Carbon Sink closeup
The Carbon Sink art installation has been removed from the UW Campus. UW Professor Emeritus Peter Shive says that’s only the beginning of the carbon industry’s influence on UW. (Courtesy of Chris Drury — click to expand)
The Carbon Sink art installation has been removed from the UW Campus. UW Professor Emeritus Peter Shive says that’s only the beginning of the carbon industry’s influence on UW. (Courtesy of Chris Drury — click to expand)

Let’s talk about the direction of the University of Wyoming

Guest column by Peter Shive
University of Wyoming professor emeritus

— March 20, 2014

Peter Shive
Peter Shive

The Coal Lobby won the first round, big time. They clobbered “Carbon Sink.” Reverberations of legislative anger are still echoing around here, as our trustees and university administrators move steadily to implement the changes that the lobby and the legislators want, and faculty members wait for the next shoe to drop.

But the Coal Lobby made some mistakes. First, they picked the wrong target. It was virtually impossible to imagine that “Carbon Sink” was a slam against the coal industry, until after it was removed. By connecting the dots for everyone, the Coal Lobby made “Carbon Sink” a far more potent symbol censored than it ever would have been if they had just left it in the ground. Secondly, their attack was so overwrought, so filled with paranoia and hysteria, that it is easy now to recognize their tactics. Finally, the target they did choose reminds us of the targets they could have chosen, and thus will be next in line. And that is the really scary part.

I’m sure that there are plenty of courses around here in which students can learn about the wonders of coal. But, assuming that we are doing our jobs, there are also plenty of courses in which students can still find out things that the Coal Lobby doesn’t want them to know. For example, they could find out the advantages of oil and gas as a hydrocarbon energy source. They could study the scientific case for a human component to global warming. They might be asked to write a paper about air pollution in China, and the resulting death rate. They might find out that some environmental lawyers work to implement EPA pollution restrictions, rather than to demolish them. They might be asked to speculate on the logistic difficulties involved in moving a Wyoming mountain to India. They could learn about sustainable energy sources, the legislative tactics of ALEC, etc., etc. The list is long.

But if the bell tolls for “Carbon Sink,” it will also toll eventually for all of the rest of this. In fact, it is tolling already, because this is at least part of what legislators and trustees have in mind when they say that we have failed to address the needs of the state. What they mean is that we have failed to address the needs of coal, and so they want us to censor our own instruction.

I have written my last letter to the trustees. And I don’t see any point in talking with legislators. I want to visit with local communities, large and small, all over Wyoming and talk with the people who live there, the “little people” like you and me. I want to explain to you what is happening here, why it is happening, and the consequences down the line for you and for your children.

This is entirely a grassroots operation. I have no association with, or support from, any organization. Because I am retired, I have no stake in the matter, no vested interest. I will fund it myself, at least until I start feeling the financial pinch. My main credentials are a 45-year career of teaching and mentoring U.W. students (virtually all of whom have had careers in the energy sector), and an intense pride in what this university used to be, a pride that, incidentally, embraces the university’s record of serving the needs of our state. I am in a bit of a hurry because I am 72 years old and this might be the last service I could render my adopted state and university before I die or get Alzheimer’s disease or whatever.

Talk with your children, your friends and neighbors, and see if you would like me to come and visit with you. I would present a talk with a title something like, “The ‘Carbon Sink’ Censorship Hysteria and Other Stories: What Kind of University Do You Want?” for about 45-50 minutes, and stay as long as you like to answer questions and listen to your ideas. If you want me to come, or if you have any questions about my project, contact me at Don’t feel that you need to agree with me. I am just as anxious to talk with you if you don’t agree with me.

The last two years have been very bad for U.W. The “Carbon Sink” hysteria and the twin hiring fiascos of Sternberg and McGinity are the most visible symbols of our decline. Outside of Wyoming we are becoming a laughingstock. Our students, who are of course our most important stakeholders, are the biggest losers as the value of their diplomas sinks.

Of course even students might be persuaded that there are some causes for which it might be worth sacrificing the reputation of their university and the value of their degree. A Cure for Cancer is one. World Peace might be another.

But not coal.

— Peter Shive is UW Professor (Emeritus).

