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Big Sky SNO to reveal climate action plan 

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Aim is for a net-zero Big Sky by 2050; athlete and activist Conrad Anker to offer keynote discussion at Feb. 16 community event 

By Jack Reaney STAFF WRITER 

By 2050, Big Sky could lose between six and 29 days of skiing per year without collective action on climate change, according to the Greater Yellowstone Climate Assessment

Big Sky Sustainability Network Organization has finalized its climate action plan after months of locally-based design, in its most recent step to prevent that narrowing winter. 

According to a Big Sky SNO press release, the Community CAP was rooted in feedback from more than 30 local businesses and organizations in order to “identify community tactics and strategies to achieve local and regional level climate-related goals.” The CAP is designed to empower individuals and organizations to focus on four main priorities: buildings and energy, transportation, consumption and waste, and the natural environment surrounding Big Sky. The plan’s aim is to achieve net-zero emissions by 2050 while purchasing as few carbon offsets as possible.  

The details of the plan will be unveiled at 6 p.m. on Feb. 16 at the Independent, as part of a free event featuring a keynote speech from Bozeman-based North Face and Protect Our Winters athlete Conrad Anker and short films sponsored by POW, a climate activism group based in Boulder, Colo. The event is expected to run 80-90 minutes, and should be “fun, inspirational, educational and enlightening.” 

That’s according to Lizzie Peyton, Big Sky SNO’s director of community sustainability, who spoke on the phone with EBS about the launch event. 

Peyton explained that SNO is a nonprofit formed in 2020 by community leaders looking to curb negative environmental impacts of Big Sky’s rapid growth by identifying pathways for sustainable growth. The first step to comprehensive planning, she said, was an inventory of existing greenhouse gas emissions based on NorthWestern Energy data from 2018 and 2019. 

The biggest takeaway was the 87 million miles traveled each year along the canyon between Bozeman and Big Sky, she added. Chairlifts are another unusual but significant source of energy consumption.  

Data from 2018 (left) and 2019 (right) showing Big Sky’s greenhouse gas emissions by category. Transportation shown in dark blue. PHOTO COURTESY OF BIG SKY SNO

Big Sky SNO consulted with various community leaders and business owners in the past year to design the CAP around Big Sky’s unique challenges and capabilities. Peyton hopes the CAP will inspire collective action by enticing individuals to get on board.  

“The Big Sky economy is reliant on the outdoor tourism industry, so it is in our community’s best interest to take actions to preserve our environment [for] future generations,” Peyton wrote in a follow-up email.

Because Big Sky isn’t incorporated, Peyton pointed out the challenges of enforcing action items outlined in the CAP. She said Big Sky’s lack of government impacted the CAP’s design, as it relies more on empowering individuals than on enforcing policy.  


In a simplified example, Peyton suggested that anyone will be allowed to have a gas stove in 2050. But hopefully, most people will transition to a more renewable cooking source. To reach “net-zero emissions,” Big Sky SNO will purchase carbon offsets as a last resort to account for the smaller number of homes still using burners. The cost of carbon offsets will fund environmentally positive activities elsewhere, such as planting trees or building solar arrays.  

“We’re trying to get as far as we can without purchasing offsets, because we believe [net-zero] should come from within the community,” Peyton said.  

In order to reach their 27-year goal, Big Sky SNO has been working with NorthWestern Energy, “trying to encourage them to ‘green up’ or create more renewable energy options for purchasers to purchase,” Peyton said. Big Sky SNO has been involved in discussions with groups in Helena, Missoula and Bozeman working to develop a renewable energy proposal with NorthWestern.  

Business as usual 

The press release states that the CAP “offers a projected perspective on the reality of future emissions if activities are to remain on the same track as ‘Business-As-Usual’; an abysmal trajectory for the future of Big Sky and the Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem.” 

Peyton explained what business as usual means for Big Sky: 

“We are tracking at a 6% growth rate right now. The [construction] to accommodate that growth rate, those buildings need to be green, like, right now,” she said, citing solar and geothermal energy as possible solutions. 

“The important part is, if we try to sit here in a silo and try to do this without community partners, we’re not going to get there. We need to get [Big Sky Resort] on board, we need everybody,” she said.  

She acknowledged the commitment of Big Sky Resort to its Forever Project, adding that it focuses primarily on carbon offsets to reach the goal of net-zero emissions by 2030. In contrast, the CAP hopes to improve local infrastructure and limit carbon offsets.  

Peyton said the Feb. 16 event is intended to be “super fun” and empower individuals to walk away thinking, ‘these are three things I can actually do every day to improve my environment.’ The event is designed as a hyperlocal approach to the big-picture work POW is doing.  

“You get to see a rad person speak, and you’re going to learn how our local environment is changing… [Anker is] a leader in outdoor recreation, and he’s really knowledgeable about climate activism. He can connect the dots to why being outside is being affected by the changing climate,” Peyton said. 

“It’s the watershed, it’s the forest, it’s the mountains. It’s every piece of why we live here.” 

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