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  • Behind the Carbon Curtain: The Energy Industry, Political Censorship, and Free Speech by Jeffrey A. Lockwood
  • Randy A. Peppler
Behind the Carbon Curtain: The Energy Industry, Political Censorship, and Free Speech. By Jeffrey A. Lockwood. Foreword by Brianna Jones. Albuquerque: University of New Mexico Press, 2017. ix + 270 pp. Figures, notes, index. $29.95 paper.

Jeffrey Lockwood's book on the energy industry's takeover of politics, education, and culture on the High Plains of Wyoming should serve as a model for similar inquiries in other fossil fuel states, including in my own state down the Plains, Oklahoma. For reference, "energy" in Wyoming is oil and natural gas, and significantly, coal.

Lockwood sets the stage for the book on pages 8–9 of his introduction:

While we often think of censorship as an act of the government, in contemporary society the distinction between business and state actions is increasingly blurred. … When corporations use their undeniable influence on public officials to reward or coerce authorities, who suppress forms of expression that the businesses find contrary to their interests, then this constitutes censorship by any reasonable standard.

Lockwood then describes numerous examples of censorship in Wyoming by the energy industry and the state, including the removal of the Carbon Sink art display on the University of Wyoming campus, censorship of scientific research results that looked unfavorably on the industry, preventing the public from collecting data (e.g., taking photographs) on "open land" outside towns without landowner permission, silencing of public dissent over a coal-to-liquid plant and subsequent "self-censorship" over fears of retribution, cancellation of a photographic exhibit on coalbed methane in one of the state's most prestigious art museums, rollback of air quality monitoring, standards, and research efforts related to ozone created in production areas, defunding of the state climatologist's office, and more. There also have been efforts in the state, which can be construed as brainwashing, to create energy-literacy curricula for middle and high schoolers to help "enhance the workforce pipeline and promote general energy literacy among all students." The closing chapters, "The Death of Free Speech" and "For Sale," are cautionary tales for others. This book is engagingly written and the text is relatively short (193 pages), so I found it a fairly quick read. The text is backed by 75 pages of detailed notes and citations, and it is well worth the time of the reader to go through these pages as an exercise in itself.

As referred to in the book, the oil and gas industry in Oklahoma is involved in a public relations campaign to promote itself, washing its television spots and websites in patriotic themes of energy security that describe an "inexhaustible" resource. Like in Wyoming, the industry creates earth science (i.e., oil and gas) curriculum [End Page 100] for schools, which in the face of budget cuts has been welcomed by needy school districts. And, censorship of research has allegedly taken place, most notably regarding the impact of hydraulic fracturing's wastewater injection on the state's recent spate of earthquakes. The reason for mentioning Oklahoma is that what is happening in Wyoming is not unique—it is just better illuminated by Lockwood's book. The book, and topic, should be of interest to any citizen who is concerned about corporations, in this case those in the extractive sector, controlling public discourse.

Randy A. Peppler
Department of Geography and Environmental Sustainability
University of Oklahoma


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pp. 100-101
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