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MT Town Shows How to Frame Climate Change in Rural America


Monday, September 16, 2019   

WHITEFISH, Mont. – Whitefish has become a model for how rural towns can adapt to the effects of climate change.

The jumpstart for the northwestern Montana town was the Resilience Dialogues in 2017, which partly led the city to produce its Climate Action Plan in 2018.

Steve Thompson, the plan’s former project manager, says the dialogues helped local leaders outline the issue with help from experts around the globe.

He says it also provided a valuable lesson about how to talk about this issue in rural, more conservative communities.

"There's a lot of people that are interested in being part of the solution,” he states. “They're not interested in just having big picture discussions about climate change, but they're willing to talk about climate change and they're not denying climate change if the frame is what we can do locally to be part of the solution."

A report just out from the American Association for the Advancement of Sciences highlights the Flathead Valley town's climate action work and the role Resilience Dialogues played.

Thompson says the Whitefish Climate Action Plan is a roadmap to resilience.

By 2025, the town aims to reduce emissions by 26% below 2016 levels through a solar farm, energy efficient buildings, transitioning to electric vehicles and other initiatives.

Whitefish also is putting measures in place to protect the town against its greatest threat – wildfires – through fire safety councils and collaboration with regional landowners.

Rachel Jacobson is senior program manager for the American Society of Adaptation Professionals, which helped facilitate the Resilience Dialogues. She says one key to the program is connecting communities that face the same risks.

"Although each community is special, each community is unique, helping people to understand that for every challenge you're facing with respect to climate change, there is most likely someone out there who's experienced something similar and that you can learn from," she states.

Thompson says he sees amazing climate action going on in big cities and thinks rural communities should figure out their own way to be part of the climate change conversation, too.

"Rural America is actually being impacted probably more dramatically just because this is where the land is, this is where the water is,” he stresses. “And we need to be at the table, but we need to be smart about how we engage rural America."

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