By Bill Barron
Last year we hatched plans for the 2023 CCL Wyoming tour with our dear friend and CCL Wyoming co-state coordinator, Barb Deshler, in the forefront of our minds. We were saddened by her passing, but wanted to celebrate a life well lived, her important contributions to the state, and to the 2020 tour, Wyoming tour: Connecting in coal country. We knew this 2023 tour would be exactly what she would want: to get back out there, continuing working to normalize the conversation around our changing climate, and advocating for a clean energy future for Wyoming.
With the leadership of state coordinator Madeline Dalrymple and others across the state, the 2023 Wyoming Climate Solutions tour took shape. Over the seven days in early February, we stopped in Casper, Sheridan, Powell, Cody, Lander, and Pinedale through the vast and magnificent geography and, at times, the rugged weather that makes Wyoming so special.
As always, we knew that our audience was key; we would need to communicate in a way that would allow our message to be heard, which starts with listening, and would inevitably lead the conversation to finding common ground. It’s no surprise that people have different opinions on the severity of our changing climate. On top of that, Wyoming is the largest coal-producing state in the country and is in a very difficult position due to its reliance on revenues to fund schools, public health, and infrastructure, with over 50% of this funding coming from fossil fuels.
We also collaborated with Science Kids, a local non-profit while in Sheridan, Wyoming, to host a “Power of Youth Voices workshop” with the support of Sharon Bagatell, CCL’s Youth Action Team Coordinator. This was an opportunity for kids to learn that they can use their voice to speak up for what they want to see through advocacy with respect, appreciation, and gratitude — skills I didn’t learn until I was 44! We finished with a mock meeting, asking for support (or the political will) to make chocolate ice cream the official ice cream flavor of the United States. This experiment was true to CCL style and our tour: teaching the effectiveness of respect, appreciation, and gratitude in advocacy.
Interestingly, the presentation to a more liberal audience the night before hitting the road presented a view that worked regardless of where people stood politically on the issue of our changing climate: there’s a very strong and compelling message tied to the economic benefits of embracing clean energy, which Wyoming has in abundance. This underscores that the clean energy transition is already underway across the U.S. and beyond.
I was concerned about how I would be received, but broadly speaking, those concerns were unfounded. In my public presentations, I would start with an acknowledgment that our country wouldn’t be where we are today without the use of fossil fuels, and I shared my appreciation for Wyoming’s contributions in this area.
Here are just a few of the talking points from the road:
- The incentives are there for clean energy development.
- 2022 was the first year when investment in the energy transition equaled global investment in fossil fuels and when investment in decarbonizing energy surpassed $1 trillion
- Coal-fired power plants are less cost-effective to operate than constructing new solar or wind facilities in the U.S.
- If Wyoming chooses not to take full advantage of this opportunity, other states will. The demand is there.
As always, being out there is all about the people you meet and talk to along the way. It was very special to honor Barb with this tour supported by CCLers and locals at each stop, and the experience was inspiring for me. As I listened to and spoke with parents, teachers, NGOs, community leaders, college and high school students, radio hosts, local papers, and others, I heard concerns for the future of Wyoming. Once again, I saw how important it is to be out there having conversations, elevating the climate discussion, and inviting people to use their voices to speak up for what they want and need. As Katharine Hayhoe says, “The best thing we can do for our climate is to talk about it.”
Based on the economics, Wyoming can still be an energy state where opportunity for ingenuity can be created, innovation can thrive, and the people can embrace entrepreneurship in clean energy, while still enjoying thriving communities and savoring that untamed spirit of the West.