Paul Horton is cofounder and codirector of Climate Solutions, which is dedicated to stopping global warming by making the Pacific Northwest a world leader in practical and profitable solutions.

Monday, 16 Sep 2002

MISSOULA, Mont.

It’s Monday morning and I’m still a little bit disoriented from being back in one of my old home towns — Missoula, Mont. This small city was my first stop after completing high school in a rather nondescript Midwestern suburb, and the first of a series of relatively small western college towns that ultimately led me to my current home in Olympia, Wash. I’m back here because I’ve been invited to give a talk for the new Sustainable Communities Lecture Series sponsored by the University of Montana Environmental Studies Program and the National Center for Appropriate Technology.

After several years of absence, I’m surprised by the variety of emotions that preceded my trip here — emotions which peaked as I flew into Missoula valley on a beautiful late summer evening. A spontaneous smile actually broke out on my face, replacing my otherwise stony expression of airplane anonymity. For me, this Western city of 50,000 inhabitants is an insanely potent and beautiful place, thanks to the mountains and rivers, the intoxicating scent of cottonwoods, and the scads of healthy people riding bikes, hiking, and dancing at night in 100 year-old bars to hot local bluegrass.

This is where it all started for me. This is where I really learned to connect with and respect the planet. It’s the home of my first volunteer internship, the place where my curiosity about global issues was born, and the place that lead me to my current interest in renewable energy. So for all of you who frown upon choosing a college for its proximity to a good ski area rather than for its academic reputation (no offense, U. of M.), think again.

Since I won’t give my talk, “Addressing Climate Change: Opportunities for Northwest Communities” until Tuesday night, I’m spending the day at meetings in Helena and Butte with folks from Montana Power, the Department of Environmental Quality, the Alternative Energy Resource Organization, and NCAT. My goal is simply to learn more about what each group is planning in the coming year so I can look for opportunities to collaborate on advancing a vision of rural economic opportunity in renewable energy development.

As I looked over the city yesterday afternoon from the top of Mt. Sentinel, a prominent landmass that overlooks the University of Montana campus, I couldn’t help but think that this little town, limited to some degree by a natural mountainous bowl and bisected by two wide rivers, could be a perfect test-bed for an economy powered by clean, renewable resources. Western Montana has abundant wind resources and enough rooftop space on schools and warehouses to generate scads of solar power, not to mention the land base to produce large quantities of biodiesel fuel and other biomass energy crops. The potential for energy efficiency is also undoubtedly large.

It’s a cool vision, though some of my old friends have been reminding me that the pace of progressive change here is much slower than what I’m accustomed to. Nonetheless, the idea is now fairly firmly stuck in my head and is nagging at me to flesh it out. Perhaps by tomorrow’s diary entry I’ll have a better handle on it.