In 1869, women in Wyoming were granted the right to vote; the first in the nation and beyond! Recognizing the rights of women paved the way for the creation of our beloved “Equality State”. It was a historical achievement to be proud of.
But now the future of the state and the women and men of Wyoming is at risk.
The greatest threat to the future of Wyoming is climate change. No, not from the direct effects of rising sea levels or unbearable heat, but as a result of actions taken by other people to curb the effects of climate change. The technology to replace coal, oil, and gas with alternative energy sources is advancing in leaps and bounds across much of the planet. When the price of coal, oil, and gas declines below the cost of production, this sector will wane, along with the bulk of Wyoming’s revenue. We are watching the beginning as coal mines and coal-fired power plants are closing and our communities are losing residents and loved ones.
Of course! We need to diversify the state’s economy. We have been discussing it for decades, but accomplished only incremental change. The development of new extraction methods of fossil fuels mitigated some of the economic downturns over the years. Wyoming’s rugged terrain (the feature we love so much) combined with harsh weather, isolate us from major hubs of commerce and limits agricultural production. Our remote location, lack of infrastructure, and low population, discourage many entrepreneurs and companies. But now we have to act! If we stopped viewing ourselves solely as an energy producing state, state, and think more broadly, we can become attractive to a variety of industries. New technologies developed to curb the rise in greenhouse gases are spurring other types of innovations that rely on Artificial Intelligence, Biotechnology, DNA computing, Material Science, Integrative Planning. Just consider all the components required to build and operate an electric off-road truck, or hydrogen-cell vehicles. Or the expertise that will be needed to maintain caravans of self-driving trucks on our highways. Or what will happen when we merge Artificial Intelligence and DNA computing. Imagine such innovation as the future of Wyoming!
Wide-open spaces, clean air and water, breath-taking scenery, abundant wildlife and fish, vast tracts of public lands; unparalleled quality of life for outdoor lovers… and rugged, adaptable and compassionate people who strongly believe in “live and let live”.
What do we need to add?
•Infrastructure – modern data connectivity from every town in the state; data storage and high computing power; cheap, reliable and locally produced renewable energy; well-maintained, wildlife-friendly roads and other transportation modes.
•Services – Reliable and accessible healthcare system (not only insurance, but rather doctors and nurses, hospitals and clinics) providing high-quality care throughout the state. Top-notch education from pre-school to college (through our community colleges and the University of Wyoming). Professional training and job guarantee programs for people transitioning to new careers or dignified retirement and healthcare plans for those who can’t.
How? It will take holistic vision and careful planning to build our diverse human capital while maintaining what we cherish. We can learn from the Front Range of Colorado where open spaces have turned into a vague memory. We do not want to create the Jackson housing crisis in other parts of the state. We will need to empower our people, plan our investments, avoid failing endeavors, save revenues for the future, and consider all potential sources of income.
How can Wyoming achieve all this? Where do we get the money? We start by selecting the right advocates who are interested in turning this vision into reality. We start the process now realizing that it will take years to accomplish. We start by sending the right representatives to Washington, D.C., where support and incentive programs for innovations will be created. We start by electing me, Merav Ben-David, to represent Wyoming in the United States Senate.
Women and Men: Including non-binary members of our community. In the 20 years I have lived in Wyoming I have seen a shift to treat LGBTQ+ and other groups as equals. But we still have to do more to accept and respect everyone. One of my first priorities will be to pursue legislation that will ensure closing the gender wage gap. It is hard to believe that in the Equality State women earn less than men for the same job. Similarly, we’ll need to reduce income inequality in Wyoming and across the nation. On a more personal note, I was outraged at the abuse experienced by some of the students from the Wind River Reservation who came to Laramie for the Native American Summer Institute these past 3 years. I had the pleasure of working with these fantastic young people on the Chipmunk Project (a hands-on, locally based, long-term research and education program), and strongly believe they deserved all the respect for their initiative and motivation. There is no room for racism in the 21st century. To face the challenges of the future we’ll need to join forces and work together.
Climate Change: I am a wildlife ecologist who has been studying the various effects of global change (invasive species, logging, pollution, and climate change) on animals (river otters, martens, chipmunks and polar bears). While studying mountain lions in California in the early 2000s, my colleagues and I detected the increasing signal of anthropogenic carbon emissions over the past 150 years in their bones! I also personally saw vast stretches of the Arctic Ocean free of ice while serving as the chief scientist on an icebreaker cruise in 2009. Therefore, I find it pointless to continue arguing whether climate change is real. However, my personal views on climate change, as are the views of any other Wyomingite, are irrelevant. With less than 600,000 residents (or 0.18% of the overall US population), we are a mere “drop in the bucket of humanity”. When improved alternative energy sources become available (see examples on the Resource tab) the majority of countries and states will adopt them faster than we can oppose them.
Planet: Countries from Peru to Tunisia to South Africa are adopting new renewable energy sources at a fast rate. For example, Scotland is expected to reach 100% electricity generation from renewable resources in 2020. The Navajo Nation is exploring a new system where solar energy will be used to pump water from Lake Powell into a reservoir. The water will be released at night to maintain continuous energy production (I really like this particular idea!)
