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Category Archives: Education, Energy & the Environment

These are my editorial columns from the Bozeman Daily Chronicle in Bozeman, Montana. It is published every 3rd Friday.

Betting on the Future
The current economic climate has us, as citizens of Bozeman, focused on jobs. Jobs are an indication of a vibrant economy and a where we are as a community. Jobs, as economic metric, equate to growth, but moreover they mean stable families, happy people and a healthy community. Montana state legislators are continually looking to create new jobs and retain existing ones. Coupled with the goal of reducing government spending the 62nd legislative session has a pretty tall order. By my estimation, job creation requires an investment, from citizens, businesses and government.
As citizens we have the opportunity to make our will known that we support job creation at the ballot. The Elementary and High School Fund Levy on the 3rd of May is specifically an investment in our children and, by extension, about jobs. One may wonder, what is the connection between jobs and education?
Put simply, education creates ideas; ideas spur innovation and innovation is cornerstone to a growing economy. Our education system aims to create curious, disciplined and hard working citizens that plug into our economy. If we want to create jobs we need to accept that fact that we need to invest in the driver of jobs – our public school system. With this connection in mind we have no better example of than the Bozeman School District (BSD7).

In 2010 -11 BSD7 has led in a diversity of measures. The football won state – the first title in 93 years. The girl’s cross-country team has earned its fourth consecutive state title. The wrestlers wrangled the first state championship in 39 years and the students in automotive shop won the Ford/AAA Student Auto Skills Competition. It’s comforting to know these students will graduate and work on our vehicles, making life safer for all of us. There are 8 National Merit Finalists, an award bestowed upon the brightest and most promising students. Paul Anderson, who teaches biology at the high school, is Montana State teacher of the year and is one of four finalists for National Teacher of the Year. This is the first time since 1953 that a teacher from Montana has made it this far. Three BSD7 schools are state recognized Blue Ribbon Schools, a recognition that comes with dedication and perseverance.
This value to the community isn’t free. We have to believe in the service and quality of our education system and support it as such. The Elementary and High School General Fund Levies are this opportunity.
If these levies pass, our tax requirement would decrease. The school district will be retiring the temporary mill levy for Hyalite Elementary School, as it fulfilled its mission. If the levies do not pass, taxes would decrease slightly more. Either way we will see a decrease in tax. This small windfall needs to be reinvested into the education system. The current request, if approved, amounts to an overall decrease 72 cents per $100,000 of property value. With state school funding yet to be determined we need to approve the funding measure to ensure that our schools continue to be leaders in the state and in the nation.
Sound investments take time. Solid returns do not happen overnight. If we want to be a growing community education is a safe bet. Companies looking to relocate or expand often look at the value a community places on education. The recent comment by the former CEO of Intel to Arizona lawmakers on how de-funding education affects business development is a clear reminder that business needs an educated workforce. If we want to be a magnet for business development and the jobs that come with it, a vote for the school levies is the right decision.


In light of the GOP disbanding the Committee on Global Warming the following article is an example of a species trapped by climate change. The warming of our planet is a fact, an observation one backed by straight forward science. One may debate the cause as either anthropogenic or natural, yet the hard fact is the planet is warmer.

From the press release of John Boehner:

“We have pledged to save taxpayers’ money by reducing waste and duplication in Congress,” said Michael Steel, a spokesman for Rep. John Boehner, R-Ohio, who becomes speaker in January.

“The Select Committee on Global Warming was created by Democrats simply to provide political cover to pass their job-killing national energy tax. It is unnecessary, and taxpayers will not have to fund it in the 112th Congress,” Steel said.

Oh well. We’ll have to look to China and Germany for innovation and political will to address climate change.