— Columns are the signed perspective of the author, and do not necessarily reflect the views of WyoFile’s staff, board of directors or its supporters. WyoFile welcomes guest columns and op-ed pieces from all points of view. If you’d like to write a guest column for WyoFile, please contact WyoFile editor-in-chief Dustin Bleizeffer at

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  1. The beauty of the Truth, with capital T, is that no amount of money can silence it forever.

    The ideal of the university is that the truth cannot be bought. Evidence is the currency of scientific and philosophical inquiry. All else is noise. All else slows progress toward realization of the truth.

    Those with vested interest in the propagation of a system will always attempt to sustain it beyond its rational lifespan. But however much the establishment of the day hated it, Copernicus was right that the sun was the center of the solar system.

    If the cost of the truth is $300M, then so be it.

  2. The discussion about the “Carbon Sink” was really about sources of money for the University of Wyoming. Seventy-Five percent of the $403,494,476 appropriated to UW came from extractive industries. It seems a bit hypocritical to wag a finger with one hand, while accepting carbon dollars with the other hand behind the back (including retirement dollars). I imagine some folks would not be so idealistic if the carbon dollar stream suddenly dried up, and the appropriation for UW shrunk to a mere $100,000,000.

  3. This discussion about Wyoming’s only 4-year collegiate institute of higher education reminds me of an anecdote.

    Q: How do you keep a Mormon bishop from drinking all your beer on a fishing trip ?
    A: Bring along another bishop…

    Wyoming most definitely needs another 4-year college. The state needs an alternative to UW. I’m suggesting a school named Wyoming State, located in Casper. Move all that energy research and energy dogma curriculum there, for obvious reasons. Let UW go back to being a true academic university instead of an industry vo-ag -hydrocarbon tech school that happens to have a football team. Lots of states have colleges with that ” tech” moniker…Montana Tech in Butte, South Dakota School of Mines, Texas A & M , Texas Tech, … it’s a long list .
    I have long favored Wyoming having more than one university-level option. Every other state around us has four to seven+ 4-year schools. It is seriously shortminded and narrow minded to put all our state higher education into one institution. The swirling imbroglio over carbon energy’s relationship to UW is a smoking gun for that…

  4. Yes , and at the moment appears to be headed down. but in line with a natural sine curve. Tangents and Taxes start with t and that rhymes with p , which stands for poor and politicians that will save us 100 years from now, because they have all the present economic problems under control.

  5. The University lost it’s way long ago – it has become primarily an organization good at raising money, building buildings, pandering to whichever way the current money is flowing. Used to be the University was a good place to get an education, learn about life, learn about other ideas and ways of thinking. Like him or not, the loss of direction ended with Dubois left.

    Anymore, the liberal left is terrified our minds will be infiltrated by the right wing, the right wing worried we will brain washed by the liberals……..does not matter the subject or the issue. We have become an entitlement society, blaming others for our ills, unwilling or unable to view different perspectives. We can no longer acknowledge anything that might give the otherside an inch in their arguments – and now the University has been sucked into politics over education. The University lost the leadership necessary put Education first, it put money and political pressure at the top of the list.

    The fiasco with Bill Ayers (a criminal left winger who really belongs on prison), Carbon Sink, Sternberg……..who knows what else……but we lost sight of what the University is supposed to be – a place for higher education, a place to learn and become more well rounded, a place to spring board students to successful careers with an open mind and knowledge to be successful.

    I may not agree with Dr. Shive and I am not sure my rambling means much, but I wish Dr. Shive luck with his endeavor and I hope it helps give UW some direction and some input from the people of this state. With the political environment at the National level, it will be a challenge having an open minded discussion in this state.

  6. Ben

    The 97% consensus has been proven to be statistical junk along with the hockey stick illusion.

    The 33 year period from 1878 – 1911 -0.6C° of cooling CO2 up 5 ppm?
    The 33 year period from 1911 – 1944 0.7C° of warming CO2 up 15 ppm?
    The 33 year period from 1944 – 1977 -0.4C° of cooling CO2 up 30 ppm
    ?The 33 year period from 1977 – 2010 0.8C° of warming CO2 up 60 ppm

    Don’t forget the Medieval, Roman, and Minoan Warm Periods. All warmer than today. We probably should enjoy this warmth while it lasts.
    Environgelic propaganda is having as hard a time with the math and observations for natural variability as the evangelic propaganda had with the math and observations for natural selection. the argument always devolves into a battle of
    believers vs. deniers. Good ol Politics.

