UW professor previews book critical of energy influence
by Dustin Bleizeffer
— October 31, 2014
If you’ve lived in Wyoming for even a year, then you’ve probably heard the metaphor, Wyoming is like one small town with very long streets. Jeffrey Lockwood says that if it is more accurately stated, the saying would go, Wyoming is like a small company town with very long streets.
“A lot of the perceptions in Wyoming are just strikingly similar to … the early 1900s and what happened in company towns; the company assures its people ‘You have great jobs, and without us you have no future,’” said Lockwood, a professor of philosophy at the University of Wyoming.
Lockwood will offer a sneak peek of his upcoming book Living Behind the Carbon Curtain: The Energy Industry, Political Censorship and Free Speech on Saturday evening in Sheridan, at the Powder River Basin Resource Council’s 42nd annual meeting. For information, go to the PRBRC’s website.
On one level, the book is about a series of cases in which the energy industry has colluded with government in Wyoming to censor art, science and education. But in a larger sense, said Lockwood, Behind the Carbon Curtain is about something even more worrisome; it’s about how corporatocracy is rooted in the Equality State and throughout many levels of government nationwide.
Corporatocracy is a term used to describe governments that are designed to serve the interests of corporations, and not necessarily citizens. A couple of examples of corporatocracy at work in Wyoming are the removal of Carbon Sink (the sculpture that offended coal industry interests) and the unofficially dubbed “Teeters Amendment” — a last-minute measure tagged onto the state budget bill that prohibited even the discussion of Next Generation Science Standards for its acknowledgment of man’s role in climate change.
“That is clear government censoring educators about science … and (Gov. Matt) Mead let it happen,” said Lockwood. “There was outrage and head-scratching around the nation at what we had done, and in Wyoming there was just this collective shrug.”
By now you might be wondering if professor Lockwood is tenured. He is. And yes, Wyoming lawmakers have knocked on the door at Old Main on UW campus and asked that this or that professor be fired. Take it from former Sen. Kit Jennings of Casper who at the August 2012 meeting of the Energy Resources Council advised a UW School of Energy Resources official to avoid taking on tenured professors. It’s just too difficult to to get rid of them, he said.
And that’s a big part of Lockwood’s motivation in writing Behind the Carbon Curtain and documenting instances of abuses of freedom of speech and academic freedom. “What I’m trying to do with this book is fulfill what I take as a serious moral obligation of what (Wyoming) granted to me, and that’s job protection,” Lockwood said of his tenureship. “If tenured professors aren’t willing to reveal the truth based on their best research, then we’re doomed. … We have to get the stories on the table.”
Lockwood said among the most disturbing things in researching the book was the sense of fear and dependence many Wyomingites have toward the energy industry. Don’t bite the hand that feeds was a phrase repeated by many during the Carbon Sink controversy. Lockwood said it was a phrase that won out when the Associated Students of the University of Wyoming discussed resolutions related to the political removal of Carbon Sink.
“UW students can be described as highly pragmatic, polite, and respectful of authority. It’s got a Stepford-like quality,” said Lockwood. “I don’t see students asking difficult questions of the administration.”
Lockwood said the manuscript will be completed in December, and the book will publish in about a year, after extensive review by attorneys; “We want to make sure the work itself is unassailable.” In the meantime, he’s already started an epilogue file for examples of energy influence to come.
“This is a state that just keeps on giving in terms of stories,” he said.
For more on this topic read these WyoFile reports:
— Behind the Carbon Curtain: Art and freedom in Wyoming, July 2012
— University of Wyoming attempts to rebuild after Sternberg shakeup, September 2014
—Dustin Bleizeffer is WyoFile editor-in-chief. He has covered energy and natural resource issues in Wyoming for 16 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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