By Eliot Thompson
Climate change is frequently thought of and framed as a problem for the future and something to be avoided; however, we are already experiencing climate change. Even if the federal government begins to meaningfully address climate change in 2021, the climate will continue to change, and its impacts will be felt everywhere, including in Missoula County. In Missoula, climate changes are likely to include reduced low elevation snowpack, earlier spring snowmelt, more frequent and intense droughts and wildfires, and impacts to agriculture and recreation.
In order to adapt to current and future climate change and mitigate climate impacts to the natural environment, human health, and the local economy, Missoula County has partnered with the City of Missoula and Climate Smart Missoula to lead a county-wide effort to better understand our greatest vulnerabilities in the face of climate change and to develop a coordinated plan to prepare our county for the changes we are facing. This approximately 18-month resiliency planning process began last summer during my first service term and has resulted in two stakeholder workshops that each exceeded 100 participants.
This isn’t the first time climate adaptation has been considered in Missoula, so instead of reinventing a wheel (or multiple wheels), we decided to build on all the previous efforts in a comprehensive and inclusive manner. To do that we brought in local stakeholders representing multiple sectors to identify vulnerabilities in a workshop last December. Between the short, overcast wintry day and the climate equivalent of evaluating all your physical flaws and imperfections in a full-length mirror, it was kind of a bummer. We took all that data and created a vulnerability assessment and shared that with the local community. After getting feedback from the community, we were ready to start problem solving.
Fast forward to May 31st: we gathered stakeholders, threw them into some well-crafted cross-sector groups, rolled up our sleeves, received a wonderfully plant-based catered lunch courtesy of the University of Montana, and got to work. With dozens of goals and action items identified and gathered, we’re now in the process of transcribing the day’s deets and then creating the first draft of a resiliency plan by the end of the summer. So, if I’m lucky, maybe my last blog post will be about the final plan.