OPINION: No One is Special

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The MHSC Board of Trustees voted to remove its assets from Bank of the West today.
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The following was written and submitted by Tom Gagnon.

Bank of the West is not unique in the clean-energy course that it has decided upon. Lots of other organizations and companies have made similar declarations.

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Most of the Ivy League has been divesting from fossil fuels for years, the Catholic Church and many Protestant denominations have made their pro-environment pronouncements, as have hundreds of companies, including Walmart, Amazon, Ford, and Hewlett-Packard.

The Bank’s move is 100% in accord with all the countries of the world, except the United States, because of someone’s move to pull us out of the Paris Climate Agreement.

The Bank’s recent announcement to divest from fossil fuels, and to help industries and regions to transition to renewable, healthier, carbon-free energy, and work towards a world that acknowledges that the atmosphere is warming, and that its chemical composition is changing in unhealthy ways, that the oceans are dying, that the ice caps are indeed melting and sea level is verifiably rising, is just good and sensible; it’s sort of a country song on steroids.

Somehow or other, the Bank’s announcement has struck a really negative cord in Wyoming, and especially so here in Sweetwater County, though probably not in too many other parts of the U.S.

It should be added that not everyone here in Sweetwater County is condemning this bank. Some of us are praising it for doing something because it is, scientifically and economically, the right thing to do. At our current trajectory, Wyoming will not be selling any energy to anyone, because we are trying to arrest time.

The reaction of county commissioner Wally Johnson, “I don’t want to do any business with anybody who takes that [clean energy] position,” wants to withdraw county funds from the bank.

A man, who was a commissioner till this past Tuesday, said it was “war”.

County Treasurer Robb Slaughter cried “…it’s a punch in the stomach.” Is there an adult in our courthouse? State officials were no better. These reactions point to the need to replace these dinosaurs as soon as possible, because they are living in the Carboniferous (359 to 299 million years ago), when, it appears, coal and oil and gas formed and buried themselves under the ground, thus allowing life to exist on the surface.

The mid-term elections can’t get here soon enough. This being so, I recognize that, locally at least, I’m hardly preaching to the choir. In Wyoming we have a hard trail to blaze to create a first-world economy.

The Third World, keep in mind, is not a place, it’s a condition. It’s partly characterized by an economy that relies on a small number of raw-resource commodities. Notably, these resources are available from many other places, which makes maintaining high prices problematic.

A good Wyoming-specific summation of this process can be found in a skinny-little book called Pushed Off the Mountain, Sold Down the River; Wyoming’s Search for Its Soul, by Samuel Western.

Related to how small and dependent Wyoming is, as related by this book, we should remember that Bank of the West has over 600 branch offices in nineteen states. Though they would certainly never say it, we are hardly a speck of dust on their board-room floor. I’m only writing the truth, someone else will have to deal with the psychology.

Wyoming is “rich” in oil, coal, gas, and uranium, and cattle, sheep, and sugar beets. By thumbing through a little-kid’s atlas, it’s easy to see that lots of places in the world produce all of these things.

Trona is one of the few fairly-unique resources we have, but it is exported in bulk, instead of our manufacturing it into finished products here. This is where the real value would be. Before we know it, however, like the bison earlier, it will be gone.

The economic diversification and transition alluded to by Bank of the West are ideas that Wyoming needs to think and talk about. We should not over react and take precipitous actions. These might hurt people and some good financial arrangements, and we would regret that later.

This humble editorial may already be too late; but, of course, it probably would have been ignored anyway, if printed sooner. It looks like changes are already being made. Still, maybe it’s possible to reverse course and minimize the damage, then enter upon a period designed to heal. Maybe….

This recent dustup has a quality to it that’s reminiscent of the Salem Witch Trials. Hysteria was suddenly everywhere. Twenty people were put to death, and about two hundred jailed in miserable conditions. All of this was based upon “spectral evidence”, then admissible in law. (Having looked into this event in some detail, I view it, cynical as always, as hardly less than a real-estate scam. Indeed, much property did change hands).

Today, here in Sweetwater County, perhaps “denialism” has replaced “spectral”. The logic seems to be that if you dislike reality vehemently enough, and lash out and change your bank account, your problems will go away, and the world beyond will adjust to accommodate us. Well, there’s a fine chance of that happening.