GUEST OPINION: Answering the call

By on June 16, 2015

Assuming responsibility for Jackson Hole’s future


Jackson Hole, Wyoming – Fourteen years ago I moved to Jackson Hole to ski deep pow in big mountains. For the next five years I lived the dream, skiing more than 120 days per year in the Teton backcountry, working service industry jobs to support my addiction, and having way too much fun.

There is not much better than the feeling of skiing bottomless snow with your friends — it’s almost spiritual. Time stands still. You are completely lost in the moment. It’s so magical I focused my entire life around finding that feeling.

But as much fun as that life was, something just didn’t feel right.

When your life is completely dependent on the weather, you start paying a lot of attention to what’s going on with the climate. Even 10 years ago the science was settled — climate change was happening, we were causing it from our burning of fossil fuels, and it was already having devastating consequences like monster wildfires, super storms and historic droughts.

Given these facts, one crisp fall day 10 years ago when I was huffing up the steep part of the trail to Hanging Canyon with my girlfriend, I launched into one of my usual diatribes about climate change. My girlfriend, Stacy, turned around, looked me in the eyes and said, “Craig, I’m sick of your complaining. If you’re not going to do something, I don’t want to hear it.”

At that moment I knew two things: I had to marry this woman and it was time to do something. I couldn’t imagine one day looking my children in the eyes and telling them I knew about climate change, but I didn’t do anything about it because I was too busy having fun and taking care of myself. It just felt selfish. As Martin Luther King Junior once said, “Our lives begin to end the day we become silent about things that matter.” So I did the only logical thing I could think of. I married Stacy and we moved to Seattle so I could get a master’s degree in public administration focused on environmental policy and sustainability. After graduation, I spent seven years working in conservation advocacy fighting for a better future.

Two years ago, my wife Stacy and I decided to move back to Jackson Hole to raise our two children. This winter our daughter Piper said something that captures the essence of why we made this choice: “Daddy, Jackson Hole is so cool, we don’t have a zoo, we have wild. All we have to do is go outside and there are elk, bighorn sheep, moose and cool animals. I liked going to the zoo, but this is way cooler.”

I wake up every day driven by a ferocious love for this wild place we are so lucky to call home, dedicated to protecting it for Piper, our son Ryder, and all future generations. I bet you feel this same love for Jackson Hole. Whether it’s a love for the skiing, the wildlife, the wild places, the community, the astonishing natural beauty, the arts and culture, the fantastic schools or some other reason — we’ve all made a conscious choice to call this place home.

But, here’s the thing: climate change poses an existential threat to everything we love about Jackson Hole.

Last week the Charture Institute released “The Coming Climate: Ecological and Economic Impacts of Climate Change on Teton County” — a comprehensive overview of the likely consequences of climate change on the Tetons region (you can download the full report at In short, the report explains how we are already dealing with some of the predicted local impacts of climate change, such as more wildfires, less snow and more rain and more wildlife diseases and invasive species entering our valley. It also points out how the habitat is changing in ways that will make it incredibly challenging for many of our native species to survive here, and then it outlines how things are likely to get worse (much worse) in the future. But it doesn’t have to be this way.

Pope Francis recently said about climate change, “It is man who has slapped nature in the face. We have in a sense taken over nature… Thanks be to God that today there are voices, so many people who are speaking out about it.”

It’s time we joined the chorus of voices around the world speaking out about climate change. But we need to do more than speak out. Much more.

It’s time to fulfill our moral responsibility to leave things better than we found them and create an improved world for our children, which means preparing for and tackling climate change now. This means breaking our addiction to fossil fuels.

Since ground transportation accounts for more than 60 percent of our climate change- causing pollution, let’s build a better transportation future where everyone has the freedom to get where they need to go on foot, bike, or transit. Let’s direct growth out of our rural areas into walkable neighborhoods. Let’s do everything within our means to help people who work here afford to live here so people aren’t forced into long fossil-fuel-consuming commutes.

Let’s increase our supply of locally generated renewable energy and reduce our demand for fuel through efficiency and conservation. Let’s proactively prepare for wildfires both at the community and individual property level. Let’s make our homes, neighborhoods and roads safe for wildlife to pass through so animals like moose, elk, and bears can find their way across the valley to good habitat. Let’s protect critical wildlife habitat and migration corridors.

Let’s focus our collective love for this incredible place on working together to constructively and innovatively respond to the biggest challenge we have ever faced in every way possible. Let’s build a regional food system, divert more of our waste and conduct additional research to help us effectively plan for the changed climate of the future.

Let’s recognize that while no one community can solve climate change, we can proactively respond to it and prepare for its impacts. In doing so, we can build a stronger community — one prepared for whatever the future may bring.

Let’s show the millions of people who visit our home every year that if cold, isolated, fossil fuel dependent Jackson Hole can live in balance with nature, they can do it, too.

Finally, let’s take charge of our future and fulfill our moral responsibility so one day we can look our children in the eyes and tell them that when history knocked on our door, we had the courage to answer the call.

About Craig Benjamin

Craig Benjamin is the executive director of the Jackson Hole Conservation Alliance.

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