Recently, Wyoming Gov. Mark Gordon called climate change “the single most important issue on the Earth.” I think he is correct. Unfortunately, humans are not hard-wired to deal with issues like climate change that accrue slowly but have catastrophic results.
Without some serious changes in how humans use energy, dispose of our waste, manage our forests and grow our food, by the time some of my teenage friends are my age the world will be a very different place. The Earth will be a much harder place for human life, but also for life of all kinds.
Can Jackson Hole play a role in what is truly a global issue? Can the United States? U.S. emissions account for 15% of the world’s total. Even a “green new deal” to cut our emissions in half would mean little if China, India and the rest of the developing world do not act.
I think we can make a difference. Jackson Hole hosts around 4 million visitors each year, most of whom come here to engage with nature and the outdoors. We can lead by our example and send people home with a vision of what sensibly can be done.
So far, our record is not good. Over the last decade, while our population has grown by 12%, our overall emissions have grown by 17%. Our emissions per person are twice that of similar towns, such as Bozeman, Montana.
Transportation emissions are the biggest culprit. Our car miles driven have already gone well past what we had projected for 2035. The 2015 Integrated Transportation Plan has languished and not been implemented.
Methane, a potent greenhouse gas, is created as municipal solid waste decomposes in a landfill. Since 2014, when the town and county committed to a goal of 60% waste diversion by 2030 and called it the Road to Zero Waste, the amount of waste going to the landfill has increased every year. Last year less than 29% of our municipal solid waste was recycled. We sent over 30,000 tons of municipal waste over 100 miles in heavily polluting trucks to a landfill in Idaho where it will generate methane for decades to come.
If we want to set an example on climate change, we need actions that will actually reduce greenhouse gas emissions. We need to establish an overall goal, while taking some of the easier and most cost-effective steps right away.
In Jackson Hole we have a habit of writing ambitious plans while having much less ambitious implementation. Relying on exhortation, advertising and voluntary action — while nobly intended — does not work.
To start with we need an ordinance to ban car idling. If we cannot take the simple step of saying that cars not moving should be turned off, let’s admit that we do not care about this issue and stop talking about it. If we are serious, all public vehicles should be state-of-the-art efficient: all electric or at least hybrid. Our new electric buses will be a great start.
Fuel cost savings paid off the marginal cost of my 2006 hybrid in its first four years. For the last 10 years I have made money by polluting less. If we are really serious, all private fleet vehicles like taxis and rental cars should be electric or at least hybrid.
We need to phase out the purchase of fossil fuel-generated electricity, which we still buy in the winter.
We need to end landfill disposal by building a high-efficiency digitally controlled waste-to-energy plant that will use energy-rich municipal waste to generate electricity.
We might even look again at the carbon-free power being dumped every day we do not have hydropower at Jackson Lake Dam.
We need more buses and probably some bus lanes during rush hours.
Jackson Hole can make a difference on “the single most important issue on the Earth.”