City Climate Corner

Youth Episode - Laramie WY

Episode Summary

We interview three young people who, as University of Wyoming students, were a key part of Laramie's climate action efforts. Hear from Chelsea Taylor, Jarad O'Brien, and Zach Isler about their projects, their impact on Laramie, and the "town-gown" relationship that is developing between the University and Laramie.

Episode Notes

We interview three young people who, as University of Wyoming students, were a key part of Laramie's climate action efforts. Hear from Chelsea Taylor, Jarad O'Brien, and Zach Isler about their projects, their impact on Laramie, and the "town-gown" relationship that is developing between the University and Laramie.

To hear Laramie's powerful story of climate action in coal country, check out our 10th episode from early July.

Note - we're taking a short summer vacation break from general episodes this week, but will be back on Aug 31st with our next city episode. 


Episode Transcription


Abby Finis  00:02

Cities produce more than 60 percent of global greenhouse gas emissions. Big cities get a lot of attention, but most household emissions in the US actually come from communities outside urban cores, making them critical players in climate mitigation and climate justice. City Climate Corner explores how these small- and mid-sized cities are tackling climate change and moving toward an equitable and sustainable future. 

Abby Finis  00:21

I'm Abby Finis.

Larry Kraft  00:23

And I'm Larry Kraft. We're co hosts for City Climate Corner. 

Larry Kraft  00:30

Hey, Abby.

Abby Finis  00:31

Alright, so we have a special episode. We're going back to Laramie. What are we doing there?

Larry Kraft  00:37

We are. If you remember from our episode, there was significant youth involvement from college students at the University of Wyoming. We actually have three of them that we're going to talk to about some projects they've been involved in in Laramie.

Abby Finis  00:53

I look forward to the conversation. We have interviewed a number of cities that are college towns. I think it'll be a good conversation in highlighting the benefit of having students in your community and getting their involvement.

Larry Kraft  01:08

A lot of the times we've talked in our prior sessions about involvement of students when they were in high school, and these students are involved when they're in college. It's interesting that it's not them necessarily asking for action, it's them taking action in partnership with the community and with the City. Really interesting.

Abby Finis  01:30

Let's give it a listen!

Larry Kraft  01:31

Let's do it.

Start of Interview

Larry Kraft  01:35

We are here with Zach Isler, Jarad O'Brien, and Chelsea Taylor who are all students at the University of Wyoming in the Haub School of Environment and Natural Resources. We're talking more about Laramie. Why don't we start by each of you telling us a little bit about yourselves: what year you are in school, where's your hometown, and why getting involved with this and climate action is something that's important to you. Why don't we start with Zach.

Zach Isler  02:03

Thanks, Larry and Abby for having us here today. I am from Seattle, originally, and I'm a senior graduating in December. I've been in Wyoming for about six years now. At UW for this will be my second year. I got interested specifically in the energy transition in Wyoming. It's such a hot topic issue. This last semester, being in this Campus Sustainability course, gave me a chance to get my hands on some energy transition things. We did a project on solar panels, specifically.

Larry Kraft  02:42


Jarad O'Brien  02:44

I'm originally from Cheyenne, Wyoming, born and raised. I'm currently a senior majoring in Mathematics and Sustainability. I will be graduating in the spring. I originally got involved in sustainability by previously being an Energy Systems Engineering major. I was really interested in that work. Then I found out that that's really not what I wanted to get into and I found out that there was a Sustainability minor, and also was convinced I should just be a mathematician instead of an engineer. And, I loved it. Then, I was taking the Foundation's for Sustainability course with Professor Budowle. She really invigorated my love for this whole involvement in sustainability. She's just a wonderful, wonderful professor. Our project was City Climate Action Plan Campaign, where me and three others went out and spoke to several stakeholders and asked them, "Here's this thing. It's good for you and saves you money. Can you support this sort of thing going forward?" A lot of Chelsea Taylor's work facilitated and helped our work as well.

Larry Kraft  04:03

I tell you, I haven't heard of many Mathematicians and Sustainability majors, but I love it. Chelsea, you've got a kudos already before even being introduced. Why don't you tell us about yourself, where you're from, and why you care about this?

Chelsea Taylor  04:16

Yeah! My name is Chelsea Taylor. I am a recent graduate of the University of Wyoming. My majors were Energy Resource Management and Environment Natural Resources with minors in Restoration and Reclamation Ecology and Honors. How I got involved with sustainability in Laramie and on the UW campus is through my Honors Project. 

