WyoFile Energy Report

Don’t saddle Wyoming students with climate denial politics

— March 25, 2014

When the Wyoming Legislature passed, and Gov. Matt Mead refused to veto, a footnote to the budget bill to block the State Board of Education from adopting the national Next Generation Science Standards (NGSS), they actually did much more to harm both our economy and the education of Wyoming students.

Dustin Bleizeffer
Dustin Bleizeffer

This month, Wyoming became the first state in the nation to block adoption of NGSS, based on the fear that the climate science within NGSS may be a threat to Wyoming’s culture and economy. On Monday, the Wyoming State Board of Education struggled with how to move forward with science education standards, given the mandate.

Do they initially adopt the NGSS and allow it to be struck down somewhere in the process, giving each board member the opportunity to state their position on behalf of Wyoming students, and thereby ignite a fierce battle with the lawmakers who control their purse strings? Or do they go back to the drawing board and attempt to craft a Wyoming science education standard that passes the legislature’s “smell test?” What would that “Wyoming” standard look like? Does creating a Wyoming brand of science education mean the board must decide what is the best climate science? What are their credentials on atmospheric science?

Which begs this observation: Lawmakers and Gov. Mead kicked NGSS out from under the board. But they didn’t change the board’s charge to provide the best educational management guidance for the benefit of Wyoming students. This places the board in an impossible position: Damned by education peers, parents, and students’ future employers if they do attempt to debunk or ignore climate science; damned by Wyoming elected officials if they don’t.

After the board’s meeting on Monday, members appeared to be at an impasse about what to do. As one board member put it, “This is a political issue.” Another said, “There are some of us (who are) very uncomfortable with bringing in a political issue and teaching it as science to our students.”

What a terrible position Gov. Mead and Wyoming lawmakers have created for the Wyoming State Board of Education, educators and students in the state. It’s the same mistake that the fossil fuel industry and the University of Wyoming administration made with Carbon Sink in 2012. In the months after artist Chris Drury installed Carbon Sink on the university campus, it didn’t gain hardly any mention for its statement that man’s carbon emissions have a detrimental and spiraling effect in nature. It wasn’t until the fossil fuel industry insisted the sculpture be prematurely dismantled (and emails revealed the motives) that it became a symbol for the power of industry to meddle in Wyoming’s affairs of cultural and academic freedom.

These efforts by Wyoming’s delusional lawmakers are merely love letters to the fossil fuel industry — the industry they’re already married to. Why drag Wyoming students and educators into this sordid political affair? Do politicians really think they can convince the rest of the world to stop caring about climate change and coal’s role in it? They’re not going to raise a generation of Wyoming students who are blind to climate science and who will promote the unmitigated use of fossil fuels with no regard to greenhouse gas emissions. Take it from me, a Gillette native and UW graduate, with a long history in Powder River Basin coal.

Both actions — blocking NGSS and ripping out Carbon Sink — only serve to reveal the weakness among Wyoming’s elected leaders: Their inability to stand apart from the powerful fossil fuel lobby in promoting Wyoming’s best interests in a rapidly changing world. That point is lost on Wyoming leaders; it’s not only OK to acknowledge that the same fossil fuel industry that provides nearly 70 percent of our annual revenue is the same industry that significantly contributes to climate change, and all of the economically-devastating impacts of drought, wildfires and extreme weather events that threaten our tourism, agriculture and sporting industries. It’s also necessary to understand it. It’s a fact for coal proponents and opponents alike.

Daniel Kessler, former University of Wyoming student and communications director at the Citizen Engagement Lab (which is petitioning against this measure), put it simply: “You can’t pick and choose your science.”

Wyoming leaders believe they are engaged in a sly game of climate denial while also washing away their climate denial sins. They rightfully invest in smart research to reduce carbon from fossil fuels, painfully aware that there’s no easy Plan B to Wyoming’s 70 percent reliance on energy production for the state’s annual revenue. The truth is, they’re late to the game that they deny is still happening. Utilities told these leaders long ago that they want and need defined greenhouse gas regulations in order to build new coal facilities.

