CCL’s Montana Stampede

Montana Stampede citizens climate lobby

Kristen Walser, Bill Barron, Kathy Masis, and Mary Fitzpatrick

CCL’s Montana Stampede

By Alex Amonette

From August 4 to August 7, CCL Regional Coordinator Bill Barron and State Coordinator Kristen Walser joined with group leaders and volunteers for a three-city “Montana Stampede.” In contrast to an uncontrolled stampede, this “herd” ran well-organized, impressive events in Billings, Helena, and Great Falls to build up Montanans’ support for the Carbon Fee and Dividend (CFD) policy to mitigate the real threat of our changing climate.

Montana offered a receptive audience for the topic of climate solutions because we’re currently experiencing some serious climate impacts. We’ve had extreme “flash droughts” that are fueling more wildfires and excessive heat and smoke. Those events have harmed farmers and ranchers, destroyed crops, and killed firefighters, cattle, and wildlife in Montana and other states. The state is currently under a fire and drought emergency.

Media outreach in Billings

On Friday in Billings, Bill and Kristen met with CCL volunteers Lori and Rob Byron, Mary Fitzpatrick, Donald Seibert and Billings CCL group leader Kathy Masis. “We’re experiencing the impacts of climate change, and we live in a conservative city,” Kathy said. “Lots of people in Eastern Montana are coal, gas, and petroleum supporters. Our chapter’s goal is to stretch and strengthen our organizing muscles in doing more outreach.”

To that end, the stampede’s first stop was an hour-long meeting with the editor of a major newspaper. To prepare, Kathy watched the webinar on meeting with editorial boards. Following the online tips, she prepared a binder for the editor containing copies of endorsements, editorials and op-eds, the Regional Economic Model Report, the Montana section in the Household Impacts Study, and the Carbon Fee and Dividend proposal.

At the meeting, Mary summarized the draft of the Montana Climate Assessment. “When I listened to Mary, my jaw dropped,” Kathy said. “Montana’s average temperature has increased 2-3 degrees F (1 degree C) since 1950, and it is predicted to rise to more than 9 degrees F by the end of the century.”

The media out reach didn’t stop there—later in the tour, Kristen was interviewed by reporter Taylor Chase on a local Fox News station!

Endorsement & training in Helena

Helena’s City Commission recently unanimously passed a resolution adopting the goals of the Paris Climate Accord. The co-leaders of CCL Helena, Bob Filipovich and John Hoffland, joined Kristen and Bill for an hour-long meeting with the City Commissioner who was the driving force behind that resolution. They met with him to discuss passing a resolution to endorse the CFD. John said, “The Commissioner was supportive. He really listened and asked us cogent questions.”

Then on Sunday afternoon, Bob, John, Bill and Kristen held a three-hour Climate Advocate Training for 19 people. “They were an amazing bunch of folks,” John said. “I am very inspired! We now feel we can set up Congressional meetings and do it ourselves.” He wasn’t alone in feeling energized and excited—many of the group met informally at a volunteer’s house and talked an additional three hours!

Agriculture connections in Great Falls

Bill and Kristen met with the Grain Growers Association’s Executive Vice President. Farmers have their entire livelihoods on the line, at risk of losing nearly 50% of their crop in one fell swoop due to the drought and fires. The director shared that farmers really do want to provide food to feed the world and hold that in their hearts, despite all their hardships.

Bill said, “The farmers want to know how the CFD will affect them? They can’t raise the price of grain, because the price on grains is driven globally, and they can’t just pass the rising costs of fuel and fertilizer on to the consumer.”

The focus on agriculture extended into a presentation at the First United Methodist Church. Rich Liebert, a cattle rancher and retired Army Colonel, and Ken Thornton, who helped put a solar roof on the church, organized the event. The audience was a group of 13, who showed up on a Monday night after the county fair, showing their commitment to this issue.

“Some ranchers vote red but secretly see ‘green,’” Rich said to the group. “They see that the climate is changing. Crops are three weeks ahead of schedule. Our creeks and springs are dry. With global warming, water evaporates off the warming oceans, changes the jet stream and precipitation comes down when you don’t need it and not when you do. I’ve been hauling water to cows the last two months. How can we grow crops and raise cattle with no water?”

Ken also shared that he had recently hiked into the Bob Marshall Wilderness, and the glacier that he had seen 40 years ago was gone! He told folks that the CFD is the best way to move forward on establishing renewables and energy efficiencies to reduce our carbon emissions and mitigate our changing climate.

Charging ahead

This tour has been a catalyst for more action in Montana, according to Kristen. “We got lots of suggestions for actions to take. It’s not what’s happened, but what is going to happen as a result of our stampede,” she said.

Billings group leader, Kathy, was also very inspired. “When I said goodbye to Bill, I was moved practically to tears,” she said. “I told him that listening to him had given me hope. He certainly exemplifies the CCL value about pushing your personal boundaries and connecting with people of all political persuasions. I feel proud of our volunteers, Kristen, and CCL.”

To those in CCL thinking of doing a similar tour, gallop over to Citizens’ Climate University for “CCL Roadshow: How to Tour Your State.”

Alex Amonette is a freelance technical and grant writer/editor, lives in cattle and sheep country, and raises vegetables and hay.