The sun dips lower on the southern horizon till solstice on the 21st of December. Each day we loose two minutes of sunlight. The sun, low in the horizon, is less powerful and the reduced energy forces adaption upon all living things. Trees, now dormant, have shed their leaves preparing for the bite of winter. Birds, by and large, fly south on their annual migration for warmth and a place to raise their off spring. Bears endure by hibernating, burrowing in to stave off cold and hunger. As the ultimate tool users, we humans bundle up with tools sourced from the earth’s resources. From flight to hibernation to complex material systems each species has a unique way of adapting to seasons. How each of these species reacts to seasonal change is an indicator of future adaptability to a warmer climate.

The sun we loose in Montana is gained in the southern hemisphere. Summer is just around the corner on the planet’s coldest and driest continent, Antarctica. Winter ice is at a minimum and the long days set the biological clock in motion for the wildlife of the frozen continent. One denizen, the Adelie penguin, is a flightless bird that has evolved to its state in the absence of land-based predators and a rich marine environment. The waddling tuxedo like birds have adapted to seasonal change with a generous stores of fat. As humans we have an affinity for animals that resemble us. This anthropomorphic adulation has been popularized in film and zoos. The adelie, as all penguins, are adept swimmers. The krill and similar small marine organisms keep the birds healthy. Seals, orcas and two of the many animals that then feed on penguins. Whereas flighted birds fly for the seasons the Adelie’s adaptation involves fattening up before the onset of winter and huddling together.
The temperatures recorded on the Antarctic Peninsula have increased 9 degrees in the past 50 years. Warmer winters, with fewer freeze days, when combined with warmer waters result in less seasonal ice. Seasonal ice provides a home for the adelies and is at the source of their food. Algae and plankton grow on the underside of the translucent ice, which feed larval krill, which in turn are the food stores for the adelies. Is there a correlation between the shrinking ice and the adelie population? Steve Forrest, Research Associate with the Antarctic Site Inventory, is convinced warmer climates are affecting Adelie populations. He notes, “Lack of ice is driving Adelies on the Antarctic Peninsula to breeding extinction.” He has been studying adelie population on Peterman Island, and at about 20 other sites with Adelie penguins along the Antarctic Peninsula,for the past 15 years. Petermann Island populations have a recorded population loss of 57% since the 1980s. Each year the population declines 15 to 20%.
The result is, there will be no Adelie penguins breeding on the Peninsula in the next 20 years. In this changing and warmer climate, Adelies, adapted to ice and cold, are limited in their options. A raptor in the Rockies can fly from New Mexico to Alaska to find the right climate. The breeding grounds of penguins with nearby krill populations are fixed, and once they no longer serve the Adelie, the species faces extinction, trapped by climate change.

The temperature induced challenges facing penguins and polar bears are irrefutable indicators of a warming planet. Because of this heat, earth faces the steepest extinction rate in 65 million years. The species that survive this extinction will have to adapt quickly. For humans to survive we need to ramp our adaptation skills. We adapt with tools, efficiency and new technology. By focusing on how we can invent a more sustainable existence we’ll be ahead of the curve and leave future generations the opportunity that the previous generations have left us.

The Bozeman Ice Tower

Bozeman Daily Chronicle Editorial Submission for 26 November 2010
© Conrad Anker 2009

Hyalite Canyon, due its northerly drainage and volcanic rock, freezes up each winter to provide the most reliable and varied ice climbing in the lower 48. Thanks to the County Road and Bridge and the Forest Service’s plowing efforts, Hyalite Canyon is accessible for winter enthusiasts be they fishermen, skiers or climbers. The Twin Falls freezes up offering a great introductory experience on water ice. The springtime drips transform into frigid test pieces attracting the best to test their mettle. From the moderate to the extreme, Hyalite Canyon offers a high density of climbs in a remote setting.
To celebrate the sport, each December climbers from around the world meet for instruction and a good time at the annual Bozeman Ice Festival. The cold temps and dependable conditions allow us to hold the first of the seasonal ice festivals. Ice climbing is a global sport with similar gatherings taking place in Korea, Canada, the Alps and Russia each winter. Competitive ice climbing is part of the fun and entails scratching one’s way up a fake cliff dribbled with blobs of ice. Climbers compete in difficulty and speed. Competitions are popular enough that at the 2014 Sochi Winter Olympics ice climbing will be a demonstration sport. For the sport to eventually make it to the Olympics, a track record of “World Cup” level competition needs to be held. Currently, the ice climbing world cup is held in Europe and Asia each winter. With an eye on the 2014 Olympics climbers are training and competing to represent our country.

