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The New West: As science speaks, the region’s politicians run the other way

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CREDIT: David J Swift

By Todd Wilkinson EBS Environmental Columnist

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

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

Were members of the three different Congressional delegations in the northern Rockies 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, lawmakers from Montana, Wyoming and Idaho have all 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, as Wyoming has reeled fiscally because of its dependence on a coal economy—its market crushed by the rise of cheap natural gas—her politicians have refused to accept anything that challenges their worldview. Today in Montana, refusing to heed that lesson, U.S. Sen. Steve Daines and U.S. Rep. Greg Gianforte are trying to resuscitate coal even though they know it represents a dead end.

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


Just recently, the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering and Medicine, largely considered the premiere scientific entity in the world, unveiled its review of draft findings by the Fourth National Climate Assessment. The report, prepared by the U.S. Global Change Research Program, draws upon thousands of peer-reviewed research articles and hard data.

One would think that U.S. Sen. John Barrasso of Wyoming, 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, Daines, Gianforte and Wyoming Congresswoman Liz Cheney—they being acolytes/defenders of President Donald Trump, who has claimed climate change is a hoax concocted by the Chinese.

Here, in a nutshell, are just a few of the report’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 farmers, ranchers, water and forests in Montana and 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.

Here is the link to the Fourth National Climate Assessment report: I suggest you email it to your elected officials, both Democrats and Republicans, and ask them to respond. Let me know what they tell you, I would like to print it. Email me their responses at

Todd Wilkinson is the founder of Mountain Journal ( where you can read his latest story about climate change. He is author of “Grizzlies of Pilgrim Creek” about famous Greater Yellowstone grizzly bear 399 featuring 150 photographs by Tom Mangelsen, available only at His feature on the delisting of Greater Yellowstone grizzlies appears in the winter 2018 issue of Mountain Outlaw and is now on newsstands. Portions of Wilkinson’s piece for MoJo appeared in the winter 2017 issue of Mountain Outlaw.

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