Montana’s Republican governor has made it clear his state won’t be bothered to help in the fight against climate change. But he still wants federal assistance to deal with the climate impacts at Montana’s door.
Last week, Gov. Greg Gianforte withdrew Montana from a bipartisan coalition of more than two dozen states committed to upholding the goals of the Paris climate agreement, which include net-zero greenhouse gas emissions by 2050. Brooke Stroyke, a spokesperson for Gianforte, told Montana Public Radio that the governor believes innovation, not government regulation, is the solution to climate change.
Two days later, Gianforte called on the U.S. Department of Agriculture to declare a drought emergency across his state, which would make emergency funds available to farmers who have suffered losses.
“Data from the U.S. Drought Monitor now shows all counties in Montana experiencing abnormally dry to extreme drought conditions, and the situation continues to get worse,” Gianforte wrote on Twitter.
The situation is indeed getting worse. Climate change is exacerbating heat waves and drought across the globe, making events more frequent and extreme. And the sweltering, dry conditions are feeding early season wildfires in Montana.
Gianforte also shared a tweet from the state’s fire protection program about dangerous fire conditions across western Montana. “Let’s work together to reduce the burden on our first responders and use extreme caution when working and recreating outdoors,” Gianforte wrote.
One way to lessen the burden on wildland firefighters would be to take the climate threat seriously. Wildfires are forecast to become increasingly severe as climate change drives up temperatures and fuels drought.
Instead, Gianforte has blamed wildfires on “frivolous lawsuits from environmental extremists” and dismissed the scientific consensus that humans are the primary drivers of global climate change. In letters to at least two constituents while a member of Congress, he wrote that “the climate has been changing for millennia” and that “while the climate is changing, we still do not know how much of that change is due to human activities.”
Frank Szollosi, executive director of conservation nonprofit Montana Wildlife Federation, said Gianforte’s actions demonstrate a “cognitive dissonance” and that withdrawing from the bipartisan alliance of governors is “an abdication of state leadership.”
“Rivers in Montana are drying up this year, the fisheries are getting smoked, forest fires displace wildlife and there’s wildlife mortality — to say nothing of the personal property impact,” Szollosi said. “It’s just incongruent to try to stand with wildland firefighters when through the abdication of leadership on climate, you’re basically condemning the wildland firefighters of the future.”
Gianforte’s wildfire message is as simplistic and incomplete as that of Smokey Bear, the Forest Service icon that for decades has been telling Americans “Only YOU can prevent wildfires” without discussing the benefits of natural fire on ecosystems and how climate change is impacting infernos. Business as usual in oil and gas production is one main reason states like Montana have found themselves choked in smoke every year.
Gianforte’s office did not immediately respond to HuffPost’s request for comment Monday.
It’s not hard to understand how ending Montana’s participation in a bipartisan climate coalition and walking away from its goals risks further harm to Montana residents, including the agricultural producers Gianforte is now asking the federal government to assist.
“This drought didn’t come out of nowhere, and if the current drought and the last decade of extreme weather across the country don’t convince you we’re in a crisis right now and that we bold action to avert disaster today and for the future, then you’re cementing the risk for the communities in your state,” Michael Kelly, director of communications at Clean Water Action, said via email.