To date there is no venue for world cup ice climbing in the United States. Not having a national training facility creates an opportunity for Bozeman. By designing and building a competition climbing structure Bozeman would be the first community in the United States to host the Ice Climbing World Cup. The event could tie in with the Bozeman Ice Festival in a logical and efficient way.

Imagine a structure at the County Fairgrounds reaching 100 feet into the sky. Designed and built with side-cycled chair lift towers from the old Deer Park and Bridger lifts at Bridger Bowl, the tripod shaped tower would allow climbing and rope work. In the summer climbers could challenge themselves on warm rock. Novices could ascend the stairs and learn to rappel. In winter the structure would be draped with several tons of ice, providing ice climbers a controlled feature to train on. Additionally, the tower would be an ideal place for the County Search and Rescue Team to train for evacuations and high angle rope work. The aerie at the summit would provide an eagle’s view of the fairgrounds and have a flag visible from Interstate-90. The tower would require a small footprint and could be maintained by volunteers and the fairground staff in a similar manner to Haynes Ice Hockey Pavilion.

With the completion of the fifth boulder in Rose Park this summer we will have enhanced our parks with equipment that appeals to all ages and most abilities. Scampering around on a cement rock encourages exercise, an activity that benefits all. The boulders were built with support from the community and the Parks and Recreation Department. To extrapolate the concept of the outdoor boulders to a community funded winter ice-climbing tower is a sensible progression. It would put Bozeman on the map as “ice climbing central” and bring more visitors to the County Fairgrounds.

If you are interested and would like to learn more please visit or come to an evening event at the Bozeman Ice Festival at the Emerson on the 10th or 11th of December.

Are we a plutocracy?

Plutocracy : noun, government by the wealthy; an elite or ruling class whose power drives from their wealth

As a nation we are living beyond our means. The current national debt (how much the government has borrowed and owes) is somewhere in the vicinity of $13.4 trillion dollars. I have no idea how many times to the moon and back 13 trillion dollars would amount to; suffice it to say it is a figure that is beyond the comprehension of most Americans. The national deficit (spending more money on an annual basis than it takes in) has been constant since 1969. If you and I were to run our households in this manner it wouldn’t be too long before we were in bankruptcy. As recent demonstrations attest, he fiscal state of our government is front and center in the 2010 mid – term election.

In 2001 & 2003 the Bush Administration passed tax cuts across the board for US citizens. The previous tax code under President Clinton started at 15% for the lowest wage earners and was tiered up to 39.6% for the wealthiest. The Bush tax breaks moved the taxes down on a sliding scale to 10% for the lowest income earners to 35% for the wealthiest in our nation. These tax cuts provided taxpayers $1.7 trillion in additional income through 2008, money that otherwise would have gone to pay for government services and debt reduction. Unless the Bush tax cut is reinstated it will expire at year-end. The question our federal lawmakers face is should we let the tax breaks expire, extend them for two years or make them permanent. How our elected officials choose to vote on this matter will affect each citizen and the long-term health of our nation.

President Obama has indicated he wants to keep the tax cuts in place for the 96% of citizens earning less than $200,000 as an individual or $250,000 for a household. Taxes for 4 % of the population defined as rich would increase. If implemented, the net gain over a ten-year period would amount to $700 billion of additional tax revenue. To set this in an annual context, $700 billion is what we spend on defense. This amounts to $1.9 billion spent 24 hours.

