January 18, 2008
Too Cool for School
It all started with the Scopes Monkey Trial in Tennessee way back when. Then more recently many of us have been asking "What's the matter with Kansas?" Well, today I'm wondering just what the deal is in Montana?
Seems that in the tiny hamlet of Choteau, Montana (pop. 1781) a few grumbling conservatives are enough to keep a Nobel laureate from discussing global warming at the local high school. Dr. Steven Running, a professor of ecology at the University of Montana and one of the lead authors of the U.N. Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change's report, was due to speak to high school students in the small agricultural town located on the plains that spread out east of the Rocky Mountains. It seems that a vocal minority objected to his talk before 130 high school students because it would be "one-sided," so the local school superintendent, Kevin St. John, canceled it.
St. John went on to lamely explain that there simply wasn't time to explain to everyone that Running was a "leading scientist" and not an "agenda-driven ideologue." (I'm guessing I'd be in that latter category. And just how long could it possibly take to explain things in a town of 1,781 anyway?) Sensing he might have some 'splainin' to do, St. John added -- rather unconvincingly methinks -- that "academic freedom is very important here, and science education is very important here." But apparently not important enough for him to actually do his job as an educator it would seem.
If Choteau's anything like the town in Wyoming where yours truly grew up -- where the closest any of us got to a Nobel laureate was a particularly exciting film strip about Marie Curie that we watched in the 3rd grade -- it's pretty stupid to pass up an opportunity like this one.
Besides general objections to reality and science, it seems that the opponents of Running's talk didn't really have too much else to say. One school board member who had opposed the talk hid behind a curt "no comment." He's probably right to keep a low profile -- the seven people who wrote letters to the editor of the local paper criticizing the school board could well represent half the electorate.
One would suppose that residents of Choteau, which is apparently crunchy enough to have its own organic grocery store, would take notice of the many signs of global warming all around them. The area is itself in the midst of prolonged drought and worsening wildfires frequently tear through the forests of western Montana -- home to the see 'em before their gone for good glaciers of Glacier National Park. Indeed, other farmers and ranchers in eastern Montana are teaming up with environmentalists to fight coal plants right in the heart of Montana coal country. Montana's governor has even appeared in nationally televised commercials calling on Congress to pass global warming legislation.
At least the youth get it. One student at the local high school told a reporter: "I don’t feel there is another side. Global warming is not a controversial issue, it's a fact."
As they say: oh snap!