In fact, some lawmakers even deny the true intentions of this NGSS blockade mandate. The legislative footnote to block the NGSS, according to outgoing Wyoming Speaker of the House Tom Lubnau (R-Gillette), had very little or nothing to do with climate science. “Science standards were caught up in examination of everything” in the name of demanding more accountability from Wyoming’s K-12 education system, Lubnau told WyoFile. That didn’t come up in the Board of Education meeting on Monday. But the legislature’s aversion to climate change sure did.

No matter how reliant Wyoming’s budget is on the mining and consumption of coal, these elected leaders are not going to change the science of climate change, nor are they going to change the minds of those around the world who are fed up with unmitigated coal emissions. Wyoming leaders should get behind a carbon tax. This would help eliminate their costly and futile battle with the EPA over greenhouse gas emission regulations while giving industry the policy guidance it needs to develop lower emissions strategies. Instead, their promotion of cleaner coal technologies that will supposedly go commercial without greenhouse gas regulatory guidance (let the markets decide, they say) is overshadowed by their climate denial, and by their insistence that Wyoming students ignore climate science while attempting to meet the challenges of its reality.

Wyoming’s students and educators should not be forced to accept and promote the same political tactics that, unfortunately, work so well in shoring up votes for political offices in this state. Climate denial might help, or at least not diminish, a Wyoming politician’s voter base. But it certainly degrades the quality and reputations of our educational institutions.

If Gov. Mead and Wyoming lawmakers are willing to play these games with our schools and our students, are we to trust them to provide the best guidance to manage the science-dependent Wyoming Department of Environmental Quality? To make demands of the science-dependent Wyoming Game and Fish Department? Are we to trust them to provide the best science in the Pavillion groundwater investigation, and to manage Wyoming’s groundwater monitoring and fracking chemical disclosure programs?

Gov. Mead’s and Wyoming lawmakers’ political take on climate science would earn them a failing grade in any 7th-grade science course in Wyoming — at the moment. Don’t let their political science trump the science education of Wyoming’s students.

— Dustin Bleizeffer is WyoFile editor-in-chief. He has covered energy and natural resource issues in Wyoming for 15 years. You can reach him at (307) 267-3327 or email dustin@wyofile.com. Follow Dustin on Twitter at @DBleizeffer

If you enjoyed this column and would like to see more quality Wyoming journalism, please consider supporting WyoFile: a non-partisan, non-profit news organization dedicated to in-depth reporting on Wyoming’s people, places and policy.

REPUBLISH THIS COLUMN: For details on how you can republish this column or other WyoFile content for free, click here.

Dustin Bleizeffer is a Report for America Corps member covering energy and climate at WyoFile. He has worked as a coal miner, an oilfield mechanic, and for 25 years as a statewide reporter and editor primarily...

Join the Conversation


Want to join the discussion? Fantastic, here are the ground rules: * Provide your full name — no pseudonyms. WyoFile stands behind everything we publish and expects commenters to do the same. * No personal attacks, profanity, discriminatory language or threats. Keep it clean, civil and on topic. *WyoFile does not fact check every comment but, when noticed, submissions containing clear misinformation, demonstrably false statements of fact or links to sites trafficking in such will not be posted. *Individual commenters are limited to three comments per story, including replies.

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

  1. According to the theory of catastrophic climate change you might expect to see any or all of the following:

    Warm places getting warmer
    Warm places getting colder
    Cold places getting warmer
    Cold places getting colder
    Dry places getting drier
    Dry places getting wetter
    Wet places getting dryer
    Wet places getting wetter
    Unchanged places getting unchanged-er
    Nearly everything is proof of the magic theory, there’s even a list. Heads they win, clichés, you lose. In addition, this “settled science” offers dozens of sometimes contradictory models which spit out a ridiculously broad range of predictions encompassing nearly every outcome. Common sense: if the undeniable, irrefutable, hard science is “settled” why isn’t there just one precise model?

    A theory predicting everything predicts nothing.

