Oklahoma native John Sutter visited Woodward County, Oklahoma. At first, he could find no one who'd admit to believing in anthropogenic climate change, not even the headmaster of the local academy, who paid out of his own money to erect a statue of a little girl on a stegosaurus' back with a plaque that read, "A dinosaur like this roamed the Earth 5,000 years ago."
But what begins as an ethnography of the Land of Low-Information Voters turns into a surprisingly sensitive and nuanced portrait of people who have a complicated relationship to the hydrocarbon industries that dominate their region; the religion that demands that they be stewards of the land; and climate-driven tragedies ranging from fatal wildfires to the forced sale of cattle for whom no water can be found.
Sutter flips between experts in the public understanding of science, locals, and some distant relatives he tracks down on their ranch. He compares the things he hears from climate deniers to the survey data on climate denial and realizes that climate denial isn't the dominant belief in this county — it's just the loudest one, and the quiet people who are worried about climate change assume that they're the only ones with those fears.
It's an empathic and smart piece, and well worth the time to read.
"I think all this global warming crap is overblown," said Wes Sander, one of the ranchers.
At a church dinner, I met Genevieve Duncan, a soft-spoken 80-year-old who walks with a cane. She told me climate change is "the most ludicrous myth that has been forced upon the Earth since the world began."
I'm paid to be persistent, so my quest for an eco-activist continued. At a French cafe downtown, I met Rita Barney, who has bleached hair, cat-eye glasses and tattoos everywhere. She looks like punk-climate-activist material. But even she doesn't think we need to switch off of oil. "I think that, as we take the oil out of the ground," she said, "God provided a way for that to replenish itself." (Oil actually takes hundreds of thousands of years under pressure to form.)
I visited the High Plains Technology Center, which is one of the best schools in the country for training people who work on wind farms. The students I encountered were from California, New York, Missouri and elsewhere. In the last five years or so, dozens of wind turbines have popped up in and around Woodward, capitalizing on the wind that, true to the song from the musical "Oklahoma!" does go sweeping down the plains.
Jack Day, 44, is one of the wind tech instructors there.
Does he think humans are causing climate change?
"My instinct is no."
Woodward County, Oklahoma: Why do so many here doubt climate change?
[John D. Sutter/CNN]