Economists Thomas Piketty and Emmanuel Saez analyzed income between 2002 & 2007. In this period 99% of Americans saw their income grow 1.3 % per year, which is below the annual cost of living increase of 2.8%. For the remaining 1% of our population, the wealthiest, their income increased 10% a year. The Bush tax cuts favored high-income households who saw an increase in real dollar terms and also as a percentage of income. As a result the top 1 % of our population captures 23.5 % of our nation’s total income. Contrast this with the 13.2% of Americans living in poverty who earn less than 1% of our nation’s income. If these tax cuts were such a stimulus to our economy why are we mired in a recession? Obviously this is a very complex equation, yet the tax cuts have not panned out to the economic panacea they were promised to be.

In 2008 the average net worth of our Senators was $13.9 million. Congress checked in at $4.6 million. Increasing the tax 4.6% on the wealthiest (as it was in the 90s) isn’t going to put our elected officials and the wealthiest in the poor house. The additional revenue from those who have benefited most from our free market system will nudge our government closer to fiscal responsibility.

The logical way towards a balanced budget and reasonable debt is to decrease expenditures and increase revenue. Will our elected officials have the courage to raise their own taxes?

This past week containment crews working with BP on the Deepwater Horizon oil explosion were able to cap the runaway leak. For the millions of our fellow citizens that call the Gulf home this is a welcome relief. With time, diligence and advanced technology the effects of the spill will be mitigated.

The effects of the oil spill are far reaching. Oxygen starved oceans, soiled beaches, lost oil and disrupted communities are the obvious negative effects. Yet from every disaster there is potential for a silver lining. The engineers that design offshore drilling rigs will be able to address the weaknesses that caused the blow out. It takes failure to learn about mistakes and how to prevent similar catastrophes. As our need for oil is far too great to forego offshore reserves, oil companies will be able to work safer and with greater awareness for the environment.

A second silver lining can touch the lives of citizens across the nation. Offshore oil reserves belong to the citizens of the United States. Oil companies lease regions with the greatest potential and in turn for this privilege pay a royalty to the federal government. Last year, the federal government collected over $5 billion in off shore leasing revenues. In 1965 Congress passed the Land and Water Conservation Fund (LWCF) to receive $900 million annually from the Outer Continental Shelf oil and gas leases. The funds from the LWCF have been shared with all 50 states and have connected with American citizens.

The parks, river ways and open space that we enjoy in landlocked Montana are in part funded by the LWCF. Here in southwest Montana, LWCF has protected Yellowstone River headwaters near Cooke City, critical elk passage up the Taylor Fork drainage, a popular climbing area in Bozeman Pass, and Madison Valley fishing access and ranch lands, to name a few. The program has also provided grants to hundreds of state and local parks across Montana including our own Peet’s Hill and the new Rose Park for Frisbee golf enthusiasts.

The challenge is that the full funding for the LWCF has fallen short every year but one since 1965, with most of the $900 million diverted to other purposes. Of the $5 billion in revenue from 2009 only 180 million was set-aside for the LWCF. This is 3% of the total of the total tax revenue from off shore oil and gas leases. To set this in economic context, the profits of BP in the quarter leading up to the Deepwater Horizon disaster were $4.7 billion. In 2008 Exxon Mobil posted record annual profits of $45.22 billion. And these figures are after paying royalties to the federal government of offshore leases. Given the catastrophe in the Gulf, the annual loss of open space to development, the importance of wetlands to water quality and the benefit of recreation to our population it is only fair to ask for full funding of the revenue be set aside for our nation’s natural heritage.

