Flathead Local Convenes Climate Change ‘Solutionist’ Summit

Anderson Rosenthal first found herself losing sleep over the impending climate change crisis in 2011. The fourth-generation Flathead Valley resident was living in Los Angeles at the time, working as a film producer and writer, when the continued impacts of global warming began to seep into her life more and more.

“I follow what keeps me awake at night,” Rosenthal told the Flathead Beacon. “I came to understand that nothing is as important as climate change. Nothing else affects every aspect of life.”

Rosenthal shifted her career focus towards activism, eventually moving back to the Flathead Valley in 2016 and shortly after launching Project Winterland, a nonprofit dedicated to climate solutions and equity with a focus on Montana-specific challenges.

The ultimate goal of Project Winterland is to convene a series of summits and festivals, in the vein of South by Southwest, that will convene business executives, nonprofit leaders, entrepreneurs, and driven local individuals to share in conversations around bending the arc of climate disruption.

Rosenthal launched the first phase in Whitefish last week with the inaugural Winderland Solutionist Summit, a one-day event intended to unlock, advance and accelerate climate resiliency solutions in the Flathead Valley.

Co-organized with HATCH, a Bozeman-based impact accelerator nonprofit, the Winterland Summit brought together more than 50 individuals to discuss a series of seven climate-related challenges faced by the local communities.

“Wisdom comes from everywhere,” Rosenthal said. “People need to get out of their echo chambers, and I wanted to create a climate meeting that didn’t silo off like-minded people to just talk with each other.”

The summit kicked off with a panel discussion with Kian Tanner and Badge Busse, two of the Held v. Montana climate lawsuit plaintiffs, along with lead lawyer on the case, Roger Sullivan, and Confederated Salish and Kootenai Tribes (CSKT) climate coordinator Michael Durglo Jr.

The bulk of the climate summit then revolved around seven climate-related challenges, including electrifying Glacier National Park, building energy resilience during drought conditions on Flathead Lake, and achieving local buy-in for composing projects in a region that lacks financial incentives to do so.

Rosenthal and her team hand-selected summit participants based on a nomination process that saw nearly 200 names submitted. The group ranged from local housing nonprofit directors and legislators to venture capitalists and robotics researchers, as well as tribal leaders and energy company CEOs.

“This is a real opportunity to talk about what is hitting us at ground zero in one of the largest resources in Western Montana with Flathead Lake,” said Brian Lipscomb, CEO of Energy Keepers, the CSKT corporation that operates Séliš Ksanka QÍispé (SKQ) dam at the south end of Flathead Lake. “We have to wrestle this to the ground and make people understand what we’re facing is real. Climate change is real, and it’s going to impact us in profound ways that we have never experienced … stimulating conversation like this is vital to finding solutions.”

Keynote speakers at the event included Mariah Gladstone, founder of Indigikitchen, Jerry Tinianow, Denver’s former Chief Sustainability officer, and Pashon Murray, founder of Detroit Dirt, a composting company that provides materials management diversion from landfills and food waste solutions.

Though no climate challenges were solved in a single day, the city of Whitefish received a $5,000 grant from Yeti Photovoltaic, a local solar energy company, to expand the city’s green energy initiatives.

Rosenthal praised the willingness of participants to take the time to come together with open minds and a collective desire for building partnerships. She said she expects it to be the first of many steps to accelerate local work on climate challenges.  

“My whole ambition is to be respectfully disruptive in our conversations about climate change,” Rosenthal said. “The solutions are there, it just takes one spark, one conversation behind the scenes, to unlock them.”

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