The New West: Cowboy State Cowards

By on March 21, 2018

As science speaks, Wyoming’s politicians run the other way

Changes in annual temperature between present-day (1986–2016) and the first half of the last century (1901–1960).(NOAA/NCEI)

If you are a politician, it is one thing to conveniently feign ignorance in order to get re-elected, or to sprint as fast as you can away from reality, or even to gleefully engage in the spreading of “alternative facts.” 

Yet it is another when your constituents expect you to tell them the truth.

Were the three members of Wyoming’s congressional delegation—U.S. Senators John Barrasso (a medical doctor), Mike Enzi (former mayor of Gillette) and Rep. Liz Cheney (former resident of Wilson) courageous enough to hold real town hall meetings with their constituents—instead of glorified, carefully-orchestrated political pep rallies—there is certainty they would face questions about one topic: climate change.

Bobbing and weaving, dodging and deflecting, each of them has offered lame excuses for not holding public gatherings in which they might get grilled en masse by citizens, thus having to deliver honest answers in order to earn their vote.

For years, Wyoming has reeled because of its dependence on coal—a market crushed by the rise of cheap natural gas. Meanwhile, her politicians have refused to accept anything that challenges their worldview.

The climate may be changing, they claim, but there is no evidence that warming is being caused by humans burning fossil fuels —like coal—and releasing carbon dioxide into the atmosphere.

Just a few days ago, the National Academies of Sciences, largely considered the premiere scientific entity in the world, unveiled draft findings of its Fourth National Climate Assessment. The report draws upon thousands of peer-reviewed research articles and hard data.

One would think that Barrasso, in particular, would pay close attention—he being a public health official and a doctor whose profession has been informed by many of the National Academies’ recommendations. So, too, Cheney, as the acolyte/defender of President Donald Trump who has claimed climate is a hoax concocted by the Chinese.

Here, in a nutshell, are just a few of the NAS’s findings, verbatim:

  • Human activity, especially emissions of greenhouse gases, are the dominant cause of observed warming since the mid 20th century.
  • We are living in the warmest time in the history of modern civilization and it is heating up; some 16 of the warmest years on record globally occurred in the last 17 years.
  • Since 1980, the cost of extreme weather/climate events for the U.S. has exceeded $1.1 trillion; therefore, better understanding of the frequency and severity of these events in the context of a changing climate is warranted.
  • Global average sea level has risen 7 to 8 inches since 1900 with half of the rise occurring since 1993 and is greater than any rise going back 2,800 years. Global average sea levels are expected to continue to rise—by at least several inches in the next 15 years and by 1 to 4 feet by 2100. A rise of as much as 8 feet by 2100 cannot be ruled out. Sea level rise in the future will be higher than the global average on the East and Gulf coasts of the U.S.
  • Substantial reductions in Western U.S. winter and spring snowpack are projected as the climate warms. Earlier spring melt and reduced snow water equivalent have been formally attributed to human-induced warming and will very likely be exacerbated as the climate continues to warm. [That’s bad news for Wyoming]. Under higher scenarios, and assuming no change to current water resources management, chronic, long-duration hydrological drought is increasingly possible by the end of this century. Future decreases in surface soil moisture from human activities over most of the U.S. are likely as the climate warms under the higher scenarios.
  • The world’s oceans are currently absorbing more than a quarter of the CO2 emitted to the atmosphere annually from human activities, making them more acidic with potential detrimental impacts to marine ecosystems. [It’s harming plankton, a key staple for ocean life.] Higher-latitude ocean systems typically have a lower buffering capacity against changing acidity, exhibiting seasonally corrosive conditions sooner than low-latitude systems. The rate of acidification is unparalleled in at least the past 66 million years.

Read more here. I suggest you email it to your elected officials, including Gov. Matt Mead, and ask them to respond. Let me know what they tell you. I would like to print it. 

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About Todd Wilkinson

Todd Wilkinson, founder of Mountain Journal (which just published a long piece on climate change in Greater Yellowstone), is also author of Grizzlies of Pilgrim Creek about famous Greater Yellowstone grizzly bear 399 featuring 150 photographs by Tom Mangelsen, available only at

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