The LWCF is set to expire in 2015, 50 years after it’s signing. As a way to keep this part of our heritage, Senators Jeff Bingaman (D-NM) and Max Baucus (D-MT) introduced the Land and Water Conservation Authorization and Funding Act, S.2747, on November 6, 2009, and Senator Jon Tester joined to co-sponsor the bill. This legislation is simple and straightforward: it would permanently reauthorize the fund and make $900 million available annually to LWCF as dedicated funding. As the Congress considers ‘oil spill’ legislation in the coming weeks, full funding of LWCF should be a part of the solution.

Americans strongly support this initiative. In a May 2010 national public opinion survey 77 % support funding at the $900 million annual level. The revenue is from the oil we consume (and we all consume oil) and is shared by all. As a way of ensuring the land, water and recreation heritage we depend upon as part of our children’s lives, full funding of the LWCF is the right thing to do.

Bozeman Daily Chronicle
Editorial Submission :: 2 July 2010
© Conrad Anker

“While action is not without cost, the costs of inaction are greater. What is the cost of a trout stream whose waters are too warm to fish?”
U.S. Senator Max Baucus

Senator Baucus framed the importance of climate change in a way that we in Montana can identify with. While we live in the green vale of the Gallatin, we might not think that the climate is changing. May was wet and chilly and local snowpack is still gracing the peaks that define our valley. For Montana this was the fourth coolest on record. Yet on a global scale May 2010 was the warmest since humans began record keeping in 1880. 2009 was the second warmest year for the northern hemisphere and the warmest for the southern hemisphere. The first decade of the 21st century was the warmest on record. The data is gathered from more than a thousand meteorological stations around the world, Antarctic research station measurements, and satellite observations of sea surface temperatures. The net result is that the temperature is rising 0.36 degree Fahrenheit per decade. Overall temperatures have risen 1.4 degrees Fahrenheit in the past 100 years, with the majority of the warming occurring in the past three decades.

Climatologists specifically study the weather over a period of time. Weather creates climate and trends over time give provide a clear measure of temperature. 97% of these atmospheric scientists attribute the increased temperatures to human based activity. Our voracious appetite for energy comes at a cost. The emissions that result from their combustion, notably carbon dioxide, are insulating the planet and trapping heat. The resulting conclusion is that climate change is anthropogenic. The fact that we are in a stage of rapid warming is undisputable.
Earth’s climate is always changing. It has changed dramatically over for the past 4.5 billion years. Some attribute the recent warming to natural causes, a normal variation that has no connection to human activity. Paleoclimatology is the study of the climate taken from the entire history of Earth. By using records found in ice sheets, tree rings, corals, sediment and rocks scientists can understand the constantly changing climate on Earth. The consensus from the Geological Society of America is, “The warming of the last century is unusual in both speed and size, and cannot be explained by natural factors, except for the modest solar contribution during the first half of the century.”

The trout streams mentioned by Senator Baucus and the pine beetle infestation that is ravaging our forests are two examples of a warmer regional climate. On a global scale Canada and Russia might benefit from increased crop yields. This would be offset by crop losses at lower latitudes where many plants are at the limit of what they can tolerate. For the 80 % of the world’s population that lives on less than 10 dollars a day the intense storm cycles, rising oceans and decreased crop yields will make their existence even more troublesome.

As a citizen of the United States as ask myself what can we do? Our education system leads the world in innovation. The same determination that landed man on the moon in 1969 needs to be applied to energy sources, energy conservation and human well being. The clean energy economy has potential to employ millions of people and make our planet a better place for future generations. On a personal level we can strive for good energy practices, while understanding that none of us, by our very existence, will achieve perfection. These small steps when pulled together and combined with a comprehensive national energy policy will get us on the track towards being better stewards of our planet.

