State climatologist Kelsey Jencso says what folks are seeing this summer -- extreme fires, sudden droughts, snowpacks melting quickly -- may be a vision of Montana’s future.
“There’s growing evidence that these events are associated with increased warming and climate change,” he says.
And if this is what climate change looks like, it’s expensive.
The eastern half of the state is gripped by the most severe drought in the nation. Farmers there lost nearly $400 million dollars worth of crops last month, when compared to the previous July. That’s according to figures from the U.S. Forest Service. And the state’s wildfire season is costing Montanans more than a million dollars a day.
“This has been a difficult year," Democratic Governor Steve Bullock says. "And by some estimates our fire seasons are now about 78 days longer than they were two decades ago.”
He says he hopes this isn’t the new normal, but if it is, the state needs to face reality.
“To not acknowledge or deal with our changing climate in a responsible way is shortsighted and dangerous,” Bullock says.
He says the Montana Department of Natural Resources and Conservation is currently updating the state’s drought management plan. The last update was back in 1995. Bullock says coal-fired power plants will either play a smaller role in Montana’s energy future, or they’ll find a way to make it less greenhouse gas intensive through carbon sequestration.
“There’s no way you’re going to flip a switch tomorrow, or five years, and all of a sudden quit using coal or other fossil fuels for energy production," he says. "There’s no way you’re going to be able to do that in 15 or 20 years.”
At this point, capturing carbon emissions at coal-fired power plants adds significant costs to running them. The Trump Administration’s proposed budget cuts funding for research into carbon sequestration.
Montana’s first-ever climate assessment is slated for release next month.