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Sara Blessing was struggling with depression over global warming, until she found the Sunrise Movement.

By joining the national movement of young people advocating political action on climate change, the 22-year-old said, it gave her a way to channel her passion and “not feel so helpless.”

“I was really wanting to save my future and that of everyone my age and younger,” she said. “It’s our future, and it’s rapidly disappearing on us.”

Blessing was one of the lead organizers of a rally and march through Bozeman on Sept. 20, when hundreds turned out despite a freezing rain, carrying umbrellas and homemade protest signs to join the Global Climate Strike.

The international Global Climate Strike brought out huge crowds dominated by young people, from New York to London, Berlin to Nairobi, Mumbai to Melbourne.

“We march today in solidarity with young people around the world who recognize our future is not just at risk but is disintegrating before our eyes,” Blessing told the Bozeman crowd at Cooper Park. “We that have the most to lose demand a livable planet. This is possible. Change is possible.”

Montana State University and Bozeman High School students, middle school kids and some children as young as 5 or 6 spoke at the rally.

Marches and rallies in Bozeman, Missoula, Helena and Billings were the most visible examples of grassroots efforts by Montanans seeking climate action. They see the federal government dismissing the problem and pulling out of the international Paris Agreement to limit greenhouse gases.

The Global Climate Strike grew out of a movement inspired by 16-year-old Swedish teenager Greta Thunberg, who began skipping school to stage one-person protests outside her country’s Parliament.

Critics have dismissed global warming as “the greatest hoax ever perpetrated on the American people,” and argued it’s a natural event not caused by humans, and that it’s not dangerous and possibly beneficial.

Blessing, born and raised in Bozeman and recently graduated from Montana State University in Earth sciences and physical geography, believes the climate scientists. She plans to keep organizing.

“This is just the beginning,” she said days after the march.

“I’m still scared, to be honest, that not enough will get done to save a livable future,” Blessing said. “It feels really good to be participating in the movement. I want to be able to look back and know I did everything I could.”

Green New Deal

In June about 30 people, most in their 20s and 30s, gathered at the Bozeman Public Library community meeting room to talk about climate change, the Sunrise Movement and its proposed solution — the Green New Deal.

“Our main goal is to stop the climate crisis, and make sure we leave no one behind in the process,” Blessing said.

The Green New Deal, she said, rather than offering detailed legislation, sets broad goals – a 10-year plan to get America to use 100% clean energy by 2030.

Supporters believe that can be done while creating millions of good-paying jobs, guaranteeing everyone a living-wage job, and finding alternatives for communities that historically relied on fossil fuels.

The idea has been championed in Congress by young progressive Democrats like Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez. It has been rejected by conservatives as radical, threatening economic ruin to America’s middle class and having zero chance of passing.

Greg Findley, co-leader of the Bozeman Sunrise meeting, said a lot of climate change solutions sound painful, that people would have to tighten their belts and give up things they enjoy, like flying.

“Let’s solve this crisis, like we did in World War II and the Depression, and turn it into something great,” Findley said. When President John Kennedy set a goal of going to the moon, he said, we didn’t know how to get there, but people figured it out.

One man commented that by lumping health care for all and other liberal ideas onto the Green New Deal, advocates were making it a harder pill to swallow for many.

Opponents contend the Green New Deal would cost a lot of money, Findley said. He argued that “climate catastrophes,” like the wildfires that wiped out the town of Paradise, California, are already costing America billions.

Findley contended the technology exists to get to 100% clean energy, using wind, solar and water power and a more efficient “smart” electrical grid.

If nothing is done to change carbon emissions, scientists predict Montana could be 4 to 6 degrees warmer by mid-century and 10 degrees warmer by the end of the century.

Findley, 57, a father of two and owner of Detour, an adventure tourism company, wrote a fiction story for High Country News imagining Bozeman’s apocryphal future in the year 2044 if the Green New Deal fails and global warming isn’t halted.

Bozeman would be 6 degrees warmer in this scenario. Bridger Bowl Ski Area would close after years of getting too little snow and losing money. Bozeman teens would have to serve two years in the military to protect the southern U.S. border from millions of starving and desperate migrants. Forest fires would double in size, trout and wildlife would be devastated.

“Think about Bozeman 10 degrees warmer,” Findley said. “This is a crisis we’re facing.”

Carbon tax

The century-old Willing Workers Ladies Aid group also hosted a summer meeting at Gallatin Gateway’s Community Center to talk about climate change and discuss a different grassroots solution.

The audience of about 30 had considerably more gray hair, and there were homemade cookies on the counter and a quilt being raffled in the back of the room.

MSU scientist Cathy Whitlock, a lead author of the Montana Climate Assessment that investigated the impact of climate change on Montana, gave her standard talk in her calm, soft-spoken way, showing slides to illustrate her points.

Montana has warmed 2.7 degrees since 1950, Whitlock said. We just experienced five of the warmest years on record. As someone who studied climate over thousands of years, Whitlock said, “This is unprecedented.”

Montana’s snowpack is melting earlier and becoming less reliable, stream flows are lower by the end of summer. Montana’s fire season, which was five months long in 1970, today lasts seven months.

“We’re going to see animals move to higher elevation,” she said. “We’re going to lose some species. We have to live with wildfire. People are building houses in really flammable forests.”

We have to reduce the greenhouse gases we put into the atmosphere, or learn to live with a warmer climate, she said. The future for her own granddaughter looks much warmer, Whitlock concluded, “and that’s not fair.”

When she finished, one audience member quipped, “Where’s the hopeful part?”

“This is the hopeful part – having you here is hopeful,” Whitlock said.

Two women from the Citizens Climate Lobby then stood up and offered their proposal for a climate solution — putting a tax on carbon.

By making it more expensive to burn fuels that put carbon pollution into the atmosphere, the free market would encourage people to reduce emissions and use cleaner energy.

So argued Kristen Walser, state coordinator for the nonprofit, nonpartisan Citizens Climate Lobby, and Anne Ready, co-leader of the Bozeman chapter, one of five in Montana and 500 nationwide.

To offset the expense of the carbon tax to households, money raised would be given back in a “dividend” payment to every person with a Social Security number.

The idea has been endorsed by more than 3,000 economists and four former Federal Reserve chairmen, the women said.

A bill, the Energy Innovation and Carbon Dividend Act, was introduced in the U.S. House in 2018 and again this year. This fall it had 67 sponsors, all Democrats but one.

“The market is a very, very powerful tool, because people make their decisions on price,” Ready said.

British Columbia has had a similar carbon tax system since 2008, they said, and England has cut emissions by 42% since adopting the idea in 2013.

If power companies saw coal was only going to get more expensive over the next 10 to 20 years, they said, that would influence them to find alternatives. They argued the carbon tax could cut emissions by 90 percent by 2050.

One woman in the audience sounded skeptical, saying it “sounds like a shell game.” She didn’t trust government bureaucrats to return dividends to the people.

After the speakers finished, audience members stood and chatted about climate change.

“We’ve got to do something,” said retiree Anne Banks. She wasn’t sure a carbon tax was the answer, but she clearly cares about the issue.

“I think we’re going to destroy the Earth,” Banks said.

“It’s real and it’s happening,” said Patti Steinmuller, a semi-retired teacher. “We can do something about it. And we have to, for future generations. Over 100 babies are born here each month here and they deserve a future that’s livable and hopeful.”

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Gail Schontzler can be reached at gails@dailychronicle.com or 406-582-2633. Follow her on Twitter @gailnews.

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