Conrad Anker

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On Sept. 4, 2020, the Bridger Foothills, one of our favorite places to hike, caught fire. Caused by a lightning strike, the resulting blaze eventually consumed 7,000 acres and destroyed dozens of structures. This year’s fire season started even earlier, with June’s “heat dome” pulling moisture from the earth, leaving the remaining vegetation dry as tinder. So far, fires two states away have filled the valley with eye-stinging air quality, keeping us from climbing and hiking outdoors. All summer, we couldn’t see the Bridger Range and anything that involved breathing outside required us to debate the wisdom of subjecting our lungs to unhealthy levels of smoke.

We know that our winters are shorter and our summers are hotter and drier, increasing the frequency and severity of wildfires. This affects outdoor recreation here in Montana: increased temperatures warm the streams where we fish, resulting in “hoot owl” fishing restrictions that limit the hours and time anglers can fish. If life seems hotter, your observation is backed by data: the most recent report by the UN’s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) says that a changing climate is upon us and that we only have a small window of time to avoid the worst effects of climate change. To save our lifestyles and livelihoods, we need Montana’s congressional delegation to support climate-forward policies.

The bipartisan infrastructure legislation recently passed by the Senate and championed by Sen. Tester is a significant investment in Montana’s roads ($2.82 billion over five years), bridges ($225 million in repair funds) and airports ($144 million). It will also bring high-speed broadband connection to rural communities, making education accessible to all and allowing small businesses to compete in larger markets. But the investments in infrastructure only start to touch on climate solutions. This fall’s budget reconciliation process is a critical opportunity to make the meaningful investments in addressing climate that this moment demands, including: upgrading the electrical grid to run on renewable energy, incentivizing the purchase of electric vehicles and building out charging infrastructure, ending fossil fuel subsidies, and implementing a sensible price on carbon emissions that will help pay for it all. Perhaps most importantly, it’s an opportunity to employ and train workers in renewable energy, which will ensure a just transition for all of Montana’s workers while offering real solutions for lowering our carbon emissions.

There is a limited amount of carbon we can emit before life will become untenable due to climate change. This is known as our remaining “carbon budget,” which we will expend far before there is no more oil or coal to burn. There is a very real chance the world 200 years from today will not be able to sustain humanity as we know it, let alone provide opportunities for us to comfortably recreate outdoors.

Acting on climate is the first step to ensuring the well-being of future generations, and I commend Sen. Tester for working across the aisle to move the infrastructure legislation forward; his diligence is reflected in the 69-30 vote for the bill. Now we need his continued climate leadership, along with support from every Montana representative to ensure that climate forward policies and programs are prioritized in the budget reconciliation process.

The cost of climate inaction greatly exceeds the cost of investing in forward-looking solutions, and when seen through this lens, the price of climate-friendly policies is a small price to pay to ensure we have a livable future. Sens. Daines and Tester, making our electric grid more resilient, investing in renewable energy technologies, incentivizing the purchase of electric vehicles by offering tax rebates and building charging stations, ending fossil fuel subsidies are all necessary to ensure we leave a livable planet for future generations, while implementing a carbon pricing program can raise funds to pay for other climate policies, offsetting the total cost of climate action.

We live in Montana for the high quality of life that’s connected to the outdoors, and this fall you have a unique opportunity to both contribute to climate solutions, while creating new, good jobs and protecting Montana’s $7.1 billion outdoor economy. I ask that you think of the 98% of Montanans who say outdoor recreation is important to their quality of life when it comes time to support climate provisions during the budget reconciliation process. Our way of life is counting on you.

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Conrad Anker is a professional climber and a member of the Protect Our Winters Athlete Alliance. He lives in Bozeman.

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