It’s almost impossible to believe, but while Montanans are melting in record-high, triple-digit temperatures in June, mining and burning more coal as well as drilling and burning more oil and gas continues to be recklessly promoted by our politicians who are apparently blind to the severe drought, blistering temperatures and insect infestations as the climate-destroying cycle of fossil fuel production and consumption continues.
Given the increasingly negative effects on our overheated planet, one might wonder how it’s possible that we are still being told we’ll magically transition to a carbon-free society by 2050. That’s 29 years from now and the planet is already warming much faster than previously predicted in ways that weren’t even contemplated, let alone quantified. The resulting feedback loops are now widening the impacts far beyond temperature and sea level rise as Siberian and Alaskan permafrost melts, releasing vast quantities of methane, a far more potent global warming gas than carbon dioxide. In turn, that traps more heat, melts more permafrost, and, well, you get the picture.
Closer to home the impacts are likewise undeniable. Last week’s column discussed the dire situation for Montana’s brown trout and other coldwater fisheries as our rivers and streams, already suffering from early snowmelt and low flows, are increasingly dewatered for irrigation, causing water temperatures to shoot up to lethal levels for trout. If anyone doubted the enormity of the problem, this recent article detailing the lowest levels of brown trout in 20 years in the famed Madison River should put such doubts to rest.
But trout are far from Montana’s only drought- and heat-related problem. Consider this — a plague of grasshoppers is threatening to devour everything edible in a huge part of the state. How huge? Well, as reported late last week, the U.S. Department of Agriculture is planning to aerial spray pesticides on a whopping 3,000 square miles of Montana — an area twice the size of the entire state of Rhode Island. Concerns are already being raised about the effects on non-target species such as already-struggling Monarch butterflies and our vastly diminished population of pollinators such as bees.
And of course here come the wildfires — totally unabated by the phony “thinning” or even clearcutting of our vanishing state and national forests.
Faced with these multiple climate crises, what are Montana’s politicians doing? Well, our Republican-dominated Legislature spent enormous amounts of time and energy trying fruitlessly to “save” the outdated environmental disaster of the Colstrip power plants — even going so far as to attempt to interfere in longstanding contracts between private corporate entities and telling power plant owners Montana’s attorney general will demand certain maintenance that they must perform.
When President Joe Biden announced a moratorium on public land oil and gas drilling to allow a review of the previous administration’s giveaway of public resources, Montana’s attorney general joined a handful of other states to sue the federal government. And while Republican politicians undoubtedly comprise the bulk of global warming deniers, there’s Montana’s Democratic Senator Jon Tester grilling Secretary of the Interior Deb Haaland last week complaining that: "As this review rolls on, a leasing pause gives folks in the oil and gas industry a lot of uncertainty." Oh my — “uncertainty” for the oil and gas industry! What about the “uncertainty” for the sage grouse and the rest of us, senator?
We may not know what the future holds, but there’s one thing of which we can be certain — it will be worse thanks to our politicians who, ignoring science and increasing impacts, are addicted to the dead-end path of producing and burning more fossil fuels.
George Ochenski is a longtime Helena resident, an environmental activist and Montana's longest-running weekly columnist.