(Opinion) — Everyone here has a different perspective on what it’s like to live in Wyoming. I wish I could claim native status, but my family moved to Cheyenne in 1969, when my Dad returned from Vietnam. I was in junior high and didn’t know what to expect.
I eventually discovered I loved Wyoming and really had no desire to be anywhere else. My jobs frequently took me to other parts of the state, and I was captivated by how varied the landscape is. You can find diverse beauty everywhere you look, from the Red Desert to the Tetons and from the Wind River to the Bighorns.
Sometimes I wonder why more people don’t move here. Then, like many natives I know, I think they should stay right where they’re at — we can get along just fine without them. But Wyoming has changed a lot in the 46 years I’ve lived here, and it will change even more in the next few years, whether or not we see much of a population boost.
For all of its positives, Wyoming has some negatives that bind us together. We all complain about the weather and its wondrous ability to change from a bright sunny day to a blizzard. You can sit in Laramie’s War Memorial Stadium and almost magically experience all four seasons in one afternoon.
The fact that so many young people leave the state right after high school or college is a shared source of frustration, but what else should we expect? Part of it may just be the need to explore outside Wyoming. But people naturally go to where the jobs are, and there have never been that many here that pay well except for those willing to accept the hard labor and safety risks that go hand-in-hand with working in the minerals industry.
I’ve listened to our community and state leaders talk about the need for economic diversification since I moved here, yet the health of our economy remains steadfastly tied to the ups and downs of fossil fuel prices and production. The state government’s current $1.3 billion budget shortfall through 2018 is the result of downturns in energy development, which we never seem to see coming or prepare for, no matter how many times the boom-and-bust cycle repeats itself.
But we seem to be at an economic crossroads: Circumstances far beyond Wyoming’s control have finally brought us to the point where fossil fuels no longer represent the future. Coal will stay in our nation’s energy mix at some level, and drilling for oil won’t completely disappear. Fracking will likely be more closely regulated as science learns more about the dangers of the process to the environment and human health, but we’ll keep pumping natural gas.
No matter how hard our politicians try to save the minerals industry, Wyoming will be dragged — kicking and screaming if necessary — into the 21st century. The rewards of renewable energy like wind and solar that won’t pollute the planet can no longer be denied, and our state has an abundance of both resources.
For those who say we need to leave the earth a better place for our children and grandchildren, why don’t some of them act like it? We’re not doing any generation a favor by insisting that those who want to better regulate greenhouse gas emissions are the enemy.
Other states that get their electricity from Wyoming power plants and from Wyoming-derived fuel simply don’t care that fossil fuels are the lifeblood of our state’s economy. If they were concerned about our economy, the Pacific Northwest would have opened up its ports for the export of our coal to the Pacific Rim. Our officials who act like Wyoming has an inherent right to do anything it wants to expand our markets were passionately dismissed by an entire region.
The rest of the nation looks at states like Iowa, where more than 40 percent of its electricity is expected to be supplied by wind power by 2020, and is confounded that we don’t seem to be willing or able to adapt to new circumstances. A lesser reliance on fossil fuels doesn’t mean the end of jobs in Wyoming, because there will be plenty of employment in the renewable energy industry. At least there will be if we quit putting regulatory and tax hurdles in the way of wind and solar power and quit protecting coal, oil and gas by all means necessary.
Wyoming citizens value the money fossil fuels bring to the state, but they also value our wildlife and want to protect the environment. Several of our governors have maintained we can develop the heck out of energy resources while keeping our land pristine, but we must do it on our terms.
“Our terms,” though, are starting to wither as the nation and rest of the world grapple with the effects of climate change. Politicians can deny the scientific evidence of man’s role in global warming and even try to keep it out of our children’s textbooks, but the world is quickly passing them by in a remarkable burst of sanity.
Wyoming will have to deal with a lot of changes many won’t like. Some, like the legalization of same-sex marriage, are already here. Others, like the legalization of medical marijuana, will be coming soon. It’s difficult to imagine Wyoming being anything but a red state within the lifetime of anyone reading this, but I expect we’ll start to see fewer far-right conservatives elected, replaced by more moderate and progressive candidates.
Politics naturally ebbs and flows, and I think Wyoming has flowed about as far right as it can. Nationally, Republican politics is in disarray, and if the party’s base continues its love affair with the craziness of Donald Trump, this could be the year the GOP implodes.
I was with other potential jurors at the federal courthouse in Casper a few months ago, and during a break one man started to rant about how the nation would be absolutely destroyed by a Hillary Clinton presidency. He finally paused, confidently waiting for us to agree with his decree.
The guy next to me, who certainly didn’t look like one of the liberal elitists that Fox News warns everyone about 24/7, said matter-of-factly, “Well, I like Hillary. I think she’d make a good president.”
“That makes two of us,” I chimed in. Then another man said he didn’t think the world would collapse if Hillary was in charge.
I couldn’t tell if the Hillary-hater’s face indicated he was mad or just totally perplexed. I imagine it was a combination of the two and he stomped off, probably hoping to find a more politically astute group of real Wyomingites.
The times are indeed changing in Wyoming.
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