Quantifications of carbon dioxide emissions can seem nebulous. So University of Montana professor Robin Saha and his team of researchers framed the 11,540 tons of CO2e (carbon dioxide equivalents) Missoula's municipal operations emitted in FY 2008 in a way that figured to better resonate with Missoulians: It's equivalent to the weight of nearly 7,500 Subaru Outback Wagons stretched bumper-to-bumper from downtown Missoula to Lolo and back.
Last week, Saha, of UM's Environmental Studies Department, presented to Mayor John Engen and Missoula City Council a two-years-in-the-making, 177-page report on Missoula's municipal greenhouse gas emissions between 2003 and 2008. It examines energy use, costs and associated greenhouse gas emissions from municipal operations and makes recommendations to the city for reducing its carbon footprint.
The study, prepared by students, found that the city's municipal emissions increased 46 percent between FY 2003 and FY 2008, an average annual rise of 9.3 percent.
The surge can be attributed to all major sectors, including wastewater treatment, buildings, municipal fleet, employee commuting and lighting. It's been accompanied by even steeper increases in energy costs: When adjusting for inflation, the city's total energy bill spiked from $341,010 in 2003 to $1,278,428 in 2008—an increase of 274 percent. The report calls both the emissions and their fiscal impacts unsustainable.
"Energy conservation and fiscal responsibility are mutually beneficial civic goals," says Saha. "How often can you get win-win situations like this? To me it's a no-brainer. The difficult part is that it does take an investment."
The report details potential emission reduction strategies and recommendations. At the top of the list is the formation of a task force to develop a climate action plan, a comprehensive approach to reducing emissions across sectors and departments.
How the city will incorporate the report's findings, if at all, remains unclear. Councilman Bob Jaffe, for one, questions the validity of the report comparing Missoula to other Montana cities, some of which haven't, for example, modernized their wastewater treatment facilities as Missoula recently did, a significant contributor to the city's growing carbon footprint.