Environment, Education, Energy: Policy to People

CNN Found ‘Common Ground’ in Climate-Skeptical Woodward County, Oklahoma

Woodward County, Oklahoma, is one of the most climate-skeptical counties in the United States, according to estimates from the Yale Project on Climate Communication. 

CNN columnist John Sutter recently visited the oil-patch county — where nearly one-third of the county’s 21,000 residents don’t believe climate change is occurring — on a simple expedition:

“I was wandering around the rolling plains of northwest Oklahoma looking for one person — one person — who believes in climate change science …”

Sutter found a lot of Oklahomans who disagreed with what 97 percent of climate scientists say is demonstrable fact: “Climate-warming trends over the past century are very likely due to human activities.”

In interviews with Sutter — who, in full disclosure, writes and produces videos for a CNN opinion section called “2 degrees” and is a personal friend — Woodward residents called human-caused climate change a “big fat lie” and “propaganda.” But Sutter found more:

In Woodward, I found that for every person who vehemently denies climate change is real — the woman at the church dinner, for instance, who called it a “ludicrous myth” — there were several who felt genuinely confused about the topic, or who had very rational and honest reasons to avoid climate science.

He interviewed a 12-year-old girl who learned about climate change in science class and said it “was a no-duh sort of thing for her.” Sutter also talked to a man who’s leasing land for wind farms:

Another was Harold Wanger, the rancher who was born at the start of that drought and who married his high school sweetheart during the next drought cycle. He realizes that people can devastate the natural environment — he saw that happen when his family contributed to overplowing the Great Plains during the Dust Bowl.

Despite the skepticism about climate change, Sutter found residents who were installing solar panels, training to work in the wind industry and spoke openly about sustainability and limiting pollution.

On Monday, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency debuted the final version of its Clean Power Plan, the Obama administration’s effort to dramatically reduce carbon emissions from power plants.

Gov. Mary Fallin and other Oklahoma officials strongly criticized the plan, but Sutter suggests there might be some common ground — even in Woodward County.

Obama’s plan is described as controversial, but there’s actually pretty broad agreement that we need to be doing something — even here in skeptical Woodward. Seventy percent of people in Woodward (and 79% of Americans, according to a 2015 poll by the Yale group) are estimated to support funding for renewable energy research; 65% (75% of Americans) are estimated to say we should regulate carbon as a pollutant; and a narrow majority, 51%, (66% nationally) are estimated to say utilities should be required to produce 20% of electricity from renewable sources.

If Woodward is the most skeptical place in America, we’re doing well.

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