On April 20th the Deepwater Horizon, a sophisticated floating oilrig, lost control of the methane it had tapped into. The platform exploded, claimed the lives of 11 workers and sunk to the ocean floor two days later. Drilling 40 miles off the shores of Louisiana in the Gulf of Mexico, the well was working on an exploratory field located 13,000 feet below sea level. Imagine a massive steel structure connected to the floor of the ocean 5000 feet below with a thin straw 21 inches in diameter. The straw snapped, the back up systems failed and the oil is pouring into the ocean. When oil tankers run aground the spill is limited to its load, not more. With the Gulf disaster the leak will continue till the well is capped or pressure is relieved by adjacent wells. These measures are slated for early August completion and will hopefully stanch the flow of oil. Make no mistake: off shore is oil production is risky business – a physical risk for the people and their families that work on the wells and a financial risk to the businesses that operate in the field.

In the 53 days since the accident between 2.2 million gallons to 24 million gallons of unrefined oil has entered the warm waters of the Gulf. This is the largest off shore spill in our nation’s history. The toll on the regional ecosystem will affect birds, fish, marine mammals and the oceanic plant life these animals depend on. Ocean currents, wind and tides are moving the surface slick toward the bayous, marshes and beaches of the Gulf States. Like Yellowstone is to Montana, the beaches and marine environment are a source of recreation, regional identity and a driver of the local economy for the Gulf States. The spill is projected to cost the region 2.5 billion dollars in lost revenue to the fishing and tourism industries. How would Montana handle a disaster in Yellowstone of this magnitude?

When calamity strikes people look to find answers. Was the contractor, Transocean, cutting corners on safety? Is a blowout of this magnitude a normal occurrence, one that comes with the territory? Why did the blowout mechanisms fail? These are reasonable questions that in time will be answered. In the short term we need to focus on containment and clean up and ask how we, as a nation, address energy.

As a nation we compromise 5 % of the world’s population. Due to our energy intensive life style we consume 25% of the world’s oil resources. Globally we are the third largest producer of oil, with close to 30% originating in the Gulf of Mexico. To meet 19.4 million barrels of oil we use each day the United States imports 60 % of the total quantity. Our oil is imported, in order of volume, from Canada, Saudi Arabia, Mexico, Venezuela and Nigeria. Procuring oil comes at a cost. Be it supporting nations that do not live by the standards of our Constitution or the severe risk of impact to the physical environment, oil is very expensive.

The global supply of oil is finite. In the coming 100 years humanity needs to make the transition from oil to a yet to be discovered form or application of energy. Given the volatility, ease of transport, multiple use and the relative low cost of petroleum this is an enormous challenge. The “low hanging fruit” in this equation is energy efficiency. Europeans enjoy a quality of life similar to ours and use, on average, half the amount of energy we do. We need to become serious about energy research and knowledge. The subsidies the energy industry enjoys need to be reduced and we need to come to grips with the real price of a gallon of gas, pollution and all.

Round and Round the Roundabout

11th and College is a pivotal intersection for Bozeman. It forms the northwestern entrance to Montana State University and it serves as an access point to the new Town & Country supermarket and multiple businesses along College. On a busy day when classes dismiss the intersection backs up to the south with students, faculty and staff. During the 5 PM close of business crunch the intersection backs up to the west, as it is a feeder intersection for the south and east parts of town. In the 2007 Greater Bozeman Area Transportation Plan, College Street was already at 2003 capacity levels. 11th and College is an important point in mitigating congestion on this key street.

The Bozeman City Commission has decided to install a roundabout at this intersection. Being the third roundabout in Bozeman, it is being met with a fair amount of resistance. They aren’t perceived as “old fashioned”, hence their “newness” must be resisted. Roundabouts are seen by some as a form of liberal infiltration into Montana values and perceived as costing too much.

Roundabouts are unsignalized circular intersections that minimize traffic delay and maximize safety. For intersections with heavy left turn traffic the roundabouts offer a good way to keep traffic flowing in a smooth manner. Incoming vehicles yield to circulating traffic. The advantages of roundabouts include: safety, easy u-turns, increased vehicle fuel efficiency, minimal maintenance costs and aesthetic appeal.

