Montana is vulnerable to increasing heat, melting snowpack and glaciers, reduced water availability and wildfires
Montana’s climate is already changing. The state has warmed two degrees Fahrenheit in the last century. Montana recorded its all time wettest spring in 2014, which saw massive flooding and economic damage. The number of extreme weather events, including record rainfall and flooding in the Northern Great Plains, and prolonged drought and heatwaves in the south, are expected to both increase and become more severe as a result of global climate change. These impacts will impact Montana’s agriculture industry, harm human health and decrease ecosystem resiliency.
- Increasing temperatures: Montana and the rest of the Northern Great Plains currently experience an average of 159 days a year with temperatures below freezing. This number could drop to an average of just 79 days per year by 2100 as a result of global climate change, which could greatly impact agriculture and energy use. Extreme heat will increase in the Great Plains region. Days where the maximum temperature exceeds 95 degrees Fahrenheit in the Northern Plains are projected to double by mid-century. Rising temperatures, persistent drought and aquifer depletion could threaten the long-term sustainability of the great plains. The majority of land in the Great Plains is devoted to agriculture, producing $92 billion in products each year. This industry is expected to be heavily impacted by global warming, which could lead to lower crop yields and less economic productivity.
- Melting Snowpack and Glaciers: Snowpack and glaciers have been declining in Montana since the 1950s, reducing the reliability of surface water for cities, farmers and ecosystems. More than one thousand glaciers cover about 26 square miles of mountains in Montana and many are likely to disappear by 2030 if current warming continues. Reduced water availability combined with increasing temperatures threaten crops and animal agriculture in Montana.
- Wildfires: Climate change is exacerbating the ingredients that contribute to wildfires: heat, drought, and dead trees. These are expected to increase wildfires in Montana which can harm property, livelihoods and human health.
- Animals: The Montana hunting industry is already being affected by climate change, as elk and other wildlife are able to exist in areas and at elevations that would have previously been uninhabitable before the climate started warming. Climate change is also affecting local animal migrations, which can have a domino-like effect on local ecosystems.
- Adaptation: Montana has not developed a statewide climate adaptation plan.
Montana residents support clean energy and climate regulations
- According to the Yale Map Project on Climate Change Communication 66% of Montana residents recognize that global warming is happening. The project finds that 72% of residents support regulating carbon dioxide as a pollutant and 84% support funding research into renewable energy sources.
Montana’s history is in coal, and future is in wind
- Montana is one of the top states in the country for potential wind generation and can help Montana meet its renewable energy goals while creating economic development. Currently the state ranks 22nd in the nation for wind generation, with 695 MW of capacity installed. That’s enough to power nearly 200,000 homes.
- Montana ranks 38th in installed solar capacity, with 25 MW installed. The solar industry employs over 160 people across 43 companies across the value chain.
- Montana passed a renewable portfolio standard in 2005 which required utilities to generate 15% of their electricity sales from renewable sources by 2015. In 2015, 40.5% of net electricity generation came from renewable sources of energy, with over 30% coming from hydro.
- The Bakken and Three Forks formations in the Williston Basin of Montana and North Dakota are currently estimated to be capable of producing 7.4 billion barrels of oil.
- As of the end of 2015, Montana held nearly one-fourth of the nation’s demonstrated coal reserve base and was the sixth-largest coal-producing state. It produced 4.7% of U.S. coal in 2015 and distributed coal to seven other states.
- Montana has the second largest amount of land in farms, and the industrial sector, which includes agriculture, is the largest energy-consuming sector in the state.