Unite Behind the Science: A Guide for Families

Families plan for the future. But how do you plan for a future that includes the climate crisis?

It’s a painful time to be thinking about the future, our children’s future, and realizing that our plans and our hopes and dreams for them will very likely face huge challenges on a rapidly warming planet.

Most of us would rather not think about it, and that is completely understandable. After all, the problem is so immense. “Why try?” we lament, “Isn’t the planet going to warm no matter what we do?”

The reality is: We have enormous challenges ahead of us. Montana, for example, is a hot spot is the climate crisis, and it is going to warm no matter what we do, but HOW MUCH it warms—along with the rest of our world—is dependent on our actions now to eliminate global warming pollution (carbon dioxide, methane, etc) as quickly as possible.

To prepare for our future, and act in our family’s best interests, first means coming to terms with the science, really accepting it at a core level so that you can act from an informed, reality-based place.

This is also painful, and requires some space for grief and sadness because we are going to lose a lot—of our natural world, and our ways of life. But HOW MUCH we lose is dependent on our actions now, so living in truth about the issue, and making choices from that place is critical.

The science shows us the gravity of the climate crisis. While it’s painful to face it, once we do, it is also the place for us to unite.

Unite Behind the Science

Here is what you need to know to live in truth about the climate crisis:

1 – The Basic Science of Global Warming

The basic science of global warming has been know since the late 1800s. Here it is in a nutshell, along with a short explanatory video below.

Greenhouse Effect Illustration
Source: National Park Service

Energy comes to Earth from the Sun in the form of light.

Some of that energy is absorbed by Earth and some is radiated back out away in the form of heat.

A portion of the radiated heat escapes back to space, and some of it is trapped by (what used to be) the thin shell of our atmosphere—this has been a good thing because that heat helps make our planet habitable by keeping it in a livable temperature range.

But, because we have been dumping huge amounts of global warming gases into the atmosphere at such a high rate for so long, the thin shell around our planet is thickening and, as a result, trapping more heat. Consequently our planet is warming at an unprecedented rate.

Watch this video for a great visual explanation of the Greenhouse Effect and impacts of greenhouse gases:

2 – The Climate is Already in Crisis

In the last year, scientists have stepped up the urgency of their warnings to humanity. Last October the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) issued a special report on the impacts of warming to 1.5 C (and beyond) and urged that we must change course dramatically—reducing emissions by 45% by 2030 and achieving net zero emissions by 2050—or we could face immense suffering on a global scale, and eventually, an unlivable future. Vox and the New York Times broke down the report very well—read their coverage for a quick dive into the important points.

“As expected, the report doesn’t pull any punches: Staying at or below 1.5°C requires slashing global greenhouse gas emissions 45 percent below 2010 levels by 2030 and reaching net zero by 2050.

“Meeting this goal demands extraordinary transitions in transportation; in energy, land, and building infrastructure; and in industrial systems. It means reducing our current coal consumption by one-third. It also demands a vast scale-up of emerging technologies, such as those that remove carbon dioxide directly from the air. – Vox, “Report: we have just 12 years to limit devastating global warming”, October 8, 2019

To reinforce their urgency, it’s useful to visualize just how much the planet has warmed already. We can see the startling rise in temperatures in a global context in this simple, 37-second animation, which shows global temperature anomalies from 1880 through 2017.

The impact of this global temperature increase is visible everywhere from huge increases in extreme weather events across the globe, to changing migration patterns of animals, sea level rise, record flooding, and more wildfire. California is in the midst of a nightmare fire season with hundreds of fires burning across the state, and hurricane-strength winds to fuel them. Pacific Gas & Electric (PG&E) also has implemented rolling black outs meant to prevent more fires, creating more stress for families and communities across the state.

In 2017, Montana experienced one of its worse fire seasons, costing the state $62 million in fire suppression triggering state budget cuts for essentials services of $50 million in order for the state to pay its bills. Other impacts included the following:

  • The fires reduced Montana’s tourist visitations by 400,000 visitors.

  • Montana lost $240 million in our recreational economy.

  • Meteorologists coined a new phrase, “flash draught,” to describe 2017’s normal winter and spring precipitation and then a devastating dry-out of forests and grain fields.

  • Nearly a million acres of barley in Montana’s Golden Triangle worth $240 million shriveled when the rain stopped and the 95-degree days became relentless.

In Montana, we are a hotspot for climate change.

In Montana, annual average temperatures have risen across the state since 1950, increasing between 2.0-3.0°F (1.1-1.7°C). We’ve warmed more than the global average, and it’s predicted that we will continue to warm more quickly than the global average (Montana Climate Assessment, 2017). The northern part of our state will likely be hottest of all, which bodes very poorly for our important agricultural producers on the Hi-Line and their families—not to mention the people who depend on their products for food (Havre Herald, Oct. 8, 2019).

According to the Montana Climate Assessment, depending on emissions scenarios, “by mid century, Montana temperatures are projected to increase by approximately 4.5-6.0°F (2.5-3.3°C), and by the end-of century, Montana temperatures are projected to increase 5.6-9.8°F (3.1-5.4°C)”

Change in Annual Average Daily Maximum Temperature
Source: Montana Climate Assessment, 2017

While Montanans cannot solve the climate crisis alone, we can do our part, and doing our part is something we have experience with as a state, and a nation. Americans excel at coming together for the common good—we did it during the Depression, implementing far-reaching reforms and programs to help pull the nation out of the mire; and we did it during World War II. In our state, we help our neighbors. If there is a fire or flood, we bring food and water, and roll up our sleeves. We’re tough, creative, and steadfast, and we should lead on solving this problem.