Chelsea Taylor  04:39

I knew that I wanted to do something through the Haub School environmental related, and I heard of Rachael Budowle through some of my faculty advisors. I've always had a passion for environmental science, sustainability, and climate change. I thought it'd be really cool to incorporate that into my Honors Project. I chatted with her, oh gosh, it was a couple semesters ago, bouncing ideas back and forth. We decided to start this idea that we both had for getting the City of Laramie involved with climate action planning and involving the University of Wyoming with it. There were other towns, like Fort Collins and CSU and CU Boulder and Boulder, that work together on climate action planning and we thought it'd be really cool if Laramie and UW did that too. 

Chelsea Taylor  05:34

That's how I got involved with that. And sorry, I have a little bit of a stutter. And I kind of stutter sometimes when I get passionate about something. But, my hometown is Castle Rock, Colorado. That's where I'm at now. And, right now I'm actually an environmental scientist at a consulting company in Denver. I'm really excited to be talking about my Honors Project. It's cool that's being used in curriculum and stuff.

Jarad O'Brien  05:59

Yeah, I just have to say it was wonderful, that paper. It was really well written and really well done. It really helped us as a stepping point in our little project. Again, kudos! 

Chelsea Taylor  06:11

Thank you so much! That really means a lot to me.

Abby Finis  06:15

Welcome to you all! A common theme through that is it sounds like you have a really fantastic professor. I think, appreciation to all the teachers and professors who have an impact on students lives and send them in a new trajectory. So shout out to Elizabeth Wilson, who was at the Humphrey Institute for me, and set me on a path as well. That's really awesome! It sounds like you have a really great program. 

University of Wyoming history of climate action involvement

Abby Finis  06:37

Chelsea, can you expand a little bit more on how the University of Wyoming got involved in climate action and working with the City? What's behind that? How did that evolve?

Chelsea Taylor  06:47

It started before me and Rachael's project kind of took off. Either Jarad or Zach can elaborate on this a little bit.

Jarad O'Brien  06:58

Yeah, 2006 or 07, the Association of Students for Sustainability?

Chelsea Taylor  07:04

I believe it was something like that, yeah. It's like this organization, it's a nationwide thing, that UW got involved with a couple years back. They wanted to introduce Sustainability Curriculum into the school. Then through that, I believe it was the AASHE Stars Program was another program that the University of Wyoming got involved with. AASHE Stars is basically a way for campuses to measure their sustainability and environmental consciousness. Wyoming, when they were involved with this program, they received the bronze ranking, which is actually the lowest ranking that you can achieve. I kind of built off of that and was like, "Okay, how can they get a higher ranking and move up to silver or move up to a gold." That program also helps build reputation for sustainability and environmental awareness and stuff like that on campuses. I wanted to expand on things that Wyoming had previously been involved with. 

Chelsea Taylor  08:14

There was a statement, I believe that the former President of UW sent out and said, "Hey, we want to be more sustainable. We want to..." It was basically a Climate Action Plan to be carbon neutral by 2050. And, that has since been pushed to the side. That's one thing that I wanted to enact in this project too.


Abby Finis  08:42

Cool! It sounds like each of you maybe had a particular project. Zach can you tell us what you did?

Zach Isler  08:48

I worked on a project, it was a little bit more community oriented than University oriented, but obviously the University is such a huge part of Laramie. But, they're all interrelated there. Our project, I worked with three other great team members, it was finding ways to incentivize solar energy distributed, kind of rooftop solar energy, for the City of Laramie, and Albany County in general. We built on projects from the floor and took this project from a City Council Subcommittee and then brought it to Rachael's class. Then, we took it over there, which I think is one of the really cool things about the class. 

Zach Isler  09:33

The Campus Sustainability Class creates a climate change ecosystem where you can have projects that go from semester to semester and kind of bounce back and forth. But, anyways, our project, in particular, we looked into big picture financial incentives. Things like tax rebates, or the Rural Energy Program, for either getting grants or tax rebates. Then from there, we got a little bit more creative because there's only so much you can do to incentivize it. There's not a lot of state support currently for distributed solar generation, especially while we're doing this Solar Net Metering bill in Wyoming, which was under hot debate, which happens pretty often in Wyoming, whether net metering is going to be allowed or not. 

Zach Isler  10:23

We had to come up with more creative ways that didn't include a lot of capital commitment from either the town or the county. We looked at a few cool programs, one of them would be when we talked to building developers, and then talked to the City Planning Department to see if there's ways that they could swap out requirements. Let's say a building developer would not have to build one or two parking spaces or would have different landscaping requirements if they agreed to put solar panels in. That's something that could be applicable for using heat pumps as well or for using wind generation. We specifically were recommending it for solar. Once we got these suggestions together, we presented them to the City Council and a few other people. I think that those plans and those suggestions are going to keep building and moving on. 

