It is easy for me to forget that not all of America is like California. This story in yesterday’s New York Times reminded me:
Climate Talk’s Cancellation Splits a Town:
School authorities’ cancellation of a talk that a Nobel laureate climate researcher was to have given to high school students has deeply divided this small farming and ranching town at the base of the east side of the Rocky Mountains.
The scholar, Steven W. Running, a professor of ecology at the University of Montana, was scheduled to speak to about 130 students here last Thursday about his career and the global changes occurring because of the earth’s warming.
Dr. Running was a lead author of a global warming report by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, the 400-member United Nations body that shared last year’s Nobel Peace Prize with former Vice President Al Gore. But when some residents complained that his presentation here would be one-sided because no opposing view would be offered, the superintendent of Choteau School District No. 1, Kevin St. John, canceled it.
Dr. Running was surprised.
“Disbelief was the primary reaction,” he said in a telephone interview. “I’ve never been canceled before. But it was almost comical. I had a pretty candid discussion with the superintendent and the school board, and they said there were some conservative citizens who didn’t want me to speak.”
Mr. St. John said that numerous residents had complained to school board members and that they in turn had suggested that the program be called off.
Those who complained misunderstood the content of the talk, Mr. St. John said, but there was no time to explain to all of them that Dr. Running was a leading scientist rather than an agenda-driven ideologue.
“It was my failure to articulate who he is and what he was here for,” the superintendent said. “He’s a Nobel scientist, highly distinguished, but people thought he was something else. Academic freedom is very important here, and science education is very important here.”
Still, as in much of the West, Choteau is home to a deep-seated mistrust of environmentalism, which many here see as a threat to their agricultural way of life. The town has also been largely on the pro-development side of a long and sometimes bitter battle over whether to exploit oil and gas reserves along the wild Rocky Mountain front or to preserve it primarily for wilderness and wildlife.
Finally, there is the raw politics of the matter. Dr. Running specializes in an issue associated with Mr. Gore, not a popular figure among many in this predominantly Republican town.
Imagine being a child growing up in Choteau, and being exposed to that kind of anti environmentalist climate . . .