September snowstorm? Check. October snowstorm? Check. According to the 2017 Montana Climate Assessment, Montana will warm by about 10 degrees Fahrenheit by the end of the century. Does this year’s early winter weather undermine that conclusion?
No. Climate and weather are related, but different. Climate is weather aggregated over time. Moreover, climate change means more extreme weather of all stripes, including cold snaps and blizzards. Recent studies have shown that, as Arctic temperatures warm, the jet stream brings cold air farther south.
Instead of taking the cold weather as a sign to relax about climate change, we should take it as another urgent warning of what is to come: water shortfalls, wildfires, and volatility for farmers.
Another thing: Montanans are good at anticipating and readying for unpredictable weather. That farsightedness and pragmatism can also make us leaders on climate action.
I have learned a lot about preparedness from my sons’ teachers, who are forever sending home reminders about the weather du jour. Even in summertime, they were planting a seed to “please send snowsuits, mittens, boots, and hats every day during winter.” They love the children and respect the power of the weather, so they are persistent.
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We cannot assume that the Earth will be lenient. I remember the hailstorm that defeated my family on last summer’s backpacking trip. Blueberry-sized hailstones pelted us on the head as I contorted to stretch a too-small tarp over myself and my screaming kids.
Meanwhile, my husband wrangled up the tent to shelter us. Suddenly, rain poured down, drenching the tent, inside and out. When the rain slowed, my two-year-old’s folded-up pants drooped with hailstones, and his socks were soaked where the poncho had flagged.
As we jolted back down the trail towards home, I held my damp, warm, eerily still two-year-old inside my jacket. I talked to him and stroked his hair, but he wouldn’t meet my eyes, as if he might never forgive me.
Greta Thunberg recently told world leaders, “If you choose to fail us, we will never forgive you.” Let us not choose to fail our children.
Leaders: Take a page from the playbook of our state’s schoolteachers. If you lead with commitment to our children, with foresight, and with businesslike action, you will be on the right side of history. If you lead with blind faith in the leniency of the Earth, you will deserve the next generations’ disgust.