaths vs Smoked Out beer taste test! Hop over to Imagine Nation Brewing (5:30 – 7 pm) where some of your favorite elected officials will taste the beer of the future if we build climate resiliency vs the beer where we don’t! And you can ask the experts’ about how to create clean indoor air or whatever you need to know. Details here.
- Saturday July 17. Visit us at both Farmer’s Markets. Find a cadre of smoke-ready volunteers at both markets to show you DIY fan/filters, talk through both health risks, and help you prepare. A side note – we know our farmers have to be outside even if smoke appears, so we’re helping them understand the need for clean indoor air at night. Do buy plenty of veggies and thank them for sustaining us!
Everything you need to know about these events and more is at MontanaWildfireSmoke.org. On social media? Follow and share #WildfireSmokeReady.
Why this dedicated week and all the fuss? Wildfire smoke is the most significant source of air pollution in our area and it is a serious health threat. As air quality specialist with the Missoula City-County Health Department and our colleague Sarah Coefield says: “Wildfire smoke exacerbates asthma and COPD, increases the risk of heart attack and stroke, increases susceptibility to infectious respiratory diseases and increases hospitalizations and deaths. Children, the elderly, pregnant people, and people with heart or lung disease are most at risk. Even if you are not in a high-risk category, wildfire smoke is bad for you, and the longer you’re in it, the worse it gets.” Yuck.
Over the last few years, and especially since the catastrophic 2017 wildfire season, Sarah has worked with Climate Smart Missoula to figure out just what we can do to stay healthy when our health is threatened.
We’ve known for years that ‘pray for rain’ or ‘just leave town’ are not helpful or equitable strategies. Not everyone has the luxury of a 6-week vacation to somewhere with clear blue skies! We’ve also learned, via our research and that of others, that wildfire smoke makes its way indoors, and the old public health messaging of ‘just go inside and shut your doors and windows’ is no longer sufficient.
The good news is, staying safe is a matter of following some relatively simple and inexpensive steps.
We do recommend getting out of the smoke when it’s most severe (be sure to check the air quality levels and learn your own sensitivity to smoke – everyone is different). Once you’re inside, use portable air cleaners and/or efficient HVAC filters to clean indoor air and mitigate many of the risks that wildfire smoke poses.
MontanaWildfireSmoke.org has everything you need to know about which filters to buy, how to use them, as well as a slew of other resources. The Wildfire Smoke Ready team will also be sharing information on social media and radio stations across our community.
Finally, this is part 1 of a 2 part series on Wildfire Smoke and our community’s response – we’ll be back next week with more information and ideas about what you can do and how you can be part of a stronger community response so we can all be healthy.
Bottom line? Don’t delay. Get yourself a filter if you don’t have one, and check in on your friends and neighbors to ensure they too are smoke-ready.
We’re thankful to all of our partners in pulling this week off. It’s a big effort that’s commensurate with the need. We hope you’ll join us.
Amy Cilimburg is the executive director of Climate Smart Missoula and Caroline Lauer is the Climate Resilience Coordinator for Missoula County.
* Wildfire Smoke Ready Week is brought to you by Missoula City-County Health Department, Climate Smart Missoula, United Way of Missoula County, Missoula County Sustainability, Missoula County Office of Emergency Management, and Missoula County Fire Protection Association.
This Sustainable Missoula column is brought to you – via the Missoula Current – every week by Climate Smart Missoula and Home ReSource.
Here we offer ideas about sustainable ways to stay involved in our community. If you like these offerings, consider signing up for Climate Smart’s eNewsletter here. And sign up for the Home ReSource eNews via their homepage here.
Miles of Music July 10. The Montana Area Music Association and partners are hosting the 2nd annual free event this Saturday along the Milwaukee Trail, starting at the Madison Street underbridge at 2 pm and ending at the Orange Street underpass at 5 pm. Walk, skip, run, bike, or skate along the trail while being serenaded by these local musicians.
Reuse/Giveaway Event – July 11. Get items you no longer need into the hands of those who need them. Noon – 4 pm at 1221 Arthur (by UM), Msla. Donate items before event at same address. For more info or to volunteer email Jenny: firstname.lastname@example.org
It’s too hot! It’s too smoky! How we’re addressing Missoula’s changing climate– July 12, 11:30 – 1pm. Virtual. City Club presentation by Missoula County and Climate Smart Missoula. Details here.
Wildfire Smoke Ready Week – July 12-18. See here to learn more about how we can, together, prepare for and stay healthy when wildfire smoke comes our way.
Participate in Creative Reuse at Western Montana Fair- register by July 22. Home ReSource is heading up the Creative Reuse Division at the 2021 Western Montana Fair. Submit a masterpiece made out of reused materials to the Creative Reuse Division for display during the week of the fair (Aug. 11-15) for all to see – you might even win “Best in Show”! Head here for details on classes, divisions, and prizes. Click here to register. Don’t forget to make a stop at Home ReSource to pick up reuse materials!
Computer Recycling. July 19-24. Home ReSource is partnering with local e-waste recycler, Oreo’s Refining, to recycle laptops and computer towers for FREE for a limited time. Drop off at Home ReSource between July 19 and 24 during our open hours (9am-6pm). Email email@example.com with questions.
Fixit Clinics – July 17 & Aug. 21, 11am-3pm. Save the dates for upcoming Fixit Clinics, hosted by Home ReSource! Bring your broken items and work with skilled repair coaches to learn how to fix them. More information and sign ups here.
Sunday Streets – August 8. This annual Missoula open streets celebration is back – this time hosted by the Franklin to the Fort neighborhood! Walk, bike or bus on down! Noon – 3pm. Details here.
Bike to Barns tour – Aug. 14-Sept. 30. Explore local farms and flavors on a 15-mile bike tour through Missoula’s Orchard Homes and Target Range neighborhoods. Check back here for more info.
Spontaneous Construction – Sept 18th. Missoula’s festival of creative reinvention! Reuse. Compete. Create. Enjoy! More info and team registration here.
Missoula’s third annual Clean Energy Expo – Sept 25. Climate Smart Missoula and Montana Renewable Energy Association are back to hosting this premier event at Caras Park. Save the Date.
Missoula’s Farmers Markets. Eat local now through the early fall! The original Farmers Market at the north end of Higgins runs every Saturday 8am-12:30 – information here. The Clark Fork Market is now located at 101 Carousel Drive near Dragon Hallow, runs every Saturday 8am -1pm – information is here.
Materials donations to Home Resource keep the wheels of reuse spinning in our community; and remember that everything you need to know about what to do with your unwanted stuff is at www.zerobyfiftymissoula.com.
Find more local activities and events at Missoulaevents.net and on Montana Environmental Information Center’s Conservation Calendar. And you too can help organize events – here’s the 2021 Calendar of Environmental Awareness Days – month by month break down of world day campaigns.