Politicians Ignore Reality as the World Burns Around Them 

Photograph by Nathaniel St. Clair

Unless you’ve been living in a cave, the fact that the state, nation, and world are experiencing record-setting high temperatures is inescapable — as are the extreme and harmful impacts of global baking.  Montana is no exception.

Yet, as we suddenly transition from our non-winter to a scorching hot and very early Spring — our politicians not only deny this reality, they actively fight efforts to limit the pollutants responsible for increasingly disastrous climate change.

As a recent article from the Associated Press put it:  “Across much of America and especially in the normally chilly north, the country went through the winter months without, well, winter.

In parka strongholds Burlington, Vermont, and Portland, Maine, the thermometer never plunged below zero. The state of Minnesota called the last three months “the lost winter,” warmer than its infamous “year without a winter” in 1877-1878. Michigan, where mosquitos were biting in February, offered disaster loans to businesses hit by a lack of snow. The Great Lakes set records for low winter ice, with Erie and Ontario “essentially ice-free.”

As for Montana, the low snowpack is all too obvious.  Our ski resorts that traditionally open by Thanksgiving with full operations for the Christmas season — were unable to come even close to 100% skiable terrain.  Even those with snowmaking systems struggled due to lack of below freezing temperatures.  Some areas without snowmaking simply wrote off opening at all due to a lack of natural snowfall.

What this portends for the coming summer is anything but good news.  What little runoff our minimal snowpack will produce is likely to be gone almost before “floating season” even starts.  If the predictions hold true, Flathead Lake, the largest body of fresh water west of the Mississippi River, will be worse off this year than last.  Politicians and boaters lamented the low levels and, predictably for that part of the state, baselessly blamed the Confederated Salish and Kootenai Tribal operation of the Séliš Ksanka QÍispé dam.

While the lack of water for recreation will create economic impacts to fishing and floating businesses, the effects upon Montana’s aquatic ecosystems will be worse.  It’s no secret our coldwater fisheries are already in serious trouble as the too hot, too long, too dry summers stack up.  The Big Hole is hanging on by a thread — and that thread is fraying.  The Lower Madison is routinely closed to fishing — a trend that now spreads to more and more streams every summer in the unrelenting heat.

Even the Yellowstone, the longest undammed river in the contiguous 48 states, is in trouble with fish die offs and the increasing upstream presence of warmwater species like bass, perch and northern pike.  And it may well be “game over” for endangered species like bull trout that require cold, clean and connected waters to even survive.

Although the Forest Service and Montana’s Department of Natural Resources and Conservation continue to come up with inventive names for deforestation under the guise of wildfire prevention, the science is clear that no amount of “thinning” and/or logging will prevent wildfires when temperatures soar and hot winds howl.  As one wag put it, “we’re in for a hellacious summer, with the emphasis on hell.”

Yet our politicians continue their horrendous dereliction of duty to deal with our burning planet.  Instead, Montana’s benighted attorney general, governor and his administration do just the opposite — and challenge our Supreme Court’s ruling that ignoring climate impacts violates Montanans’ constitutional right to a “clean and healthful environment.”

Despite the lamentable fact that Joe Biden leased more public land to produce more oil and gas than his predecessor, Donald Trump claims if he wins his first priority will be “drill, baby, drill.”

But in truth, for Montanans and the rest of the world, it will be “Burn, baby, burn.”

George Ochenski is a columnist for the Daily Montanan, where this essay originally appeared.