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Wyoming Coal Executives and Lawmakers Are Offended by Art Linking Coal, Climate Change and Bark Beetle Infestation

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"Wyoming Coal Executives and Lawmakers Are Offended by Art Linking Coal, Climate Change and Bark Beetle Infestation"

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The sculpture, “Carbon Sink: What Goes Around Comes Around,” composed of beetle-infested timber covered in coal.

Forests all across the American West are destroyed by pine beetles that are thriving due to a due to a changing climate.  The 3.1-million acre infestation is so bad in Wyoming that the Caspar Star-Tribune reported in March:

“Wyoming’s bark beetle epidemic is showing signs of slowing, forestry officials say, for the rather depressing reason that the insects are running out of trees in the state to infest.”

In response to this unique catastrophe, an artist has set up an installation at the University of Wyoming connecting the burning of coal to a breakdown of the environment.  The 36-foot diameter piece, called “Carbon Sink: What Goes Around Comes Around,” is made up of a spiral array of beetle-infested wood covered in coal.

The artist, Chris Drury, says the piece is not political in any way – he’s simply trying to “create a conversation.”

But in Campbell County where the biggest coal mines in the U.S. are located, making the connection between coal and climate change isn’t taken lightly. Two state lawmakers are protesting the art work, warning the University of Wyoming not to bite the hand that feeds it:

“[E]very now and then, you have to use these opportunities to educate some of the folks at the University of Wyoming about where their paychecks come from,” explained Rep. Tom Lubnau to the Casper Star Tribune – reminding administrators how much money the coal industry provides to the school and surrounding communities.

In an apolitical description of his work to the newspaper, Drury explained that “I just wanted to make that connection between the burning of coal and the dying of trees. But I also wanted to make a very beautiful object that pulls you in, as it were.”

The paper asserted that Drury’s work “blasts fossil fuels” – raising the ire of local politicians and mining officials:

Marion Loomis, executive director of the Wyoming Mining Association, said it’s “really disappointing” that UW decided to build the sculpture. He pointed out that the mining industry has “been a stalwart supporter” of the university for years, giving the school millions of dollars in donations for projects such as the new School of Energy Resources.

“They get millions of dollars in royalties from oil, gas and coal to run the university, and then they put up a monument attacking me, demonizing the industry,” Loomis said. “I understand academic freedom, and we’re very supportive of it, but it’s still disappointing.”

The school says it will not take out the installation.

In contrast with the bright green grass surrounding the sculpture, the piece illustrates the breakdown of the environment – both through natural and man-made forces.

The work will gradually fall apart over the next decade.

Ironically, the bark beetle infestation in Wyoming is also gradually falling apart — but only because the pest has all but wiped out the choicest trees.  The Caspar-Star Tribune reported in March:

Experts: Pine beetles are eating themselves out of Wyoming

CHEYENNE … In all, about 3.1 million acres of trees in Wyoming — mainly lodgepole and ponderosa pine — have been infested since the outbreak was first noticed about 15 years ago….

In western Wyoming, around Big Piney and the Wind River Range, the beetles have already killed between 60 and 90 percent of trees larger than 5 inches in diameter, said Steve Munson, a Forest Service entomologist.

Hmm.  The beetle is eating itself out of Wyoming.  Does the bark beetle sound like any other species we know? It appears the species formerly known as homo sapiens sapiens is no longer alone in its self-destructive quest to destroy its own habitat.

How does the proverb go:  “He that troubleth his own house shall inherit the wind.”

– Stephen Lacey, with Joe Romm

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