SHERIDAN, Wyo. — Author Sam Western urged a gathering of mostly graduates of local leadership programs to begin a new conversation on Wyoming’s economic future.

“I’m worried that our political and cultural narrative is on a collision course with our economic narrative,” Western said.

He said Wyoming residents and leaders have gotten a pass for years to avoid difficult conversations about the future of Wyoming’s economy. While Wyoming clings to the energy industry, primarily coal, Western said the rest of the world is working to reduce the amount of carbon-based fuels it uses.

The Sheridan Press reported ( that Western is teaching a class at Sheridan College that focuses on the state’s economy.

Karen St. Clair, director of workforce and community education at Sheridan College, said critical thinking is foundational in higher education.

His class, titled ‘The New Wyoming Narrative,’ explores topics that put Wyoming’s current situation into a bigger context.

Western said he is not anti-coal and said he believes coal and carbon-based fuels will continue to be a part of the world’s energy portfolio. As the world becomes more energy efficient, demand for energy may continue to decline, affecting states that depend on the industry.

Western, who has written for magazines including The Economist, questioned the state’s reliance on commodities for its economic structure. Commodities, he said, will always force a roller coaster of booms and busts. Industries like coal and other commodities should be the icing on the cake, not the batter, he said.

Western also referred to the state’s low taxes and wondered how Wyoming residents can be stakeholders in the state’s future.

“We’ve gotten a hall pass on contributing to the economy of Wyoming,” Western said.

Western said Wyoming has little power in Washington, D.C.

He said with only one member of the U.S. House and two senators, the state’s voice in Congress is often ignored.

Information from: The Sheridan (Wyo.) Press,