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.
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 firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow Dustin on Twitter at @DBleizeffer
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