  2. If you have a theory which is correct, then as progressively more data comes in, the agreement becomes better… However, if the basic premises of a theory are wrong, then there is no improved agreement as more data is collected. In fact, it is usually the opposite that takes place, the disagreement increases.

  3. I’m shocked to the core by the stupidity of this move. Sad to say I know some of the individuals who were behind it, and heard arguments from them such as ‘accepting climate change and evolution dishonors the beliefs of our parents and grandparents’.
    Our children deserve better than having their education hi-jacked by religious fundamentalists, or money-crazed politicians. And oh how irritating to see those folks reference the crazy 6000 year old planet theory alongside the economics of fossil fuels (millions of years in formation, remember?) from which they so badly want the $$$.
    Worse still, many of the people involved in this move to create generations of scientific imbeciles are actually HOMESCHOOLING their own kids.
    Wyoming has lost something it can now never recover – it’s reputation as a state that cares about education.

  4. Once again, the powers that be, will sacrifice the State’s residents for the sake of the companies. We are truly the company store.
    The residents of Pavilion were shafted when their water deteriorated, and the Governor and the legislature denied their rights to relief.
    Artistic freedom was censored at the university when the Governor and the legislature pulled the strings and destroyed it.
    And now, our students were thrown under the bus as well, sacrificing their future for the sake of the company profits today, deliberately inflicted by the Governor and the legislature.
    It is now clear, that our “leaders” will stop at nothing to sacrifice our residents, current and future, in order to please their real masters. Who voted for these traitors?

  5. “a political issue and teaching it as science”
    Apparently “ALEC” Mead has bought into the “Koch Bros. Science”, here’s your money, this is what we want you to do,,,
    Big Energy OWNS our state government, and, like good little puppets, they act accordingly!
    Climate Science is just that, Science, it was “Politicized” by Big Energy, PERIOD!!

  6. The Board members are correct, climate change is a political issue and it should not be taught in school under the guise of science. Maybe it should be taught in Political Science class, but that’s about it.

    And those of you who still believe that climate change is a science question, you’re about 5 years behind the rest of the world. That’s why news outlets let both sides voice their opinions about climate change now, because they know its a political topic. Stop looking at it like its science, its politics and little more.

  7. http://www.nytimes.com/2011/03/10/us/10smog.html?_r=0

    The least populated county in the least populated state in the nation and they have air quality problems??? Keep trying to deny that the burning of fossil fuels doesn’t have in impact on the environment/climate and dark times will come. I am fed up with many of our lawmakers in this state, hopefully Wyomingites put these critical issues high up on their list of importance when they mark the next ballot.

    As a science educator and Wyoming native I am both disgusted and embarrassed for my state. In the last two years I have been to both the National Science Teacher Convention and the Regional Convention. The issues that Dustin has brought up would be a joke anywhere else in the United States. Thank you for still holding trust in the educators and students in this state even if we can’t trust our leaders.

  8. This sickens me that our politicians would rather our children remain ignorant and unprepared for the modern world, than have them recieve an education that might interfere with their energy industry agenda ( or heaven forbid suggest the world is older than 6000 years). This is no better than the Russian government censoring their news stations to paint a picture that does not reflect reality. Wyoming, we are better than this! STOP DUMBING DOWN OUR SCHOOLS! A child that does not learn modern science standards in our schools is going to be at a great disadvantage when he or she moves on to college. The future is here, time for Wyoming to stop living in the past.

    If our energy industry owned politicians feel they need to keep our citizens in the dark about the impacts of coal, oil, and gas on the planet, its safe to say said industries are probably doing the wrong thing. I guess I will go with the overwhelming scientific evidence, rather than the “beleifs” of people finicially invested in the industry.

  9. Thank you Dustin for expressing our frustration about the NGSS so eloquently. Part of the problem is that climate change involves complicated science which is poorly understood by most people. There are two new reports which sum up the issues nicely, you can download one from this link: http://royalsociety.org/policy/climate-change/ and the other from wp-content/uploads/2014/03/AAAS-What-We-Know.pdf
    Your article induced me to finally subscribe to your wonderful news site. Keep up the good work.

