You know you’re having a bad day when you feel compelled to make a pronouncement like that to a room full of people, including a lot of strangers.
Ron Micheli, chairman of the Wyoming Board of Education, was most definitely having a bad day on Friday. Those are precisely his words in the first sentence, and though they sound odd taken out of context, giving them some context doesn’t really make them sound any better.
Micheli was presiding over a hearing in Casper on new science standards for K-12 students. Republicans in the Legislature played kind of a mean trick on his board near the end of last month’s budget session. They said the board members couldn’t spend any money to implement new benchmarks for learning called the Next Generation Science Standards (NGSS), which sound kind of Star Treky-ish.
Not only that, but the legislators said the board couldn’t even talk about these terrible standards, which actually suggest climate change is caused by man, which it actually is, according to almost all of the reputable scientists on our dangerous planet, which is in danger because climate change is caused by man – and man isn’t stopping the activities known to cause global warming, like burning fossil fuels.
The members of the Education Board were getting hundreds of emails and phone calls from people on both sides of the NGSS controversy – the climate change believers and the people who are wrong. As chairman, Micheli must have been getting more emails and calls than anyone, because he was so upset about the issue he apparently felt the need to defend himself and the good name of the state of Wyoming, because some people are making fun of our officials, including Gov. Matt Mead, who are skeptical about climate change.
“I think it’s been totally unfair, the number of emails we’ve gotten suggesting we’re opposed to talking about global warming. I never said that,” Micheli said. “What I’ve said consistently, and I will consistently say it, is if you want to offer global warming as a theory, have at it. It’s fair. But don’t offer it as the only alternative that’s there.”
The chairman insisted we also need to “talk about the benefits that accrued to our industrial society because of the institution of fossil fuels and the benefits we’ve derived from these fossil fuels.”
“This state’s economy is based on fossil fuels,” he said. “Now, I don ‘t have any problem suggesting ways that we can do better. Somebody talked about gasification of coal; let’s do it. But the notion that it is all a matter of fact – I mean there is evidence all throughout science that it in fact is not. The Nongovernmental International Panel on Climate Change (NIPCC) has shot holes in climate change.”
Let’s talk about the panel. It’s a creation of the Heartland Institute, which Media Matters says at the same time tries to debunk and sound like the consensus report of the United Nations’ Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), which has real peer-reviewed scientists who predict man made global warming will have “severe and widespread impacts.”
Not surprisingly, Fox News has given the Heartland Institute a lot of air time to say climate change isn’t real. In 1998, Heartland claimed “smoking in moderation has few, if any, adverse health effects.” Now it says “few (if any) [species] likely will be driven even close to extinction” from climate change and “no net harm” overall will result.
Mr. Micheli, do you want to bet your life – and the life of your planet – on a group that claims smoking isn’t harmful? Heartland’s funders include ExxonMobil and the Koch Brothers, and what Media Matters describes as “the right wing’s dark money ATM.”
Kevin Trenberth of the National Center for Atmospheric Research told the media watchdog that the NIPCC “has no standing whatsoever. It is not a reviewed document, it is not open for review at any point and it contains demonstrable garbage and falsehoods.”
Let’s get back to Micheli’s lecture. “I don’t oppose the discussion of climate change,” he said. “I just want it to be fair and balanced.”
Just like Fox News.
“I just want people to understand that this isn’t some backwards state that doesn’t believe in discussion, or rational communication with each other. … But it has to be based on the economy of this state,” the chairman said. “The very people in education who are so adamant in favor of global warming” – here his voice started to rise – “are the very people who are being paid. And their money is 80 percent coming from the mineral resources of this state. And that’s a hard fact.”
Wyoming’s entire educational system is based on fossil fuels, Micheli added, “and any attempt to derail that or change that is not in the best interests of the state. Now if that’s being backwoods, if that’s being redneck, if that’s putting our head in the sand, then so be it. But [fossil fuels are]what our state is based on.”
Micheli said he was sorry for standing on his soapbox, but he needed to clarify things.“I am not anti-planet. I’m not an ignorant moron,” he volunteered. “I’m trying to be rational in this debate.”
No one is suggesting that Micheli is a moron. But he should base his opinions on more than just what he hears on Fox News.
On Friday, he reminded us of the mayor of Amity in “Jaws,” who kept reminding the sheriff that the beach resort they both work for depends on people being able to swim. He says it won’t benefit anybody if the sheriff shuts down the beach because a few people may have been eaten by sharks. Not all of the evidence is in, he points out; why, they could have been killed by a boat propeller or dozens of other things. It’s only when he sees his loved ones in danger that he agrees the beach must be closed.
We hope Micheli and the others who are only worried about the state’s economy will one day be able to step back and see the big picture. Earlier in the day, Josh Thompson, a social studies teacher at a Casper alternative school, put everything in the proper perspective.
The teacher said 98 percent of peer-reviewed scientists agree that climate change is manmade. Within the past month, he noted, studies have shown “the ocean’s conveyor system, the heat engine that drives the world’s weather, is starting to collapse.”
“A study of a Siberian sinkhole the last few years has shown that many of our computer models have been underestimating the effects of the carbon that’s in the atmosphere,” Thompson noted. “We could see surface temperatures by the end of the century of 200 degrees Fahrenheit.
“Now I’m sorry, but there’s no coal or oil or natural gas to sell on a dead planet. … It’s not about ending coal, it’s about how we make coal cleaner and how we transition our state to a green economy, to make sure we’re still here.”