Is there room for climate deniers in Big Sky country?

National Bison Range (photo: US Fish & Wildlife Service)

Anyone who knows me or works with me at NWF’s National Advocacy Center in Washington, DC knows that I am a proud Montanan.  I was born and raised in the Big Sky State and when I am lucky enough to flee the city and visit home, I am constantly reminded of the natural beauty we are at risk of losing because of a rapidly warming planet.

The mountainsides that were once a sea of green are turned brown from bark beetle infestation; communities and forests are at even greater risk from more frequent and intense fire seasons; and the glaciers in Glacier National Park that I enjoyed as a child will soon become a thing of the past.

It is with all of this that I am dumbfounded by the idea that anyone from Montana would actually promote global warming.  But this is, in fact, the case.  State Rep. Joe Read (R-HD 15) has introduced a bill in the Montana State Legislature to deny global warming and, if that were not enough, declare that global warming is a good thing!

NEW SECTION. Section 1.  Public policy concerning global warming.

(1) The legislature finds that to ensure economic development in Montana and the appropriate management of Montana’s natural resources it is necessary to adopt a public policy regarding global warming.

(2) The legislature finds:

(a) global warming is beneficial to the welfare and business climate of Montana;

(b) reasonable amounts of carbon dioxide released into the atmosphere have no verifiable impacts on the environment; and

(c) global warming is a natural occurrence and human activity has not accelerated it.

(3) (a) For the purposes of this section, “global warming” relates to an increase in the average
temperature of the earth’s surface.

(b) It does not include a one-time, catastrophic release of carbon dioxide.

Leaving aside the mountain of evidence supporting that global warming is happening and it is due to human activity, to purport that global warming is “beneficial to the welfare and business climate of Montana” goes against all reason and evidence.  Montana is on the forefront of the impacts from a changing climate and has a great deal to lose if we turn a blind eye to the problem.

According to the US Travel Association, tourists spent $3.1 billion in the state in 2008 alone and supported the creation of 29,400 jobs – representing 6.6 percent of the state’s total non-farm employment.  In 2009, approximately 4.2 million people visited the National Parks in Montana, and 2 million visited Glacier National Park alone.

Meanwhile, we are losing the glaciers in Glacier National Park at an astounding rate, with the likelihood of them disappearing altogether in the next decade swiftly becoming a reality.  This does not benefit the welfare and business of Montana.

What’s even more astounding is Rep. Read’s own district (see the blue ’15’ on this map) covers communities on the front lines of these impacts.  His district surrounds Glacier National Park and I can’t imagine they would be too happy if tourist revenues dropped-off because there were no longer glaciers to be seen, or the park was on fire more than usual.  His district is in the heart of the Flathead National Forest, which is currently a prime area of concern for infestation of Mountain Pine (bark) Beetle.  I’d like to see him explain to his constituents how these impacts are beneficial to their businesses.

It is my hope that others in the state legislature see this bill for what it really is; a front for oil and coal interests in the state to push policies that only benefit their bottom-line.  Global Warming is a serious problem that will take a great deal of resolve, energy, and investment to address.  But, I choose to believe that Montanans are willing to do what is right and necessary to protect our state and ensure future generations are left to enjoy the wonders and beauty that define Big Sky Country.

For more on what you can do locally to protect wildlife for our children’s future, visit the National Wildlife Federation’s Northern Rockies Regional Center based in Missoula, MT or on the web.