We spent the weekend in Seattle, WA talking to law students at the University of Washington about climate change, and how they are seeing it affect their state. Washington state has been experiencing an incredibly dry year, which is strange for the Pacific Northwest where rain seems to be a daily occurrence. The consequences of these changes have been detrimental to the state’s forests, rivers, and ecosystems as a whole. One of the students sarcastically observed that “it is almost like the climate is changing.” These students are passionate about policy, and are working to figure out new and creative ways they can support laws that prevent environmental harm. After this pit stop in Seattle, it was off to Montana.
The past few days we have been Missoula and Bozeman learning about the local actions that groups are taking to address climate change within their community, in addition to us presenting to them about what is happening internationally. Both cities have climate action plans, and are trying to push the climate issue forward in a way that engages everyone in solving local challenges such as municipal growth, protecting the environment, building community, understanding rural vs urban concerns, and saving money as a nice bonus. The local programs that communities like these pursue have global impacts as they move the conversation on climate change forward, which helps national governments uphold their commitments to acting on climate.
For example, the University of Montana does not have extra land to build on that they can dedicate to parking lots. They know they have to get their students to campus, and need to create a transportation system that serves their students effectively. Therefore, they have implemented a no cost bus system and they are working with the city to create a more bicycle friendly community. The result, it saves students and the university money in the long run, it makes their campus more walkable and safe for pedestrians, and it lowers emissions.
In Bozeman similar quests are being taken by local groups and the city. The Bozeman Energy Project has been switching their streetlights to LEDs, which has cut energy usage significantly and has save the city quite a bit of money, they have been retrofitting buildings, and have been supporting businesses in energy audits to see where they can improve. Thus far 22 businesses have participated.
We also had the pleasure of meeting with two individuals that are leading the Transition Streets initiative in Bozeman. Bozeman is one of 15 cities that are participating in this initiative with the goal of expanding this idea throughout the rest of the country. The basic concept is to get neighbors to talk about how they can use less energy, conserve water, limit waste, increase consumption of local food, and rethink transportation. The overall goal in all of this being to reduce emissions while connecting communities. Some simple examples of how this can work is neighbors sharing what produce they grow in their backyards, carpooling, and running errands for one another while they are already out so it saves time and transportation costs.
In addition to connecting people, these two are connecting waste to fuel. They are taking used frying oil from restaurants and converting it to fuel that can be used to fuel the free public transportation, garbage trucks, and other city vehicles. They are also converting business heating systems to switch to this fuel instead of natural gas, which has saved one business $450/month. Pretty exciting stuff! These simple solutions are innovative, easy to adopt, save money, and utilize resources efficiently. What more can you ask for?