Sorry, Climate Activists, Montana Climate Harms Are Not Occurring

An environmental activist website called The Cool Down (TCD) just embarrassed itself by making provably false claims about climate change in Montana and by showing it cannot read a basic calendar.

On May 7, 2024, TCD published an article titled, “State lawmakers pass unprecedented anti-science law: ‘Our families are already suffering.’” The article begins, “Montana’s legislature has passed the nation’s most aggressive anti-science law, prohibiting state agencies from considering the impacts of excess heat-trapping pollution when reviewing permits for large projects like coal mines and power plants.”

Apparently, TCD doesn’t know how to read a calendar. The Montana legislature passed the law in question in April 2023, more than a full year before the TCD article, which is written as if the law had just recently been passed. Most likely, TCD wanted to stir up some climate panic in Montana, did an Internet search for climate change developments in Montana, saw that a climate change law had been passed in ‘April,’ and then wrote a muckraking article about it. But TCD didn’t notice the law was passed in the last week of April 2023 rather than the last week of April 2024, and wrote the article as if the law had just been passed. How embarrassing.

TCD’s sloppy research is not restricted just to calendar reading. The article embarrasses itself regarding climate change, also.

According to TCD, “This legislation comes at a pivotal time, as Montana’s climate has already changed significantly over the past century. The state has experienced earlier snowmelt, more frequent heat waves, and a growing risk of wildfires.”

Let’s examine these three claims.

First, snow. The figure below charts Montana annual snowfall, as reported by Montana State University. With modest year-to-year variation, annual snowfall has been remarkably consistent. To the extent a modest trend is occurring, there has been a modest increase in average annual snowfall during the past 25 years. Moreover, seven of the nine years with more than 60 inches of snowfall have occurred since the year 2000. All eight of the eight highest snowfall years have occurred since 1997. Claiming that climate change is reducing Montana snowfall is preposterous.

The fine print of the claim seemingly offers TCD a way out. TCD claims the state has experienced “earlier” snowmelt. The desired implication is earlier snowmelt means a shorter snow season with less snowfall, which the snowfall data shows isn’t true. What is true is that snowfall season in Montana and throughout North America is beginning earlier in autumn (see here) and ending earlier in the spring. A modest shift in when snowfall season begins and ends is relatively inconsequential while the amount of annual snowfall remains undiminished.

Second, heatwaves. The figure below is a chart produced by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA). It shows the numbers of days, in five-year blocks, in which Montana temperatures have exceeded 95 degrees. The bar on the far left shows the number of days exceeding 95 degrees during 1900-1904. The bar on the far right shows the number of days exceeding 95 degrees in 2015-2020. The data show no trend. This is not surprising, considering there is no increase in heatwaves nationally, either (see here).

Third, wildfires. TCD’s ‘evidence’ for its wildfire assertion is an EPA paper speculating that climate change will cause more wildfires in Montana at some point in the future. This is quite different than TDC’s assertion that Montana “has experienced” more wildfires. There simply is no trend of increasing Montana wildfires, which is not surprising consider wildfires have declined significantly globally and throughout the United States (see here and here).

In summary, none of The Cool Down’s climate change claims about Montana are true, whether the climate law in question was passed last week or last year.

James Taylor
James Taylor
James Taylor is the President of the Heartland Institute. Taylor is also director of Heartland's Arthur B. Robinson Center for Climate and Environmental Policy. Taylor is the former managing editor (2001-2014) of Environment & Climate News, a national monthly publication devoted to sound science and free-market environmentalism.

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