Energy Journal: How can Wyoming’s coal communities help fight climate change?
Benji Backer is on a mission to make fighting climate change a cause Wyoming coal communities can feel a part of.
The 22-year-old helps lead the American Conservation Coalition, a youth-led organization focused on propelling market-driven environmental solutions to save the planet.
To make his case to the nation, Benji launched a 50-day cross-country tour of the U.S. this month and the first stop was in Wyoming. He wants to mobilize conservative communities across the country who may be left out of the environmental movement. That includes coal miners in Wyoming, he said.
Fun fact: He’s also driving in a Tesla Model X, an electric car, for the entire trip.
I had a chance to interview Benji on Sept. 15, the day he arrived in Wyoming. The interview has been lightly edited for clarity.
Camille Erickson: Can you tell us a bit about the mission of the Conservation Coalition?
Benji Backer: I think you can have environmentalism, bipartisanship and economic success all at the same time. That is why we were founded. It was really to bring both sides together around these small, market-based solutions that involve communities at the local, state and national level, along with the business community.
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CE: Why did you select Wyoming as the first stop on your 50-day Election Electric Roadtrip?
BB: I grew up in the Midwest, but I came to the Grand Tetons in middle school. The beauty of the Grand Tetons is one of the things that has always stuck with me. So, when we were looking to do what we’re calling the Election Electric Roadtrip — which is a campaign driving a Tesla for 50 days to showcase local, market-based solutions to climate change — I thought, what better way than to launch it than in such a beautiful place that has the need for those local, market-based solutions? Wyoming’s population relies on the natural world to succeed.
Also, I wanted to make it obvious that it wasn’t just the coasts that care about the environment; it is also these places in what is known as “Middle America” that have a major stake in the environmental conversations. They deserve a voice. There are solutions happening all over the states, including in Wyoming, that can solve these challenges.
In Wyoming specifically, we’re really impressed in the work happening on the eastern side of the state around nuclear energy and carbon capture. Those sorts of solutions are really important to fighting environmental challenges.
CE: What would you like individuals and families working in the coal industry here to know about your movement to combat climate change? There is sometimes a fear in coal communities that efforts to lower greenhouse gas emissions will lead to the end of their livelihood.
BB: There are two main things I would want to tell to these communities. First, embracing climate change does not mean that you are going to lose your job. There are solutions out there like carbon capture and other technologies that can allow you to keep your job, boost the economy and protect the environment, all at the same time. It’s going to take technology and innovation. The Conservation Coalition is an organization that supports all energy sectors and people of all backgrounds and walks of life. I think that’s incredibly key.