(Dan Cepeda, Oil City File)

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Mullen: Coal funded my critical thinking skills

While going to school for art, then eventually social work and environment & natural resources, I was often asked what I planned to do with my education. I quickly grew tired of the question and one day decided to respond with just two words – “a lot.”  

I didn’t have to wait for graduation to start doing a lot with my learning and going to school in Wyoming allowed me opportunities that would have been harder to reach studying elsewhere. Presenting at an international conference in South Africa, conducting research with young refugees in Greece, and documenting impacts of COVID-19 on nearby national parks are just some of the learning experiences I found through UW. This is where I developed my way of thinking about the world – curiously, closely, critically, and with gratitude. 

I owe thanks to my educators and academic advisors, and to the coal industry for funding my critical thinking skills, but I also owe my honest and best use of those skills if my thanks is to be sincere. This means thinking critically about all things, including coal. Some might find that to be contradictory, when it was coal that supported my learning, but I don’t see it that way. I believe my thanks ought to be genuine and my thankful, critical thinking is this:

Despite what’s been gained from the mineral, we need a transition away from coal. For some that’s defeatist, but a shift to the cleanest energy available actually means meeting the challenge presented by climate change, rather than giving up. Diversifying our economy and shedding the boom-bust cycle should not dispose of our hardworking coal communities, but denying obvious market trends certainly will. Lastly, my questions around the Democrats’ reconciliation bill do not start with how we will pay for it, but rather how we will pay for the squandering do-nothing alternative being toted by our congressional leaders.

Wyoming taught me to be authentic, thankful, entrepreneurial, generous, resourceful, stewardly, and stubbornly determined. The time is now and I plan to do a lot with that.

Conor Mullen