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The Wyoming Climate Summit will focus on Indigenous knowledge and green energy

The logo for the Wyoming Climate Summit
Wyoming Climate Summit

Lander will play host to a statewide summit on climate change next week. The organizers, the Lander Climate Action Network, hope to elevate Indigenous voices, explore renewable energy and green transportation, and inspire more sustainable living in a rapidly changing Mountain West. Wyoming Public Radio's Jeff Victor spoke with organizer Ariel Greene about the upcoming summit.

Ariel Greene: Our aims for the summit are first, to promote discussion of climate change across Wyoming. We think this is a really important subject that affects all Wyomingites and is under-discussed given its impacts. Climate change is already affecting our life here and it will increasingly do so as time goes on, so we think it deserves more attention and we're trying to bring more attention to it. We're also trying to educate Wyomingites on current and projected climate change impacts to Wyoming and our region. We're trying to inspire more community-level climate change action of the kind that already exists in Lander, Laramie and Teton County. We're trying to highlight traditional ecological knowledge and Native perspectives from our region. The Wind River Reservation, which is right next door to Lander, is a sizable land area within the state and it's a coherent community, and we want to include its voices and perspectives. Another aim is, we're trying to build networks, bring people together from around the state concerned about climate change. And finally, we're trying to have people have a better understanding of what climate solutions are and give them an idea of how it is they can contribute.

Jeff Victor: You mentioned that we're already feeling the effects of climate change and obviously we are. A few days ago, there was flooding in Yellowstone, and we're seeing more forest fires and changes to the snowpack. Is the summit focused more on reducing the impact of climate change or learning to live in an altered environment? Or is it kind of taking on both avenues?

AG: I think we'll include discussion of both avenues, but I would say that the best way to reduce impacts would be to mitigate the problem now rather than adapting to the changes later, but we will have to do both. We are already doing both. Climate change is not a hypothetical future event that's going to happen, it's already happening in Wyoming. So in our area, in Fremont County, the annual average temperature is already about two and half degrees Fahrenheit above the average temperatures when records started being kept in the late 19th century. That means more hot days in Lander. In the past few years, we've had an average of 44 days during the summer where the temperatures reached 90 degrees or above. And this compares to only 17 days for the 20th century, average. So, 44 days of summer, compared to 17, above ninety in Lander.

We're seeing snow seasons become shorter. We already have 15 percent less snowpack than in the first half of the 20th century in the mountains in this area. Our time for peak runoff in rivers is eight days earlier than during the 20th century. Last summer, about half the days we experienced impaired air quality due to wildfire smoke, visible haze for half the summer and everybody's out there breathing that. We see lower levels in our waterways, warmer temperatures, affecting fish populations.

The change is already here and so we're already going to have to adapt to it, but the changes will become dramatically more intensified as time goes on. So it's absolutely necessary that we reduce the cause, which is heat-trapping gas emissions from human activity.

JV: I know there has been a push to listen to more Indigenous activists when it comes to action on climate change. And you mentioned that when you talked about what the summit will include. Could you elaborate on what the summit will have in that regard?

AG: Yeah, absolutely. Early on in our program, we're going to have Dr. Margaret Redsteer, who's a Crow tribal member and an assistant professor at the University of Washington to talk on engaging Indigenous peoples and honoring traditional knowledge systems. We'll also have a panel featuring Wyoming community climate action and planning with representatives from different communities around Wyoming and including the Wind River Reservation. And we'll have another panel about traditional ecological knowledge and climate adaptation and mitigation, and that panel will be moderated by a northern Arapaho Tribal member. And I believe four panelists are all tribal members from different tribes across the western United States. As I said before, the Wind River Reservation in Wyoming is a large piece of land and it's a coherent community and they will be deeply affected by climate change. We think it's important to include their perspective and their knowledge in the conversation.

JV: The summit will also touch on electric vehicles and renewable energy. Could you tell me a little about how it will do that?

AG: Sure. So, another part of the summit will be a presentation of what the major climate solutions are and electrifying transport is one aspect of that. So we'll be having an electric vehicle car show, featuring somewhere around 10 electric vehicles of different makes and models. That should be out in the parking lot all day. And then we'll also have Alicia Cox, who's executive director of Yellowstone-Teton Clean Cities, to talk about their work in Teton County to incentivize and educate people in that area to move to electric transport and electric vehicles.

And then as far as renewable energy, we're going to have a session called "Change is Opportunity: How wind energy development can benefit Wyoming," by Kara Choquette, who's a director of communications and government relations at the Power Company of Wyoming, to talk about wind development in Wyoming.

The Wyoming Climate Summit will take place all day Saturday, June 25 at the Lander Community and Convention Center. Attendance is free and free overnight camping is available at Lander City Park.

Jeff is a part-time reporter for Wyoming Public Media, as well as the owner and editor of the Laramie Reporter, a free online news source providing in-depth and investigative coverage of local events and trends.
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