Manmade global warming, according to one science writer, has exacerbated the extreme rainfall in recent days here as many state leaders remain in denial about the effects of carbon emissions on the environment.
Perhaps “remain in denial” is an understatement. Oklahoma is the home state of U.S. Sen. Jim Inhofe, who thinks the idea of humankind’s impact on the climate is a “hoax” and that only a God could be responsible for major shifts in weather patterns. Inhofe now heads the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee.
Meanwhile, Oklahoma Attorney General Scott Pruitt continues to fight the federal government over its mandate to reduce carbon dioxide emissions from power plants. Pruitt has taken a lead role in fighting new rules by the Environmental Protection Agency to reduce carbon emissions.
The drilling for and the burning of fossil fuels is, of course, sacrosanct in Oklahoma, and the oil and gas industry is a major part of the state’s economy. Both Inhofe and Pruitt are tied closely to the industry. Oil baron and billionaire Harold Hamm, chief executive officer of Oklahoma City’s Continental Resources, led Pruitt’s most recent reelection campaign. Inhofe has received more than $1.7 million in campaign contributions from the oil and gas industry in his political career dating back to 1989.
That influence creates a type of “official” scientific denial that truly threatens the planet. The extreme weather in Oklahoma, which is almost certainly going to become more extreme in coming years, is actually a small development in the larger climate-change reality that includes rising sea levels that threaten to destroy coastal communities.
A recent article written by Senior Science Writer Andrea Thompson in Climate Central about recent heavy rain in Oklahoma pointed out, “Because warmer air has a greater capacity to hold on to water, there’s more moisture available when rains fall. Even in places that are expected to become drier overall in a warming world, when it does rain, it’s more likely to be in concentrated bursts.”
That warmer air, according to the article, is because of the “unabated buildup of carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases in the atmosphere.”
Scientists who study global warming have said for years that the planet will experience more extreme weather events as the world grows warmer because of carbon emissions. The record rainfall here recently, and the rain deluge in neighboring Texas is an example of that weather extremism. The rainfall here and in Texas has led to deaths and the destruction of property.
So fossil fuels have brought Oklahoma a new reality, which includes almost daily earthquakes caused by the injection wastewater disposal well process used in fracking and now record rainfall that leads to destructive flooding.
Given the extreme weather, the earthquakes and politicians such as Inhofe and Pruitt, Oklahoma has become a glaring symbol of the cost of scientific denial in the fossil-fuel age, which will be a blip in world history if the planet survives.
State lawmakers have finally taken steps to try to complete the American Indian Cultural Center and Museum in Oklahoma City. That’s a positive development.
Under legislation recently approved last week by the House and Senate, the state pay would pay $25 million in bonds, and then essentially hand over the stalled project to Oklahoma City, which would manage the AICCM and reap the benefits of economic development along the riverfront property at the intersection of I-35 and I-40.
In essence, the state is washing its hands of the project, which stopped construction way back in 2012. That’s not so positive. The state’s control of the project held symbolic value that resonated with many Oklahomans. I’ve seen different estimates of how much the state has already put into the project, but it was at least $67 million as of 2014. Oklahoma will eventually invest more than $100 million on the project, according to government leaders. For the state to simply give up now with a last infusion of limited money isn’t necessarily the best move in terms of national perception of the Oklahoma legislature and overall government, but at least it will probably get the project moving again.
As I’ve argued in the past, the AICCM is more than just a tourist draw and stupendous educational center. It’s also an extremely small gesture of reparations to native nations in the state, which have contributed to the project. It also recognizes the unique role Oklahoma played in the European colonization of the United States and the 1830 Indian Removal Act, supported by often-criticized President Andrew Jackson. Under the infamous act, thousands of Indians were forcibly moved from their lands in the southern U.S. to areas in Oklahoma. The purpose of this was to open up land for white “settlers.” Many Indians died on their journey here and then continued to face various, insidious forms of discrimination.
Keep in mind, the AICCM is NOT an Indian-sponsored project despite the contributions from various native nations. It was designed as a way to attract people here and also to honor the contributions of native people to Oklahoma and U.S. culture.
My first reaction to the deal is that Oklahoma City is the big winner in all this and should seize the opportunity to complete the project and develop the acres of land surrounding the project. If Oklahoma City accepts the deal, it would have to kick in at least $9 million and take over operating costs in 2016.
I hope that the deal doesn’t lead to scaling back the project in some manner or that the whole project doesn't become overly commercialized. The success of the AICCM will be its world-class magnitude and its historical and academic integrity.
The recently announced $7.1 billion Oklahoma budget deal for next fiscal year short changes higher education at a time when a college degree is becoming more essential than ever.
As media pundits have pointed out, parents and students will undoubtedly have to make up for the more than $24 million cut to higher education through the raising of tuition and fees, but there will be no improvement to what some analysts refer to as “the product.” This means, for one thing, no or limited additional faculty lines.
The cut will be likely distributed evenly throughout the higher education system, and it wouldn’t be surprising if tuition and fee hikes soon follow. This has been a pattern for many years now when it comes to public higher education throughout the country as many states continue to cut funding to colleges and universities.
Cuts to higher education here and elsewhere mean higher tuition, which translates into higher student debt. It also prices many students out of a degree or places them in debilitating debt after they graduate. In a state such as Oklahoma, which has a low college graduation rate, it doesn’t bode well for the overall future economy. The state needs a better-educated work force to help the economy thrive, but that takes investment.
An income tax cut from 5.25 to 5 percent scheduled to go into effect in January will take an estimated $50 million or so out of the budget, which would have covered the cut to higher education. The average middle class household will pay an estimated extra $29 to $31 less ANNUALLY in income tax. That’s it. Wealthy households will benefit much more, of course, so it’s simply true that the poor and the middle class will get stuck with higher college tuition to make the rich even richer.
The apologists for cuts to higher education will say that Oklahoma still has overall low tuition rates when compared nationally and that the cut is minimal given the budget shortfall of $611 million. They will also use some version of “money isn’t the answer to everything” when it comes to education. But those remain shortsighted and reductionist arguments in a state that historically has not provided adequate funding for education. Oklahoma should be investing much more in both K-12 and higher education to improve the quality of life here. That would do more than tax cuts to attract new businesses and to entice people to come live here.
Study after study through the years have shown that college graduates not only make more money in their lifetimes than non-college graduates but also lead healthier and more enriching lives. One recent study showed that the gap between what college graduates earn and what non-college graduates earn is at an all-time high.
Studies have also shown through the years that Oklahoma lags behind the national average in its number of college graduates.
What’s especially distressing about the higher education cut is that it appears the budget situation could remain stagnant or even become worse the following fiscal year because of the use of what is referred to as “one-time money” this coming fiscal year. So this could mean even more cuts down the road.
The budget doesn’t cut K-12 education but funding remains so flat that the state will continue to deal with a teacher shortage because of low salaries.
Some lawmakers may herald this budget as a good compromise, but usually when a state cuts funding to one of its education systems it shows a disregard for the future. This is one of those times.