More than 100 people gathered this week to join what may prove to be the genesis of Jackson Hole’s first widespread climate advocacy movement.
During a two-hour brainstorming session at the Pink Garter Theatre, a mix of public officials, sustainability experts and interested residents tossed out ideas for how to reduce the region’s carbon emissions — and how to ensure the community follows through on whatever goals it sets to combat climate change.
“Without an organized political movement,” said Mayor Pete Muldoon, who planned the meeting, “I don’t think we can solve this problem.”
The meeting grew out of a recent surge in sustainability zeal following Mountain Towns 2030, a regional climate summit hosted by Park City, Utah, in October. The premise of that gathering was to spur dozens of Rocky Mountain communities to strive for carbon neutrality.
Muldoon started by showing a video created by Rob Davies, a physicist at Utah State University and renowned science communicator, who he and other local officials met at the summit. Davies spoke at the Center for the Arts last week, bluntly offering a bleak outlook for the planet.
One of the video’s most striking images depicted heat maps superimposed over world maps, showing two paths global warming could take. In the best-case scenario, if society dramatically reduces carbon emissions, the global average temperature may only rise a couple of degrees above pre-industrial temperatures.
Though this won’t spare the planet entirely, it will be far better than the catastrophic potential for a far higher increase that some experts say is incompatible with organized civilization.
“It may not seem like it, but this is good news,” Davies said. “It’s good news because the physics is telling us that the changes in front of us, and therefore the level of risk that we face, is entirely up to us.”
There to explain how Teton County can do its part was Emily Skill. As a graduate student at Utah State University, she studied how several communities — including Park City, one of Jackson’s peer ski towns — set some of the most ambitious goals in the country to shift to renewable energy by 2030.
“When we look at the climate change data, we feel that there is no hope,” she said. “But that is not the case.”
A single community’s efforts to fight climate change can seem like “a drop in the bucket,” Skill said. But local action allows for flexible, experimental approaches that can potentially spread to other towns, states and countries, she said.
The crowd chimed in throughout the meeting, offering ideas like eliminating single-use plastics, creating a rail transit system, constructing more efficient buildings and, of course, reaching carbon neutrality by 2030.
Climate advocates will also need to identify people who can act as leaders for the movement, Skill said, here and perhaps even around the state. Teton County could make much progress on its own. But to some extent it must also work within the confines of Wyoming, home to more coal production than any other state and loathe to write off a resource that generates thousands of jobs and millions of dollars in severance tax.
However, Skill noted that efforts by Utah communities ultimately led to a bill in the Utah House of Representatives — dominated, as in Wyoming, by conservative lawmakers. The “unprecedented legislation,” she said, carves a path for other communities in the state to pursue 100% renewable energy.
“That’s something that hasn’t happened before,” she said, “and it set a really great example for what it could look like in other states.”
Pushback will also surely come from within Teton County. The meeting drew a crowd of eager activists, some of whom questioned whether the solutions in use around the country are “radical” enough to succeed in the time that remains before global warming reaches the point of no return. But others will be more hesitant, and Skill advised the firebrands that it could be risky to overwhelm those who fear rapid change.
“Sometimes you achieve more when you work a little bit slower, so you can get people on board, and you’re not pushing through resistance,” she said. “That’s a balance you’ll have to figure out in this town.”
Muldoon said he was inspired by the turnout and plans to schedule a second meeting soon. He noted that whatever action Teton County takes has the potential to ripple throughout the world, as visitors from other states and countries discover new ideas they can replicate at home.
If Teton County does nothing, Muldoon said, the consequences will be real.
“If we of all communities don’t take this seriously,” he said, “why should any of the millions of visitors who come here each year think that climate change is a serious problem?”