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Global Warming Matters In Oklahoma

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NASA pointed out last week that the planet has just experienced the hottest six months on record, fanning fears the pace of global warming is accelerating.

The six-month period stretches from April through September. The months April, May, June and August were the hottest recorded for those months in history. According to one meteorologist who writes for Slate, “. . . global temperatures may have already passed a level that human civilization has never experienced.”

Meanwhile, the Pentagon last week issued a report outlining how climate change should be a current factor in determining how the United States military should operate. One risk of climate change, for example, is the destabilization of foreign governments because of famine caused by drought or another major severe weather event, which can lead to unrest and extremism.

All this might seem far removed from Oklahoma, but that’s not the case for these following reasons:

(1) Just because it was a relatively cooler summer this year in Oklahoma doesn’t mean that it wasn’t steaming hot in other places on the planet or that overall mean temperatures didn’t increase. It’s the overall, larger frame that counts when it comes to global warming, not the day-to-day weather conditions. These new statistics could portend events and crises that could have a major impact in the state over the long term. Major ecological disasters, for example, could severely impact the world economy, which, in turn, could devastate Oklahoma’s own economy.

(2) Although Oklahoma experienced a relatively cooler and rainy summer, as I mentioned, extreme drought conditions persist in western Oklahoma, threatening water supplies and affecting agriculture. Is this related to climate change or just part of a multi-year cycle? It just makes common sense to at least consider factors such as increasing world temperatures when dealing with this question.

(3) Oklahoma continues to experience a record number of earthquakes, which scientists argue are caused by the injection well process used in the hydraulic fracturing, or fracking, drilling method. The burning of fossil fuels, which then become carbon emissions, is at the heart of manmade global warming. So Oklahoma gets it both ways. The release of climate-changing fossil fuels from the ground also threatens the safety and property of Oklahoma residents through the potential of major earthquakes.

(4) U.S. Sen. Jim Inhofe, who is on track for reelection this year in Oklahoma, is one of the world’s most well known deniers of manmade global warming despite the growing evidence that the planet is perilously close to major disasters because of climate change. Inhofe, it should be noted, has received more than $400,000 in campaign contributions from the oil and gas industry since 2009. Let’s be clear that a vote for Inhofe is a vote for an unregulated oil and gas industry that can do massive damage to the environment without penalty.

Drought and earthquakes here, combined with local political leaders who don’t believe in the scientific method, means Oklahomans have much at stake as the world grows hotter through the carbon emissions caused by the burning of fossil fuels.

Given the circumstances, it only makes sense here to increase the development of renewable energy sources that have less of a negative impact on the environment and to ban fracking entirely as some communities across the world have already done.

Education Funding Crisis Continues Unabated In Oklahoma

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A new study shows that Oklahoma continues to have a major education funding crisis and no amount of denial by Gov. Mary Fallin’s office is going to make it go away.

In its study, the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities shows that per student spending has dropped in Oklahoma by 23.6 percent since 2008. This means, adjusting for inflation, the state spends $857 less per student each year. The decline is the steepest in the nation.

The second steepest decline is in Alabama where per student funding has dropped by 17.8 percent, according to the study. The study shows that, in all, 35 states have cut per student funding since 2008.

The cut in education funding undermines the rosy picture of Oklahoma’s economy and quality of life often depicted by Fallin in her reelection campaign. What we have in Oklahoma is a full-fledged crisis in which our schools simply don’t have enough money to operate effectively.

A spokesperson for Fallin, a Republican, said the study “exaggerates” the cuts, according to a story on NewsOK.com, because the cuts came after all-time high funding for education before the 2008-2009 recession, which caused an immediate major budget shortfall. The spokesperson, according to the study, also said the study doesn’t account for other forms of school funding from the state. Even if these points are conceded, school funding here is remarkably dismal given the state’s economy and teacher salaries here are among the worst in the nation.

Fallin, who is facing an unexpectedly tight race for reelection from her Democratic opponent Joe Dorman, said she’s committed to increasing funding for schools and raising teacher salaries, according to the NewsOK.com story, yet in her tenure as governor she has consistently pushed for income tax cuts and approved of major tax breaks for oil and gas companies.

It’s impossible to reconcile the position of pushing to lower state revenue while adequately increasing funding for education. For that to happen, funding for some other aspect of state government, such as corrections or social services, would have to be drastically cut.

In addition, Fallin has also approved of high-stakes testing in our public schools at the same time state government is starving the educational system of funding. This is terribly unfair. I believe it’s also part of a deliberate conservative strategy to ensure schools “fail” by some nebulous measure. Overall, starving schools of money while pushing for senseless high-stakes testing can only be construed as a deliberate attack on public education.

Right now, we have a teacher shortage in our state and growing class sizes in many of our schools. It’s a crisis that could affect the quality of education for an entire generation of students as the years go by without a major correction in funding.

No One

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“Mary Fallin. Because no one cares more about Oklahoma. No one.”

The above text or a version of it that end Gov. Mary Fallin’s reelection campaign television advertisements have become especially grating to me for different reasons.

I hear those lines, and I cringe. No one cringes more than me. No one.

I know I could be accused of nitpicking here, and I’m certainly not going to apply some faux-Pinocchio media test about truthfulness to Fallin’s ads, but I still do think it’s important to delve deeper into such hollow political discourse rather than just numbly and dumbly accept it as part of life as an American citizen trying to participate in the election process. No wonder voter turnout is so low here in Oklahoma and elsewhere.

So here are my problems with those particular lines:

(1) It’s a sweeping generalization that can never be measured or proven in any quantifiable manner. We can assume Fallin means that there are other people who care just as much as she does about Oklahoma, but that no one, absolutely no one, cares more. Does Fallin constantly care about Oklahoma throughout the day? How many hours? Does she ever not care about Oklahoma? What about when she’s watching a movie? What about other state leaders and the possibility they actually care more about Oklahoma than Fallin does at any given moment in the day? How do you measure it? How do you define it?

(2) What does it mean to care for a state, anyway? Is that necessarily a great attribute in itself? What if you care about more than one state or even more than one country? What if you care about four or even five states? By using the word care, we can also probably assume Fallin means she cares about people that live in Oklahoma as well as, say, the state’s natural beauty. Yet many people would argue that Fallin has a funny way of caring about certain groups of people who live in Oklahoma, such as students who attend underfunded schools and low-income people who can’t afford health care. Remember, no one cares more than Fallin does. No one.

(3) Generally speaking, I know that in the advertising world grating and annoying repetition in commercials can reap rewards for companies. Is this the intent of the Fallin campaign, sort of like the use of the Aflac duck? If so, it doesn’t make it any easier to stomach. I also wonder if the numbing repetition even works in the case of an incumbent governor who has fallen in popularity. Anyone still riding the fence in this gubernatorial election could conceivably view the lines as an insult to their intelligence or, probably more so, simply as an aggravating nuisance as they’re trying to watch the six o’clock news.

Does any of this really matter in the larger scheme of our political campaign system? Well, I’ll say this: No one cares more about this issue of reductionist and clichéd political discourse than me. No one.*

*Slight qualification. Okay, except for the millions of other people in this country who care about it, too.

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