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DERRICK Z. JACKSON

Wyoming, the state of science denial

Coal is transported via conveyor belt to the coal-fired Jim Bridger Power Plant.

REUTERS

Coal is transported via conveyor belt to the coal-fired Jim Bridger Power Plant.

Wyoming’s rejection of new national science standards because they include the teaching of climate change reminds me of a book I read to my kids, “Gila Monsters Meet You at the Airport.” It’s about a Manhattan boy who moves west and is filled with scary stereotypes. He meets a boy there who thinks the East is full of gangsters and alligators living in the sewers. Of course, the stereotypes do not pan out in this gentle poking at ignorance.

But there is nothing gentle about the spasm of ignorance that continues to prolong national inaction on climate change. The Wyoming legislature refused to approve the national standards because it was afraid they would turn children against the state’s coal and oil industry.

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State education board chairman Ron Micheli told the Casper Star-Tribune he does not accept climate change as a fact and that the new standards are “very prejudiced in my opinion against fossil-fuel development.” State Representative Matt Teeters said, “There’s all kind of social implications” in saying global warming is settled science, “that, I don’t think, would be good for Wyoming.”

Meanwhile, South Carolina is considering adding guidelines to soften the references to climate change. To be sure, these are only two states. Eleven others and the District of Columbia have already adopted the national standards, including the coal state of Kentucky. A legislative committee had rejected them, but Governor Steve Beshear approved them anyway. His office said the standards are “a critical component in preparing Kentuckians for college and the workforce.”

But even as major scientific reports continue to warn that the effects of climate change are already here, fossil-fuel disciples try to chip away at what kids can learn about it in school. Last year, the Texas Board of Education faced several questions on whether the risks of hydraulic fracturing were being exaggerated in a high school environmental science textbook and whether any downsides to renewable energy were being ignored.

One complaint was that the text failed to point out that wind energy is unreliable and cannot be easily transported from rural areas to cities. The publisher, Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, responded that the text “explicitly states that ‘one of the problems of wind energy is transporting electricity from rural areas where it is generated to urban centers where it is needed.’ ”

But that is troubling, because by the time the textbook hits the classroom, the issue will on its way to being solved. Power companies in Texas and the Midwest are addressing the issue with billions of dollars in transmission-line upgrades.

The legislature was afraid the standards would turn children against the state’s coal and oil industry.

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Bit by bit, step by step, these challenges add up to an America that remains more ambivalent about climate change and what to do about it than most other developed nations. According to a Pew Research global survey last year, only 40 percent of Americans considered climate change a major threat to the nation, placing the United States among the least concerned of the 39 nations surveyed. A Gallup poll last month found that the percentage of Americans who worry “a great deal” about global warming, 34 percent, is virtually unchanged since 1989.

One reason we are not universally concerned is because we are not universally informed. This willful ignorance about man’s responsibility for global warming allows Republicans and fossil-fuel-state Democrats to stonewall a national climate change policy, and leads most of the 2016 Republican presidential hopefuls to believe they can win on a platform that includes denying the conclusions of an overwhelming percentage of climate scientists.

In Wyoming, Micheli said he opposed the science standards because they do not teach “the cost-benefit analysis” of controlling climate change. With each state that denies science, the nation moves closer to the tipping point where the cost is beyond control.

Derrick Z. Jackson can be reached at jackson@globe.com.
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