The roundabout for vehicular use dates to 1909, fully 13 years earlier than electric traffic signals, which debuted in Salt Lake City in 1924. They aren’t new. From traffic safety standpoint roundabouts are safer. Head on, rear end and side impact accidents are minimized. In 2004, 45 % of all accidents occurred in intersections. These accidents accounted for 21% of all traffic fatalities. In a roundabout the traffic enters at an angle, travels slower at a uniform speed and does not require the driver to look up – away from the action – as traffic signals do. Signaled intersections can be less efficient; frequently the condition exists where no vehicles are crossing the intersection while many wait. They also require complex speed and distance assessments, which when added to the task of texting makes for a very dangerous intersection.

Colorado Springs became the first city in the state of Colorado to embrace traffic roundabouts in 1983. As of March 2009 the city had 68 roundabouts with 10 planned for this year. Roundabouts are simply a time proven, cost efficient and safer method of intersection control. Plus they save time. Your time.

How city, county, state and federal government spend tax revenue is perhaps the greatest source of discontent among citizens. The initial cost of a roundabout is equal to that of a signal intersection. The annual cost for maintenance and energy is on average $15,000 per intersection. With power outages roundabouts continue to function. With less stopping, idling and low gear starts, automobiles maintain a lower, more even RPM. This saves fuel, which equates to lower emissions. For the businesses, houses and dorms surrounding the intersection, that is a welcome break. The landscape potential for a gateway to MSU can speak to our agriculture heritage. When was the last time you saw an attractive traffic signal?

Traffic roundabouts are a sensible method of vehicular traffic control. For the City of Bozeman to step up and construct a major roundabout is a bold move. Once our community accepts the roundabout we will hopefully see more of these low tech, simple and efficient means of controlling traffic in our community.

The total sum of carbon based energy, be it in the form of wood, coal, oil, methane, natural gas or biomass, originated from the sun. Photosynthesis captures sunlight and converts it to oxygen and reduced carbon forms. We see this in plant life. Plants give us oxygen, nutritional sustenance and fuel. In the distant past the cycle of plant life created carbon energy that has allowed humans to advance to the state we now enjoy. Fifty to sixty million years ago eastern Montana was home to a shallow swamp like environment. The jungle and forests were overlain with sediment, compressed over time and transformed into the coal that, through electrical generation, Bozeman illuminates its houses and streets with. The amount of energy the sun bestows upon earth in six months is equal to the collective reserves of all carbon based fuel sources.

Obviously we are a long way from harnessing sunlight in a cost effective and efficient manner. As we face dwindling carbon reserves and an atmosphere dramatically changed by the consumption of carbon fuel, harnessing energy from the sun a technological break-though that will benefit all humans. Will it happen in our lifetime? Chances are slim given the volatility and ease of transport for carbon based energy. Transitioning from one system to another will require massive capital expenditures. Given these challenges how do we as a society proceed? There are those that shy away from challenges and those that see it as an opportunity to try harder. Energy independence is one area that will require a fair amount of ingenuity, determination and perseverance. Success is ever more sweeter when the odds are against you.

Solar energy is currently harnessed by two methods: passive and solar. Aligning a building to have maximum southern exposure is an obvious example of passive collection. Active collection has principle methods: photovoltaic and thermal mass. Photovoltaic panels are constructed with silicon wafers that directly convert sunlight to electricity. Your calculator with a miniature cell is probably the most common form of this technology. Photovoltaic cells are between 12 – 20 % efficient, that is 80 % of the solar energy doesn’t convert to electricity. The current costs do not match the direct costs of electricity generated by coal. As efficiency increases with technological advancement photovoltaic collection will feature in our future energy mix.