Zach Isler  11:20

In terms of how much impact it's making, I'm not really sure. I think there's a lot of potential for growth, but the outlook is definitely positive. Especially because I think Laramie is at this cool junction where there's potential for a more energy sovereign and energy democratic future if these kind of programs can be used. And, if people jump on board with it. I mean, Wyoming's all about "do it yourself" mentality. If you can make that connection between power generation and being self reliant, I think it has a strong potential for changing people's minds culturally.

Abby Finis  12:00

Jarad, can you tell us a little bit about your project?

Jarad O'Brien  12:03

My portion of it was essentially the background like, where was the University and how did we get to this point within the realm of sustainability, specifically on campus? Because previously, there was not really much involvement with the City. But, we were really pushing and advocating for this to be essentially a "town and gown" relationship.

Larry Kraft  12:28

"Town and gown." Rachael said this in the other interview we did. I haven't heard that term before. I guess it means University and town, right?

Jarad O'Brien  12:37

Exactly! It was a subject in our class and in a couple papers that she did as well. But, facilitating this whole campus-community relationship, especially in the action of sustainability, is super super...what's a good word other than just good? It's, well it's collaborative. You use all of those relationships. You use, not only the triage between staff, faculty, and students. Students, I think being the most important, because they're that shared interest group between everybody, but also the City, the community, and in our case the county, which was really nice too. We got the approval of the county, not just the City in this campaign. It's because getting that relationship together, not only for the benefit of shared resources, but sustainability needs to be a collaborative effort or it's gonna fall short, at least in my opinion. I think in a lot of experiences as well, if you just go forth with the individualized consumerism, just saying, "Oh, you need to recycle, you need to do this sort of thing." It's gonna fall short. These kinds of incentives need to be a collaborative effort. 

Jarad O'Brien  13:58

I think a lot of research has shown that when they are a collaborative effort, created by coalition's going forward, they have the most percentage of success. I actually just got off a meeting with Rachael today talking about creating a taskforce to help this go forward. I think that's the next step. With my involvement as a Board of Directors member for ARE, we're really hoping to knit this together in a coming event for what's called the Shephard Symposium. And, eventually, climate action planning so we can get this all together and really have a good "town gown" relationship because it's funny. Our knowledge Laramie is the only city, that we know of so far, that has made a carbon neutrality commitment before the University has. That's huge. Like, "Hey, UW, what are you doing? The City is ahead of you in this action, so maybe we should catch up, we really should facilitate this whole 'town and gown' relationship. Let's work together on this and go forth."

Larry Kraft  15:10

You know, it's so interesting how each of you had a different project in different ways impacting the University, I guess that's the gown side of it and the town. When we interviewed Brian Harrington, from City Council, and Monika and Rachael, they spoke about how important it was that you all were involved. Not just from the excellent work you did, but that having young folks involved can change the dynamic of the discussion. I'm curious how you felt you were received by the community and by the City Council. I mean, Wyoming can be a little more of a conservative place.

Zach Isler  15:54

We had quite a few meetings with ARE, the City Council, and the Environmental Advisory Committee. And, we were received incredibly positively, every time. We were talking to people who wanted to hear what we were saying, which was really great. And, we got a lot of feedback from them about our project, what they wanted to see, and guidance. I think we started off the semester with meetings just looking for guidance. Then, the feeling we got from from these people was like, "Oh! We're really excited about what you're doing and we want to support you and just kind of run with it," which was cool to see and not something that I expected. 

Zach Isler  16:34

Our voices were, at least for me, like my voice was more important or had more weight than I thought it would be in this, not necessarily just a student doing a project. Sometimes I thought of it like this: the campus was sort of an engine for these climate change projects and the student pool is the fuel, or something like that, I don't know if that's a good metaphor. But, the community might have the need, but not necessarily the resources and people serving on town council boards. As you probably know Larry, you're pretty busy doing other stuff. Avid students have the time and the interest for it. Then, you've got great faculty and mentors, like Monika and Rachael, who have all the passion and the expertise. It's sort of like all three of those things work together really well.

Chelsea Taylor  17:21

I've got to agree with what Zach was saying about the positive feedback that I received. For the paper that I wrote, I interviewed different stakeholders. And, all the stakeholders that I interviewed were like, "Oh my goodness! You're doing this. This is awesome. This is something that needs to be done!" Generally, I got some positive feedback from from them. One person that I interviewed was from a different school in a different state. They were saying that people do want to make change happen, but they're afraid of not having the resources and afraid of having the money to make those changes. And, there's a lot of support, but there's not a whole lot of resources. That was one thing that I found that was a common denominator in the people that I was interviewing. But, overall, I generally got positive feedback from all this stuff. 