3 – We Need to Implement Solutions as Rapidly as Possible

We have the solutions we need to solve this problem, and according to the consensus science, we must reduced global emissions by 45% by 2030, and achieve zero emissions by 2050 to have a chance of avoiding the worst impacts of the climate crisis.

We can’t reverse global warming, but we can impact how much the planet warms—which means big differences in how livable our future will be.

“The report also shows there’s no avoiding the costs of climate change; we either invest now to clamp down on greenhouse gases, or we pay down the line through property damage and lost lives. The additional sea level rise of going from 1.5°C to 2°C would put another 10 million people at risk, for example.” – Vox, “Report: we have just 12 years to limit devastating global warming”, October 8, 2019

In the West, our wildfire season is now 100 days longer than it was in the 1970s. What will it look like mid-century if Montana temperatures rise 6.0°F? Or we approach 9.8°F warmer on average at the end of the Century?

How will the health of our family, friends, and neighbors be impacted as wildfires become even worse? How will greater temperatures increases impact the wildlife and rivers we love? Montana’s agricultural production? Our beloved outdoor recreation time for camping, hunting, skiing, and more?

We don’t have time to wait. As Montanans, we must unite behind the science, and work together to do our part to solve this crisis.

Live in Truth

If you accept the science on a deep level, it changes your life, and your perspective on what’s important and what’s needed to plan for the future.

What does it mean to live in the truth of the climate crisis?

It means to focus very sharply on this crisis and what’s required of us at this moment:

  • Make civic action a top priority in our lives.

  • Build social connections in our communities, across all differences—fixing the climate crisis means fixing our community crisis.

  • Move completely into solutions thinking, leaving ideology at the door—we must implement solutions based on fact—ideology is a privileged past-time—we must let it go.

Like a barn raising or piling up sandbags before a flood, we are called to gather our neighbors, bring food and water, and get to work. We might not agree on everything but we can agree we will have nothing if we don’t solve this problem. A recent report on Democrat and Republican youth shows that when it comes to climate, their differences disappear—this is the future of politics.

Three Practices for Taking Action and Creating Hope

1 – Use your choice: Make choices in line with your values: What you eat, how you travel, and where you shop. But don’t lose sight of the need for large-scale change—we need to transform our systems including our global economy: energy, transportation, agriculture, and more.

2 – Use your voice: Talk about the climate crisis. Sharing your concern about the climate crisis in conversation is important. Tell the story about why you care, why you are concerned—speak from your heart and approach each conversation with compassion. Keep in mind that most everyone is concerned for their family and acting in what they think is their best interest. In Montana, you can host a Community Climate Conversation. Learn more and sign up.

Talk about climate change in age-appropriate ways with your children:

  • Middle-schoolers and high schoolers typically have a strong awareness of the issue, but may need help with the facts (use the tools above as a starting point). If your older children want to join the Friday strikes with students around the world, support them and consider joining them.

  • For young children, a deep dive into a climate discussion is not really age appropriate. Instead help them develop a love of nature and an understanding of natural systems, and how these systems support. life for us all. To introduce that there is a problem with our climate, you could share this basic truth: “Our climate is changing because of global warming emissions from cars, factories, and other things, and lots of adults are working to solve the problem.”

In your work and community life, consider where you could lead on climate. How could you lead in your faith community, in your business or field of work? In Australia, engineers are leading by signing a commitment to not work on fossil-fuel projects.

3 – Use your vote: This means showing up to support system-wide change in a variety of ways:

  • Vote for candidates who want serious climate action. Elections matter. We need representation that will act in our best interests.

  • Show your support by joining community rallies (it makes a difference when you “vote” with your presence, and help give visibility to the issue).

  • Use your personal climate story as an introduction when you write and call your representatives. Tell them how you plan to vote!

  • Support organizations working to address the climate crisis. Vote with your wallet by supporting important effective work.

  • Host a Community Climate Conversation or join a Fridays for Action working group in Montana and help us move the dial on climate.

If you appreciate an independent voice holding Montana politicians accountable and informing voters, and you can throw a few dollars a month our way, we would certainly appreciate it.

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About the author

Winona Bateman

Winona Bateman is a concerned Montana voter, founder of Montana group Families for a Livable Climate, wife, and mother to Ellis, who she hopes has a livable future.


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  • You are talking about mankind changing the weather.

    You really think we can? Wouldn’t it be nice to be able to have a longer growing season in Montana, so I can have ripe tomato’s on the vine as early as Garnavillo, Iowa does?

    Can we make that happen?

    How about some rain in the desert? I bet it would bloom again, just like it did 65 million years ago when the equator was across the USA.

    Global warming/cooling is part of an unstoppable cycle that we cannot change.

    There will be another ice age.

    And FYI – it was Global Warming that ended the last ice age. There were no cars, jets, or factories, it ended itself.

      • So is it your opinion that the last Ice Age wasn’t ended by global warming?

        In the 8th grade we packed a bus, and took a field trip to southern Minnesota, and saw the rocky line where the glacier stopped before it melted. The Professor with us told us the ice was 5,000 feet thick over the Great Lakes during that time.

        It all melted.

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