It’s only fitting that as an editorial in The Oklahoman pointed out that Oklahoma’s cool weather in April was “news that a climate change zealot won't want to hear,” scientists were reporting the average daily level of carbon dioxide in the air in the world was at its highest level in three million years.
Carbon dioxide is a heat-trapping gas, and its growing levels in the atmosphere have been blamed for global warming and climate change.
In a May 10 editorial brief titled “Cool to conclusions” in its weekly Scissors Tale column, The Oklahoman reported the rather unremarkable news that last month was the seventh coolest recorded April in the state’s history dating back to 1895.
“We won't extrapolate from this data to support a conclusion that global warming is over or that this will be one of the coolest summers on record,” the editorial claims, and then goes on to criticize anyone who brings up the recent temperature record breaking summers as evidence of global warming.
“It would be nice if the zealots wouldn't leap to conclusions based on those summers,” according to the commentary, “or last year's Superstorm Sandy or any other weather phenomenon that's cashed in like a lottery ticket to score a political point.”
So, in essence, the editorial IS using a particular weather event to criticize those concerned about climate change, which is the same thing as using a weather event as evidence to argue global warming is simply a mythology embraced by, to use its own word, “zealots.” The editorial does exactly what it says it won’t do, which makes its writer as much as a zealot as anyone else.
The disingenuous rhetoric comes with a heaping dose of faulty logic. The seventh coolest April in one state hardly compares with the fact that 2012 was the warmest year on record for the contiguous United States or the fact the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration recently reported that ocean surface temperatures last year off the Northeast coast in this country were the highest in 150 years.
The editorial also doesn’t refer to the actual math of global warming, which can be viewed in these charts from the National Aeronautics and Space Administration.
Two other subjects The Oklahoman will always omit from any discussion of climate change is the fact the world’s best known global warming denier, its own home-state darling U.S. Sen. Jim Inhofe, has received at least $550,000 in campaign funding from oil and gas companies since 2007 and the fact the newspaper itself is currently owned by Philip Anschutz, a Colorado billionaire, who became rich decades ago by drilling for fossil fuels.
All the omissions and faulty logic come just as scientists reported that the average daily carbon dioxide level in the atmosphere is now at 400 parts per million, the highest in at least three million years. The measurements come from scientific instruments in Hawaii and have been compared to carbon dioxide levels in trapped air bubbles in ancient Antarctic ice.
According to a New York Times article, scientists didn’t mince words about the significance of the finding. “It feels like the inevitable march toward disaster,” one scientist said. The impact of carbon emissions on the climate continues to be one of the planet’s largest problems.
So let’s be clear: Global warming is a scientific issue and fact, not a bipartisan debate, and no one weather event can determine much of anything. Long-term climate patterns, which now include a series of unusual weather events through the years, high carbon dioxide levels in the air, warming sea temperatures and melting Arctic ice indicate we face a problem. The Oklahoman does a great disservice to its readers and the broader community here in its discussions of global warming when it simply engages in rhetorical hyperbole by calling people zealots, making false comparisons and omitting crucial information about conflicts of interest.
The continued lack of anything close to adequate funding for public education is one of the major disappointments of the Republican state budget proposal currently making its way through the legislature, but one of its glaring omissions is a big letdown as well.
The budget contains no raise for the state’s some 34,000 employees, who haven’t seen an overall, across-the-board salary increase since 2006 when Brad Henry was governor.
Some agencies have found money for raises in that time period, and Oklahoma Highway Patrol Troopers and some other law enforcements agencies may still be hoping for a raise this session, but it’s clear that the bulk of state employees, with some exceptions, are clearly unappreciated by the Republican-dominated political leadership.
That this has created a morale problem is a huge understatement. I know several state workers, and, though this is anecdotal, most of them believe the current political milieu at the Capitol is hostile and demeaning when it comes to their concerns. These state employees do some of the most important and demanding work in our culture for low pay within underfunded systems, and they get treated with disrespect and suspicion by the GOP leadership.
Gov. Mary Fallin has set the tone by dismissing the idea of a simple cost-of-living raise and instead calling for a study that would compare state employee salaries with salaries in the private sector with the goal of eventually creating a performance-based system for raises and adjustments. In other words, the state will spend $200,000 for what will probably be a biased report that will somehow incredibly show state employees are overpaid.
How can you compare the salary of a child welfare social worker in the field with anyone else’s salary in the private sector?