  10. Good article Dustin. It is unfortunate this type of backwards thinking permeates some areas of this great state. If you ever wonder why certain communities in this state appear to never evolve past the 1930’s – now you know. It is this kind of thinking you find in the communities isolated from the real world.

    In my personal opinion, while I firmly believe humans have impacted the environment and global climate change for some time – the change did not happen overnight – there are other factors at play compounded my human action. With that said, sticking our heads in the collective sand because we believe the earth is flat and that the boogey man might get us is asinine.

    While there is certainly a shift in this country to the left, we cannot let the left drive the right into stupid decisions like this. There is nothing wrong with being a conservative or conservative state in a sea of liberalism, but let’s not throw common sense out the window.

  11. College recruiter to future Wyoming student: “Oh, you’re from the Dumbass State. Think you can overcome such a handicap?”

  12. Talk about contemplating your navel……If gadzillions of dollars worth of fossil wealth has been squirreled away beneath Wyoming’s shifting sands, aren’t the primary questions here: “Where in tarnation did it all come from?” “How the devil did it all get down there?”-and most importantly- “What’s gonna happen when we turn it all loose up here???”- and not -“How many zeros did you happen to say come after Halliburton????”

  13. The same little boy who told the baldfaced truth about the Emperor wearing no clothes would have a similar truism for Guv Matt Mead and legislator Teeters…” Why do those men say the world is flat ? “

  14. “It’s too hard” are the common words I have heard spoken for 40+ years by students referring to physical sciences and math; however, I have never heard those words in reference to political science. Almost everyone has political opinions (as they should), but beware of political opinions about physical science.

  15. The legislative meddling goes far beyond just this topic. Sens. Larry Hicks and Ogden Driscoll repeatedly have attempted to defund the Water Research Institute at UW because they feel it funds “research detrimental to the interests of the State.” On the Water Development Commission, commissioners Margo Sebec and Karen Budd-Falen push a similar agenda, claiming that UW and WRI research have “forced producers off their land” and create unnecessary hurdles to development within the energy sector. It’s gotten to the point that the work of the WRI advisory committee, composed of scientists from local, state, and Federal agencies, is being micromanaged by the Water Development Commission and the Legislature. Scientific review of research is no longer enough, now the politicians want to have a say in what work is funded. Wyoming is quickly becoming a backwater destination for all the science naysayers and ignoramouses of the nation.

  16. Just out of morbid curiosity, what was the “everything else” that got caught up in the review of these science standards that set off such alarm bells for these legislators? Teaching evolution? Earth science courses that claimed the earth was more than 6,000 years old? Perhaps someone wanted to teach about Noah and the great flood instead of the Periodic Table?

    Lubnau’s quote is cryptic but revealing. I would love nothing more than to hear the details of these legislators’ objections to the latest generation of science standards. The people of Wyoming need more microphones, more cameras in front of these lawmakers. Getting the word out about their incompetence is the only way to stop it.

  17. Right on Dustin! Living in Park County I found the very organized Tea Party Republicans are committed to everything it takes to rip apart the NGSS. It is a relatively small group but they are organized and very hurtful to launching Wyoming into the 21st Century. They are clawing us apart and creating great damage to the future of our children by empowering our politicians with last minute stick-it-in-the budget amendments on how our kids should be taught. Perhaps we need a referendum on this issue. Turn this over to the voters of Wyoming, let the majority speak. My bet is on the Wyoming voters!

  18. What is needed more than anything in Wyoming is the moral courage to stand up to truly ignorant decisions like this. The school board should adopt the science standards for the good of Wyoming’s students and let the political chips fall where they may. If Mead wants to fire the board members, so be it. It’ll be the end of his political career. Good riddance.


  19. Nice work, Dustin. My advice to journalists, historians and photographers is to interview and record the climate-deniers and gay-haters in our state before they disappear. These people are among the last of the dinosaurs in a state that is known for its dinosaurs. Here’s your chance to meet one of these creatures head-on.

  20. This is the sort of educational leadership we can expect from the Legislature and the Governor and they want us to believe they need even MORE control . . .