Jarad O'Brien  18:08

I agree with both of them. Responses were resoundingly positive, even out of all the stakeholders that our group presented to. And, being born and raised in Wyoming, that was a big surprise for me. I was constantly asking our mentors, Monika and Alec, "Well, what should we be prepared for? What should we have as a response to these people that don't think this is a big deal?" And, that never became the case. I think it's just what everybody else is saying. Once they know that there's something out there that's trying to bring this together, they're more willing to participate, I suppose. 

Jarad O'Brien  18:53

I think it honestly goes hand in hand with a recent issue with the whole net metering that Zach mentioned a few months ago. The state legislator was trying to push a lot of bills that were essentially downplaying people participating in net metering. As soon as Monika, a lot of other ARE members, and those involved with the Powder River organization, emailed everyone, they had an enormous amount of people just show up and say, "No, this is not our interest. You need to be creating stuff that's within our interest. This is not okay." Again, going off of that whole "town and gown" relationship thing, it goes for those shared resources. And, I especially think in the case of Laramie, Laramie is the poorest municipality in Wyoming. Having this relationship of a lot of passionate people within the community in this City partnered with the resources, not only in research and information, but also money from the University, creates this really nice kinship, I suppose. It's not even a relationship where one is more overbearing than the other. It's something that everybody has an equal share and then equal take in.

Zach Isler  20:22

Very related to that, it seems like having a really small community and campus focus already depoliticizes it from these big picture, hot button issues. Then having it come from students as well, brings it some legitimacy and takes away some of the political aspects. People are more willing to listen sometimes. 

Jarad O'Brien  20:48

Yeah. And another thing I've been finding is like, I'm starting to see people like you Zach and other people that are interested in this more often. It kind of comes with the Wyoming culture of, it's big enough to where you can have some anonymity, but also small enough to where you still have that communal feeling that really makes it a lot easier, despite the coal industry that our state is famous for. So go forward with positive change.

Abby Finis  21:18

You all have done really cool work in school. And, Chelsea you are done with school. And Zach, you're pretty close. Jarad, it's not too far in the future, I guess. Do you see yourselves going into climate or bringing climate into your work? What career path do you have? Start with Chelsea, maybe since you just finished and you're in it.

Career paths

Chelsea Taylor  21:39

I was just thinking about this actually. The company that I'm with, I would really like to bring in some talk about climate action. A lot of the work that I do is actually inspections on oil and gas sites. What I want to do is bring in the climate stuff that I learned from this Honors Project and have it go forth. I'm actually having a meeting with one of my superiors about climate action planning tomorrow. I'm excited to talk to him about how the company can bring that into perspective, how we can help consult other companies that are in the oil and gas industry, and how to reduce greenhouse gases and maybe how to measure them. I really think the work that I did with Rachael helped me get to where I am now in my career. I really want to make sure that the work that I did with climate action planning continues on through my career.

Abby Finis  22:40


Jarad O'Brien  22:42

Actually, lately, I already got a semi-professional offer through ARE. Already being a board member, there's been talk that they want me to do a little bit more administrative stuff. So, there's that. But otherwise, I've been working a lot on data science and decision science, especially related to sustainability planning. My internship has been helping facilitate a lot. I've already been working on projects with faculty across the campus, such as I'm currently waiting for some data to be compiled from an official at the School of Energy Resources. I recently talked with Rachael, and her, myself, and Professor Arnett, in the Decision Sciences Department, are talking about this whole thing of trying to put some research into a return on investment study for all this climate action planning, especially at UW going forward. But, that's mainly what I really want to be involved in is creating that connection between math and sustainability. Because like Larry said, there's not many people that are majoring in mathematics and they're within the sustainability realm.

Abby Finis  24:04

Cool! Zach, what are you thinking?

Zach Isler  24:06

Yeah, I'm interested in a lot of things all the time. But, definitely something in sustainability. This class directly led to a couple internships that I'm doing right now. One of them is with the City of Laramie helping to update the greenhouse gas emissions inventory, which is run through ICLEI, and a couple of other projects. Then I'm also working with a really great organization here in Jackson, Wyoming called Energy Conservation Works. I'd be interested in continuing work like that. It's a joint powers board between the county, the town, and the energy co-op here. I'm really interested in energy transitions, especially kind of the justice aspect of it. I think that draws me more towards community level, whether that's advocacy or maybe small government stuff. Definitely the program's side of nonprofits I like. I think there's a lot of great companies out there doing green stuff, but I'm just not sure for me if green capitalism is the answer. I don't think I want to focus all my energies on that for now.

