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Climate-change scientist headlines Northern Plains' 50th annual event in Billings

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Posted at 8:14 AM, Nov 18, 2021
and last updated 2021-11-18 10:14:14-05

The Northern Plains Resource Council, a grassroots conservation group based in Billings, is holding its 50th annual gathering this weekend, Nov. 19-20, focusing on ways to protect Montana’s water, family farms and ranches, and quality of life.

One often divisive subject that will be getting a lot of attention is climate change. Katharine Hayhoe, a climate scientist and author, is one of the keynote speakers for the online event.

“Climate change is no longer a distant issue only affecting people who live in the future or people who live over there. Climate change is affecting us right now where we live in Montana,” Hayhoe said Wednesday in an interview with MTN News.

She says you don’t need to look much harder than Montana’s devastating wildfire season to see evidence of that. It started earlier and it’s still going as the calendar nears Thanksgiving.

“That’s the difference between, with or without climate change. We see that our wildfires are burning a greater area. The season is longer. The wildfires are more intense. And it’s affecting us,” she says.

Much of the western United States has been mired in a drought for years—with warmer winters leading to less snowpack and tinderbox dry conditions.

Hayhoe says warmer winter temperatures are also leading to infestations of invasive insects that are killing trees and increasing fire risk.

“So typically, the winter would kill them off and you get a new generation in the spring. But now they are getting the new generation plus the parents and the grandparents. And those bark beetles are eating trees. So, when that wildfire comes along today there are many more trees that are dying or even dead, which means they are more likely to burn thanks to the bark beetles than there would have been 50 or 100 years ago,” says Hayhoe.

It’s a problem that Hayhoe only expects to get worse in the future, but she says there are solutions that can change that and can also bring new, clean jobs with them.

“We have to cut our carbon emissions. Invest in clean energy. Be much more efficient and less wasteful with the energy we use, but also invest in nature—restoring and protecting our forests and ecosystems, practicing smart agriculture, ensuring that we all have a safe place to live that we have the abundant water we need, that we can grow the food that we must for all of us together. And the only way we are going to get there is if we fix climate change first.”

The Texas Tech University professor has written several books on climate change. Her latest is titled, "Saving Us: A Climate Scientist’s Case for Hope and Healing in a Divided World."

“Climate change and climate solutions impact all of us. So, it’s time to get past that partisan divide and say we all want a better future for us and our kids, so what can do working together to ensure that happens,” she says.

Hayhoe will be one of two keynote speakers for the meeting. The other is Marshall Ganz, who studies leadership and social movements and worked with Cesar Chavez to organize farm workers in the 1960s. A number of other experts and panelists will also take part.

Members of the public are invited to attend the annual meeting, which will be broadcast on Zoom. Click here to learn more about the schedule and registration information.