Demonstrators lie on black plastic sheets to recreate “Carbon Sink,” a censored sculpture on the University of Wyoming campus on Monday at the Carbon Sink Lives! rally. (photo by Monika Leininger)

Volunteers resurrected the Carbon Sink sculpture on the University of Wyoming campus Monday at noon, at least for a moment.

Lying on a black plastic sheet and forming a circle, demonstrators assembled an homage to a 2011 work Chris Drury built with chunks of coal and the logs of trees felled by pine beetles.

The original sculpture was removed from campus earlier than planned by order of university officials under pressure from politicians and coal companies. The sculpture’s reference to climate change, and the state’s role in the problem as a prominent producer of oil, gas and coal, was too much for some state leaders to countenance.

The full title of the original sculpture was “Carbon Sink: What Goes Around, Comes Around.” The mix of coal and dead pines artistically linked climate change driven by coal to the swathes of pine-beetle-killed trees that scar forests around the west, including in the Snowy Range mountains west of Laramie.

University officials tried to deflect the idea they had bowed to political pressure in the removal. Those deflections were questioned by documents obtained by journalists at Wyoming Public Media through public records requests.

Dan Mitchell, a former art curator at the Nicolaysen Museum in Casper who faced his own episode of censorship, gave Wyoming journalists credit for refuting the officials denials, albeit with a caveat. Mitchell spoke to UW professor Jeff Lockwood for Lockwood’s book Behind the Carbon Curtain, which documented attempts at censorship in Wyoming by the energy industry and their political allies.

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“The journalists who uncovered the university’s administrators’ clumsy lies and the bone-headed, angry, intellectually dishonest cacophony of legislators’ voices demanding its removal really didn’t have such a tough job,” Mitchell wrote to Lockwood. “But bless them for the good work.”

Monday’s recreation of the sculpture was organized by Laramie resident Mike Selmer. Speakers at the event gave testimony as current “climate change witnesses,” including a high-school student from Paradise, California, a town ravaged by the massive Camp Fire last year.

A press release from Selmer described the event as “a rally for truth and action on climate change.”

Andrew Graham

Andrew Graham is reporting for WyoFile from Laramie. He covers state government, energy and the economy. Reach him at 443-848-8756 or at andrew@wyofile.com, follow him @AndrewGraham88

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  1. As a coal miner I wasn’t fond of the sculpture, I will just get that out of the way. But I am disappointed it was removed, we shouldn’t remove expressions of opinions from any group, I feel this takes away or limits our rights to freedom of speech. If our politicians are making these kinds of decisions, maybe we should send them copies of the constitution and remind them the rights they are limiting.

    1. Don, you are exactly the sort of thoughtful, informed citizen that we desperately need on BOTH sides of the issues. If we had an America (or Wyoming) with more coal miners who defend the free speech of artists who criticize fossil fuels–and conservationists who defend the free speech of those who object to the Endangered Species Act, we’d be far better off as a society. Censorship is alive in well from the left and the right. Free speech is not a conservative vs. liberal issue; it is the foundation of a vibrant democracy–and Don gets it..

  2. Art resurrected. Congratulations to organizer Mike Selmer.

    People should read Lockwood’s book.

    1. Read my book soon, before the UW Trustees’ new regulation goes into effect stating that tenured faculty can be fired for “insubordination; discourteous treatment of other employees, students or the public” (all of which might be said of “Behind the Carbon Curtain”). Once the Trustees formalize their power to censor the faculty in the proposed regulations, don’t expect there to be other revelations of vital importance to the people of Wyoming from UW. And while you’re at it, take a moment to read “Can We Trust the Trustees?” (https://www.wyofile.com/conflicts-of-interest-can-we-trust-uw-trustees/). which would qualify as insubordination as defined by the Employment Development Department of California (for example) to include “disputing or ridiculing authority,”