Advice for others

Larry Kraft  25:18

What advice would you have, say from a couple angles, for other students looking to get involved in local communities or other cities, maybe where there's a potential "town gown" relationship? What advice would you have for those two groups? Let's do reverse order. This time, we can start with Zach, and then Jarad and Chelsea.

Zach Isler  25:41

I think for students, pulling from my own experience, I'd say to get involved with a class like this, or a local organization like ARE, or even your town council. I think, for me, studying environmental sciences things and climate change things or even just reading the news. But, mostly at an academic level, it gives you all these broad, big picture understandings of the major world systems and how they're being affected by this, or the big problems, which I think can lead to climate anxiety. And, maybe this feeling of, you don't have a lot of agency, but then actually getting your hands on something, being able to do it, and making your mark on it gives you a lot of agency and helps alleviate that anxiety on some level. It takes it from just being these broad, big picture theories to, "Okay, here's what's actually happening on the ground. Here's a path forward," and allows you to envision a future for your community or the world that's a little bit different. I think for me, that was one of the biggest things I got out of this class: connection between big broad, scary things and daily life.

Larry Kraft  26:57

And then who knows, right? The thing you do can become a model for others. It could get even shared on a podcast!

Zach Isler  27:04


Larry Kraft  27:05

Alright, Jarad. What about you? Advice. 

Jarad O'Brien  27:07

For fellow students, get involved. Adventures out there. You can only go so far with a theoretical experience. I highly suggest at least one semester for study abroad, getting perspective is very important. And hitting it home again, you know, get involved. Participate in city council, your local government, or volunteer. Getting that practical, hands on experience is very, very important. What was your other question? 

Larry Kraft  27:40

Advice for cities, where there's a "town gown" relationship.

Jarad O'Brien  27:43

Make sure that your meetings are available in both an in-person or electronic format. Make sure that people know where to find them. I can't tell you, sometimes it was hard for me to find the City Council of Laramie's meetings, but after the Zoompocalypse, they definitely updated things. I'm glad that that was at least one good thing that came out of all of this.

Abby Finis  28:10

Is that what we're calling this? The Zoompocalypse? 

Jarad O'Brien  28:13


Abby Finis  28:14

You've heard it first here.

Larry Kraft  28:18


Chelsea Taylor  28:19

For students, I'm going to echo what Zach and Jarad said. Get involved with things that not only you're passionate about, but that you have a slight interest in. And then maybe, that will develop into a passion that can relate to the other passion that you have. Especially with sustainability and climate change, it infatuates all aspects of life. So, if you want to join a business, I believe it's the Alpha Kappa Psi or something like that on UW's campus, you can get involved with that and talk to them about how businesses can adapt to the changing climate and stuff like that. Get involved with lots of different things. That's one thing that I wish I would have done. 

Chelsea Taylor  29:04

And, I like what Zach said about climate anxiety. That's one thing that I did have going into the project that I was working on is that, "Oh my goodness, this is such a big topic! I don't know where to start." But, you have to remember that little things do make a difference. You have to start little in order to work up to the bigger things. I know that seems like a trivial concept, but it's so true, especially when it comes to climate action. 

Chelsea Taylor  29:29

As far as advice for cities, make sure you get students involved. I know that's the whole point of this podcast, but it's so crucial to get students involved because when you're in a college town, the students are such a vital part of the town. They contribute to greenhouse gases and to transportation costs and local events and stuff like that. It's so important to have students involved. It's also really important to look at what other cities are doing and collaborate with them. I know that's one thing that helped me in creating my project, I interviewed somebody from, I believe it was Iowa, and they were like, "Oh my goodness, that's cool that somewhere in Wyoming is doing something similar to what we're doing." And. there's collaboration there. Collaborate with other cities and collaborate with other counties and collaborate with students. I think those are three very important things that they could be doing.

Larry Kraft  30:24


Abby Finis  30:26

That's great! Thank you all. 

We hope you enjoyed this episode of City Climate Corner. If you like what you're hearing, make sure to subscribe and give us a review. If you're able, become a monthly supporter through Patreon. As always, you can find more information on this topic and resources from each episode's guests on our webpage If you have an idea for the show, send us an email at or find us on Twitter, Instagram, and Facebook.

Larry Kraft  30:54

City Climate Corner is produced by Abby Finis, and me Larry Kraft. Edited by me. Our production assistant is Maggie Morin. Music by

Abby Finis  31:03

King Gizzard and the Lizard Wizard.

Larry Kraft  31:05

Thanks for listening and we'll see you next time.