    P.S. B.S. Univ. of Mass. Hydro carbon free

  7. The title of Dr. Shive’s brave and articulate post is, “Let’s talk about the direction of the University of Wyoming.” It seems to me that the direction of UW is not good from the perspective of its faculty. While we are all waiting for the other shoe to drop, many among us have decided it is not worth the wait. Last year UW lost 35 of its best professors to other universities. I would be surprised if that number is not *much* higher this year. How many top professors can UW afford to lose? We already accept an astounding 95% of undergraduate applicants. At what point does UW lose its ability to be distinguished from a community college? Dr. Shive was right on the money in observing, “Outside of Wyoming we are becoming a laughingstock.” But this is currently happening inside of Wyoming, and the fallout affects more than the value of our graduates’ diplomas. But forgive me, I’ve strayed off topic… Go Coal! …I mean Pokes.

  8. Lousewort, were you educated in Wyoming?? 😉

    Your repetition of many of the misinformation tactics of the energy industry seems to indicate the answer is yes. 97% of climate scientists agree that human activity is a factor in the climate change we are witnessing, which continue to witness–even after 1998.

    What you call “natural variation” in the climate record still had a cause. We have some understanding of many of those variations. In reference to the Holocene Maximum, the theory is that changes in the earth’s orbit caused warming only in the summer months and only in the northern hemisphere.

    So, while the summer month temperatures on the northern hemisphere may not yet be as high as the holocene maximum, they are higher than can be accounted for by any other known cause but human activity.

  9. we have two competing hypothesis for what is driving contemporary climate change:-

    1. Observed natural variation, which has produced periods of warming statistically indistinguishable from the warming which ended in 1998.

    2. Observed natural variation + an unproven assumption that Anthropogenic CO2 is now the main driver of Climate Change.

    Clearly the second hypothesis fails the test of Occam’s Razor. In the absence of compelling evidence that anthropogenic CO2 has overridden natural variation, we have to accept hypothesis 1 – that observed climate change is the result of natural variation.

    The climate is not hotter than it was in the past, periods such as the Holocene Optimum, or looking further back, the Eemian Interglacial. The warming which ended in 1998 was not faster, or of significantly longer duration, than similar natural warmings which occurred in the recent past.

    Nothing about the current climate is outside the bounds of climatic conditions which could reasonably be produced by natural variation – therefore, according to the rules of science, we have to reject hypothesis which unnecessarily embrace additional unproven assumptions, unless or until such assumptions can be tested and verified, in a way which falsifies the theory that natural variation is still in the driver’s seat.

    And yes coal is a dirty fuel, but for other reasons

  10. Kudos Mr. Shive
    But I fear you/ we, are spinning our wheels per, “Halliburton joins University of Wyoming’s list of energy donors”, I have not delved into the numbers, but I am sure the university, as we know it, would not now exist without energy donors, or should I say “Buyers”?
    Our state government is owned by the Cheney model of “carbon energy at all costs”, even the destruction of entire countries are not off the table, and the university administration is buying into the Koch Bros. model, donors write the outcomes of studies in the field!
    This is no longer education, but the molding of young minds to favor the energy industries agenda, producing another generation of,, Cheneys.
    Although I am extremely frustrated by a lack of resources to battle the “untruths” produced by huge bank accounts, you have an inside track, the truth and verifiable facts and your reputation as a professor!
    Forgive me, but I do not believe you are spinning your wheels, my frustration is acute, keep up the good work, I hope to be in touch with you in the future!
    Thank You!

  11. The “Carbon Sink” affair and the legislature and governor’s recent decision to opt out of modern science instruction in public schools do not bode well for Wyoming youth.

  12. Hats off to Professor Shive for this initiative.

    UW could be headed for the same fate that the state’s Congressional delegation has met. That delegation is no longer in the process of becoming a laughingstock for the rest of the country.

    There may be time to save UW from that fate.