Thermal mass captures sunlight in a manner that is transferred or stored without being converted into electrical current. The energy captured is typically used for low-temperature applications. The simplest form of thermal generation is a roof top solar water heater. The energy captured can be used in two ways that benefit daily energy usage: water usage and structure heating. Hot water from the roof heater is piped into or through the existing gas or electric water heater thereby reducing the energy load required to heat water to the desired temperature.
When designing new or retro fitting existing structures radiant heating is an efficient and comfortable way of warming interior spaces. Piping is plumbed into the floor and the warm liquid heats the structure from the ground up. By using the water from the roof top solar water heater the need to heat the water from carbon-based sources is lessened or entirely negated. Commercial and institutional applications stand to benefit from this technology.

Montanans are known for their ingenuity and perseverance. Encouraging solar thermal design and installation will bring us closer to the goal of energy independence. Making the transition to sustainable energy is a big step. If, like children, we start with small obtainable steps we’ll eventually make it.

Etymology: the history of a linguistic form shown by tracing its development since its earliest recorded occurrence in the language where it is found, by tracing its transmission from one language to another

As I reflect on our family vacation this past summer to the Pioneer Mountains, there is no finer attribute for our state than it’s name. Albeit with a slightly different pronunciation, Montana is mountain in Spanish. The early explorers named the state after the dominant geologic features. For the peaks that ring our valley, that nurture our rivers and provide cover for wildlife there is no finer attribute. To live in place as scenic and unspoiled as Montana is pretty special. We are, by our own admission, privileged to inhabit this state.

With rights come responsibilities. The beauty of Montana is in its unique wild feel. From the buffaloes and geysers of Yellowstone to the mountain goats and aquamarine lakes of Glacier we have two iconic natural preserves with in our boundaries. The parks, established by the federal government 137 and 99 years ago, are quite a draw for our state. Yes the parks are tremendous, yet between the two places is a large segment of nature that is home to animals, timber, water and recreation opportunity. It is our responsibility, as the current generation, to take care of this heritage that defines Montana.

In July of 2009 Senator John Tester introduced S 1470, The Montana Forest Jobs and Recreation Act, the first comprehensive land management bill in 26 years. The bill is a co-operative effort between the wood products industry, sportsmen, conservationists and motorized recreation groups to find a balance that benefits the wild heritage we share. We’re grateful Senator Max Baucus supports the bill. Congressman Dennis Rehberg has not announced a position. Endorsing Tester’s bill is a meaningful way to break the gridlock between the various stakeholders on our national forests. These groups have worked to create a bill that, in the spirit of working together, has a wide level of support.

To measure cooperation we look at the diversity of the people that support S 1740. The timber companies, tired of battling legal cases are looking for clear direction on acreage that can be harvested. The cuts outlined in the bill will benefit local timber companies, hence the support from Sun Mountain Lumber, RY Timber, Roseburg Forest Products, Smurfit Stone and Pyramid Mountain Lumber. For our lands stressed by the pine bark beetle, fuel buildup and drought this will lead to healthier forests.

For sportsmen the benefit equates to protected habitat, which will allow elk and similar game to find shelter. The balance between timber and habitat is supported by science. The habitat improvement will benefit today’s hunter along with tomorrow’s generation.

Part of the brokering required for this is accepting that all of one’s objectives might not be met. For conservationists having more land designated as wilderness is certainly a sticking point. Conversely, the proposed 51 miles of motorized trail to be closed, out of 6,736 accessible miles is a draw back for motorized users. When two disparate groups such as these both quibble it is a sign that the act is indeed a balance of various user groups and their respective needs. With organizations as varied as Trout Unlimited, Troy Snowmobile Club, National Wildlife Federation, Kootenai Ridge Riders ATV Club, Montana Wilderness Association, The Wilderness Society, Montana Backcountry Horsemen, and Lincoln County Snow-Kats supporting S 1470 it is difficult to argue that there is not broad support.

The root of our state is in the mountains. The animals, trees and water that create this landscape need our stewardship. Senator Tester’s bold plan is the most logical way to keep wild Montana healthy and create jobs. We are of the mountains and we need to keep it that way.