The hostility is also apparent in the GOP rhetoric of “right-sizing” government and in its efforts to cut taxes for the state’s wealthy while downplaying commitments to provide basic state services and adequate education funding.
Much of this hostility, which is happening in other Republican-dominated state governments as well, can be seen ultimately as a backlash against the nation’s first African American president and carries racist overtones. Unfortunately, Republicans on the national level have also stalemated Congress and in the process have denied President Barack Obama and Democrats any chance of providing more stimulus money to the states.
The national political tension and the Republican-dominance of state government here mean state employees must go years without cost-of-living raises while working in overly demanding situations. They forge on because for many state employees their job is a calling, a way to make a meaningful contribution to the culture here in Oklahoma.
Let’s be clear: State employees deserve raises, not a study.
I’m surprised Gov. Mary Fallin and other Republican leaders didn’t hold a big ceremony Monday as the governor signed the new workers’ compensation “reform” bill into law.
After all, the GOP has touted for weeks how Senate Bill 1062, the measure changing the state’s workers compensation system, is “historic” and, as with just about every other legislation Republicans pass, is sure to bring a stampede of regulation-escaping businesses here.
Instead, Fallin issued a short press release with the usual dose of Republican mythology. “This is an important pro-growth policy,” Fallin mentioned, “that will help us attract jobs and build a stronger and more prosperous Oklahoma.” We’ll all live happily ever after, right?
What the press release doesn’t mention, of course, are the recently released statistics about the state's workers either killed or injured on the job in 2011. The numbers, which I will get to later, aren’t good. The new workers’ compensation bill, of course, includes nothing significant to promote workplace safety as it reduces benefits for workers.
It seems to me that a civilized society would be more focused on preventing job-related injuries and deaths than making it easier for companies to escape their responsibility for maintaining unsafe work environments. Safer workplaces here and elsewhere would bring down costs for everyone, including businesses.
Workers’ compensation is a process by which injured workers are compensated for medical costs and lost work time. The process can vary state-to-state.
SB 1062 changes the Oklahoma workers' compensation process from a judicial process to an administrative process. It allows companies to opt out of the system entirely if they provide their own benefits for injured workers. It also reduces maximum benefits for temporarily and completely disabled workers from 100 percent to 70 percent of the state average weekly wages. Injured workers who make less than the weekly average will, of course, only get 70 percent of their own wages, not the state average. The highest amount a temporarily disabled worker can receive under the new system has gone down from $771 to $539.70.
Changing the system to a supposedly less adversarial administrative process will bring Oklahoma in line with most states, but it’s difficult to see it as a panacea. The opt-out measure could be hard to enforce for compliance and open the doors for businesses to provide only minimum coverage, which was set at a $2 million policy with medical costs capped at $500,000. The reduction in benefits is simply that, a reduction in benefits for workers who are seriously injured on the job.
All of this is supposedly going to reduce workers’ compensation insurance costs for businesses here. If it does, and that remains to be seen, it will be at the expense of workers. It’s simply impossible to see it otherwise. That the system here needed streamlining or structural changes is one thing, and such changes can be argued, but allowing companies to opt out of the main system and actually reducing the amount of money a seriously injured worker can receive are not so arguable for what they signify. These two changes are clearly designed to help companies at the expense of workers, some of whom do extremely dangerous jobs day after day.
Dangerous work coupled with unsafe work environments leads to deaths and injuries. In Oklahoma, 86 people were killed on the job in 2011, the last year for which statistics are available, according to the U.S. Department of Labor. That’s a rate of 5.5 percent for every 100,000 workers, which is higher than the national rate of 3.5 percent. In addition, 40,600 Oklahoma workers were injured on the job in 2011, the organization reports. Nationally, 4,693 workers were killed on the job in 2011, the department reports. These numbers here and across the country have been fairly stagnant since 2008.
The AFL-CIO argues that a main reason for the bleak numbers here and elsewhere is because the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) can’t perform needed workplace inspections because of its inadequate funding and low staff levels. Oklahoma doesn’t have a state OSHA program, but the AFL-CIO point applies here as well.
Performing workplace inspections and eliminating job-related deaths and injuries in Oklahoma should be just as an important issue as trying to help corporations reduce costs related to safety issues. That’s not going to happen in Oklahoma anytime soon under its Republican-dominated government, and so the tragedy continues.