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In stark and unequivocal language, the fourth National Climate Assessment – released the day after Thanksgiving – reminded Americans that climate change is here, is caused by human activity, and will cost us plenty.

Those costs will include infrastructure damage from wildfires and extreme weather, rising prices for food and insurance, depressed real estate values, increased health problems, premature deaths, and threats to national security and global trade.

Some of these costs are unavoidable by now. Still, we have reason to be hopeful. Because we know the cause of climate change, we have the power to reduce and even reverse the actions that created these threats.

Great challenges present great opportunities, and we are harnessing those opportunities in Montana, right now.

As chair of the Northern Plains Resource Council, I see solutions happening here at home, quite literally. Northern Plains’ office – Home on the Range – is a “green building.” Home on the Range is powered by solar arrays, has recycled building materials throughout, is fitted with top-tier insulation, and meets the highest certification standard for energy-efficiency.

Given that buildings account for much of the world’s energy use (roughly 30 percent) and carbon pollution (about 25 percent), we want to give other Montana businesses and organizations the opportunity to be part of the climate solution, all while saving money, building our economy, and enjoying a more comfortable physical environment.

That’s why we’ll be making a case in the 2019 legislature for innovative programs allowing commercial property owners to affordably secure private funds for energy-efficiency upgrades. A clean energy future in Montana should be affordable and accessible to all.

We’ll be working to enable Commercial Property-Assessed Clean Energy in Montana (as 33 other states have done.) C-PACE will allow Montana’s commercial properties to make meaningful energy efficiency, renewable energy, and water conservation upgrades. The model we propose has been used for decades to fund things like sidewalks, streetlights, and parks (though C-PACE is completely voluntary for individual property owners.) We know this works. Clean energy upgrades will save Montanans money, create jobs, and help revitalize local economies.

Speaking of local economies, we recently helped launch the Yellowstone Valley Food Hub. The Food Hub allows residents of the Billings area to buy healthy, local food produced by their neighbors. Local, independent farmers and ranchers have dramatically smaller carbon footprints than corporate factory farms.

Northern Plains members are also working to bring greater awareness to soil health. Healthier soils are not only more productive for growing (which means fewer resources used), but they can also make land more drought-resistant and even capture carbon from the air and sequester it in the soil. This is just one of many ways that rural communities will be part of the climate solution.

More than 400,000 Montanans get their electricity from rural electric cooperatives. A handful of Montana’s rural electric cooperatives are working toward a smarter, cleaner energy future. Co-ops like Flathead, Beartooth, Missoula, Ravalli, and Fergus Electric are opening doors to clean energy. These innovations bring multiple long-term benefits: sustainable jobs, lower energy bills, reduced energy loads, greater energy independence, and keeping more dollars in local communities.

Some politicians say it’s too expensive to do anything about climate change. But the cost of taking action is a trifle compared to the cost of doing nothing.

And there’s much we can do! I’m hopeful for the future even as I understand the real threats our changing climate presents.

Together, we can do this. Together, we can keep Montana a great place to work and live for generations to come.

But doing nothing is no longer an option.

Becky Mitchell is the chair of the Northern Plains Resource Council, a grassroots conservation and family agriculture group that organizes Montanans to protect our water quality, family farms and ranches, and unique quality of life.

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