Sector will wane: Many past flourishing US industries have disappeared over the decades including the fur industry that contributed to the establishment of the state of Wyoming (remember the Louisiana Purchase?). Although some people still trap in Wyoming and elsewhere, the income from this activity is barely measurable at the scale of the state overall revenue. Similarly, the famous whaling industry, once a major global economic driver in North America, is now limited to harvest by Japan and Norway and subsistence harvest by indigenous people. From a thriving industry it declined to a controversial practice. The same can be the case for the fossil fuel industry. A very important point to remember is that we heavily subsidize the coal, oil, and gas industries. We do not collect reclamation fees upfront and often have to cover those from the state’s budget after these companies declare bankruptcies. If we stop subsidizing the fossil fuel industries and properly charge them for the environmental damage they inflict on the planet, they will go out of business quickly.
Bulk of Wyoming’s Revenue: 52-66% of the state revenues in Wyoming are derived from the coal, oil and gas industries. Although tourism (including hunting and fishing) provides some income to the state it is only a small fraction of the overall revenue stream. Other current sources of income are insufficient to replace income from the fossil fuel industry. See the Resource tab for more information.
Losing Residents and Loved Ones: Between 2015 and 2018, Wyoming lost 7,931 residents (or 1.3% of our 2018 population – 577,737 people). We are also sadly forever losing loved ones at much higher rates than the rest of the nation. For information on suicide rate in Wyoming see the Resources tab. Economic anxiety and lack of hope for the future are factors we need to address by expanding the state’s economy.
Diversify the State’s Economy: Governor Matt Mead established the Economically Needed Diversity Options for Wyoming (ENDOW) initiative in November 2016 (see Resources tab for link to the ENDOW website). The goal is to develop plans and initiatives to attract new businesses and revenue sources to Wyoming. Governor Mark Gordon is continuing that initiative.
Hydrogen-Cell Vehicle: Are you interested in some of the new innovations? Check out the links in the Resources tab for examples of innovations that we can attract to Wyoming. When I was a safari tour guide in Kenya over 30 years ago (1985-1990) there were no landline phones in much of that country. Today, pastoral Masai herders download weather forecasts using their cell phones charged by solar panels (more on this at the Resources tab).
Energy Producing State: According to experts, Wyoming has good wind resources (see Resources tab) but our capacity to generate solar energy is limited compared to neighboring states to our south. Having said that, we have incredible capacity to grow in production of solar energy for local use. If every public and private building in the state had a solar roof, we would be able to generate a lot more energy than we do now without harming our wide-open spaces! Indeed, several towns in Wyoming are exploring ways to be carbon neutral in the near future!
Quality of Life for Outdoor Lovers: I am an outdoor enthusiast and the recreational opportunities in Wyoming was the main reason I accepted the job offer from the University of Wyoming 20 years ago. My favorite sport, which I learned while living in Alaska (1990-2000), is skijoring. To see my dog, Chilkoot, and I enjoying some of Wyoming’s trails click here. My various research projects took me to some of the most remote and beautiful parts of the state. I feel fortunate to have been able to experience these incredible places and meet many of the people who share these feelings with me. I’m also a hunter and own 2 rifles and a shotgun. I believe hunting is the most humane way to obtain my meat, which is why I usually eat wild game. When the freezer gets low, locally raised, grass fed, free-ranging Wyoming beef is the preferred alternative. For several years in Israel (where hunting is prohibited) I was a vegetarian. To hear what made me start eating meat again, catch me at one of my campaign events – it’s a story about serving in the Israeli military and participating in a war...
“Live and Let Live”: We in Wyoming like to be “left alone” as one of my friends said when I asked what makes Wyoming special. Indeed we do! It is for that reason that we should be inclusive of people with differing backgrounds, beliefs and orientations. As my 88 years-old mother told my gay nephew when he came out: “I don’t tell you what I do in my bedroom and don’t expect you to tell me what you do in yours. I love you for who you are”. The same principle is true for intervening with decisions that should be made privately. No elected official has the moral authority to decide what one does with their body, their health or their family (abuse notwithstanding). In Wyoming, we pride ourselves on being there to help our neighbors when they need it, and then letting them live their lives as they wish.
Locally Produced Energy: An example of potential future energy sources are molten salt reactors. This technology, using small facilities to generate energy by converting Thorium to low amounts Uranium in the presence of liquid fluoride, are receiving increased attention (there are multiple resources online and the Resources tab). Thorium deposits are found in the Bear Lodge Mountains of Wyoming (see Resources tab) although Idaho has the largest deposits in the United States.
Healthcare System: In the 20 years I have lived in Wyoming, I had at least 6 different personal physicians. They were all excellent, but didn’t stay very long. Although I live in Laramie, a University town of about 30,000 people, I often have to go to Cheyenne or Ft. Collins to receive specialized treatment (thankfully, I’m a healthy person! so it doesn’t happen too often). I have met many in Wyoming who have even less access to health care than those of us living in the bigger towns. If we want to attract people who are searching for high quality of life and if we want to ensure that the young people of Wyoming find a future in the state, we need to design an excellent and affordable healthcare system; a system that also includes mobile services to reach our far-flung ranches. As a first step, Wyoming should join the rest of the Union in expanding Medicaid and be part of the discussion and planning of revised plans for healthcare and social security at the national level.
Job Guarantee Programs: This idea was first proposed decades ago. It is intended to use federal funds to support state-based job creation programs (instead of unemployment benefits and food stamps). It involves guaranteed employment after job losses and a minimum livable wage while working. Adaptation of this initiative to our times may help job creation and retraining programs in Wyoming (see Resources tab for more information).
Careful Planning: Over the past few decades, we have developed excellent planning tools that allow us to identify important area for conservation while fostering economic development. For examples of innovative use of science to plan future development while conserving our wide-open spaces and wildlife populations check out the Wyoming Migration Initiative or Wind Power in Wyoming: Doing it Smart from the Start (see Resources tab for links).