When it comes to the climate crisis, Oklahoma has one of the highest percentages of people who deny the reality of climate change and the role of human activity in contributing to rising global temperatures. This is not surprising in a state that is dominated by the oil and gas industry, where the good or bad fortune of the economy seems inextricably linked to the price of a barrel of oil, where towns boom or bust based on oil and gas well counts, and where we are reminded constantly by the propaganda of oil and gas companies that they are responsible for all of our good things and that we would be lost as a state without them.
In such a state as this, it is no surprise that we are home to a U.S. Senator who brings snowballs on the floor of the U.S. Senate and builds igloos on the National Mall when it is cold outside as evidence of his assertion that “global warming is the greatest hoax” ever perpetrated on the American people. It is no surprise that Oklahoma governors and attorneys general have long taken their talking points from oil and gas companies and have the state’s most powerful fossil fuel executives on speed dial. It is no surprise that very few of Oklahoma’s religious leaders speak out about addressing climate change when their offering plates are full of fossil fuel money. It is no surprise that Oklahoma colleges and universities have their regents and trustees packed with persons with fossil fuel interests, and it is no surprise that university presidents in Oklahoma are often paid directors of oil and gas companies or simply come directly from the ranks of fossil fuel executives, often with little to no experience in higher education. In the Oklahoma game, it is difficult to win without oil and gas on your team.
For these reasons and more, I have often described Oklahoma as being in a state of denial about climate change – a regrettable, yet understandable state of affairs given our fossil fueled economy. However, as climate change has become a full blown climate crisis, as 500 year floods become commonplace, as seasonal high tides flood the streets of Miami and those of other cities, as coastal villages erode into the sea, as we see climate refugees who have lost their homes to rising seas and strengthening storms, as arctic sea ice and permafrost melt, as glaciers recede all over the world, as global temperature averages continue to increase to record levels, as fire seasons and fire ravaged areas expand, as the effects of climate change are real right now, not just some forecast of a distant future; the word “denial” to describe Oklahoma’s response to the climate crisis no longer seems adequate.
Oklahoma’s response to the climate crisis is much less innocent than denial. Oklahoma (namely all Oklahomans who perpetuate the interests of the fossil fuel industry through word, deed, silence, or inaction) is complicit in the greatest ongoing crime against humanity and the ecological community of which we are all a part. Oklahoma is complicit in the theft of a flourishing present and the theft of our children’s and youth’s future. Oklahoma is complicit in leading us towards horrific suffering and death in the ongoing human-induced Sixth Great Extinction event on Earth.
Perhaps no one sees this complicity more clearly than our children and youth, and many young people are calling on all of us to address the climate crisis with the urgency that it demands. Through her school climate strike that has now become a global movement, 16 year old Greta Thunberg from Sweden has spoken with clarity and led with commitment to call on all of us to act boldly “as if our house is on fire” as she puts it, “because it is.”
Young people around the world have joined with Greta to strike for the climate, and we in Oklahoma should see this as a direct call on us to reject and repent from our complicity in the crime of the climate crisis. This Friday, September 20, young people are leading all of us in a global climate strike. There are at least two opportunities in Oklahoma (OKC and Tulsa) to join in this strike. The strikes in Oklahoma will be held from noon to 2 p.m. on the east lawn of the City Hall in Oklahoma City and at Guthrie Green in Tulsa. Let us hear the call of our youth and turn away from Oklahoma’s complicity in the climate crisis. Our children and youth are leading us. Will we love them enough to listen?