In Montana, climate change brings drought, floods and smoke-related deaths
In Montana, climate change means drought in some places, record breaking floods in others, and wildfire seasons that burn hotter and last longer, according to a new federal climate report released last week.
The Fifth National Climate Assessment shows climate change is already affecting the mental and physical health of people living in the Northern Great Plains, which includes Montana.
“The impacts of air pollution, climate change, extreme weather events, all of that on people’s mental health, that was under-recognized in the past,” Dr. Rob Byron said.
Byron is a physician in Montana and one of the authors of the assessment. Montana has the highest proportion of premature deaths caused by wildfire smoke in the country.
The congressionally-mandated report is released every five years, but unlike its predecessors, this report focuses more on how climate change is affecting people’s health.
The assessment shows that for this region, more residents have livelihoods that depend on natural resources, making them vulnerable to climate-related weather changes.
“It’s one thing if we are in a smoke cloud and have a flare up of an asthma attack. It’s less understandable when the ranchers are suffering because this drought has been going on and then you get an extreme precipitation event and it runs off because the ground is so baked,” Byron said.
The report shows extreme weather events are happening more often and marginalized groups suffer even more of the effects.
Although the U.S. is not on track to meet current goals to reduce further warming, the assessment outlines measures that can be taken to get closer to those goals. Byron said he finds hope in climate solutions and that more people are aware of the climate crisis now than ever before.
“We need to talk about it. And I don't mean people involved in it. I mean everybody. That's how we normalize this and say there’s a problem. What can we do about it? Well there’s a lot we can do about it,” Byron said.
This report also includes, for the first time, an interactive online atlas anyone can use to understand how climate change is affecting where they live.
The U.S. Department of Agriculture updated its Plant Hardiness Zone map for the first time in over a decade. The changes show one effects of the warming climate.
The report projects a declining snowpack coupled with warmer winters could shorten the skiing season by 33 days in the next few decades. And it shows that big game hunting could decline by 25% by 2050.
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