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Reflections: The marathon for clean energy

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After spending nearly every possible vacation moment in Big Sky for nine years, my dad, Dick Barton, became a permanent resident in 1985. While thoroughly enjoying “another day in paradise,” he proceeded to serve on various commissions like the fire board and planning commission, and you may remember a column he wrote for years called “Reflections from the Beaver Pond.”

But before that, he was head of the legal department for a large steel fabrication company known as Chicago Bridge and Iron Company that supplied containment vessels and drilling platforms to the oil industry. Having gone to law school on the G.I. Bill, he entered CB&I as a young lawyer and worked there his entire career. He proudly furnished his family’s table from the success of the energy industry, a pillar of the mighty American economy.

I wonder what he would make of the world today, with drowning coastlines and supercharged hurricanes fed by ever-warming oceans. Transitioning to a Clean Energy Economy that slashes our reliance on fossil fuels “demands that we run a marathon at the pace of a sprint,” according to Gina McCarthy, former U.S. Environmental Protection Agency chief and newly elected president of the National Resource Defense Council.

Depressing, no?

No! In the United States, carbon emissions in the power sector have already fallen 28 percent in the past decade, and renewable energy costs have declined by 70 percent, according to the NRDC.

Want more good news? After learning about the warm water under that Antarctic glacier, so did I. So here are a few conservation items from

Humpback whales have recovered from 450 individuals mere decades ago, to more than 25,000. The National Pollinator Garden Network has dedicated five million enhanced or new acres of habitat to the pollinators responsible for one of three bites of food in America—are there any domestic bee hives in Big Sky? A French company named Carbios has developed a process to recycle all types of plastic using enzymes, and has the backing of major corporations to get up and running.

My dad’s undergraduate degree was in engineering, so he may have liked this one. A three-story water battery at the University of the Sunshine Coast in Australia stores energy from six solar panels and reduces electric usage by more than 40 percent. There is also a blast furnace from a company named Sierra Energy that “vaporizes” trash and turns it into clean energy with no carbon emissions.

Those two guys from 4Ocean who sell bracelets to fund ocean cleanup have removed over eight million pounds of trash from their coastal waters. So progress is being made, and everyone can have an impact. Inspired? Back to the marathon.

Five years ago I divested my portfolio of any company that explored, drilled, transported, stored, wholesaled or retailed in the fossil fuel industry. Tomorrow, I’ll start negotiating the ground mount solar panel system that might have an inverter for an electric vehicle. I hope my dad would have approved.

Kathy Bouchard is a member of the Rotary Club of Big Sky’s Sustainability Committee. She has been a Montana resident for 20 years and is inspired to work for sustainability on behalf of her grandchildren.

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