Research & Commentary: Heartland Brief Details Minimal Impact, and Positive Benefits, of Climate Change in Montana

Published November 21, 2019

A new Policy Brief by James Taylor, The Heartland Institute’s director of the Arthur B. Robinson Center for Climate and Environmental Policy, and Anthony Watts, a Heartland senior fellow for environment and climate, argues climate change has had “minimal impact” in Montana and that most of that impact has, in fact, been beneficial to Big Sky Country.

In July 2019, Gov. Steve Bullock signed an executive order that created the Montana Climate Solutions Council, which he tasked with devising a plan for the state to reach net-zero carbon dioxide emissions by 2035 and preparing the state for the impacts of climate change. Bullock’s executive order claimed “climate change poses a serious threat to Montana’s natural resources, public health, communities, and economy.” In turn, the Brief provides “Montana-specific climate information to help educate lawmakers so that they can craft the best possible climate-related policies on behalf of the people of Montana.”

Taylor and Watts begin by noting that while there has been modest warming, it has been beneficial. The Earth is becoming greener, deserts are shrinking, and extreme weather events are decreasing in frequency. Most importantly, fewer people are dying as a result of colder temperatures, which kill 20 times more people than moderate or higher temperatures.

This mild warming has produced many benefits for Montana. For example, agricultural growing seasons are longer, helping Montana farmers set crop yield records nearly every year. Using data from the U.S. Department of Agriculture, the Brief notes, “record yields for wheat, corn, barley, oats, potatoes, sugar beets, and hay have all been set … during the past decade.” Taylor and Watts also note, “winter wheat farmers … enjoyed record yields in 2018 and are forecasted to match that record in 2019. Additionally, Montana durum wheat achieved record yields in 2019.”

Taylor and Watts also emphasize Montana’s CO2 emissions are already among the lowest in the country. Only eight states emit less CO2 than Montana. Moreover, the majority of Montana’s electricity already comes from emissions-free hydroelectric power sources.

“According to calculations included in the U.S. National Center for Atmospheric Research climate models,” Taylor and Watts declare, “a complete elimination of U.S. CO2 emissions would lower global temperature, versus business-as-usual scenarios, by a mere 0.14 degrees [Celsius] by the year 2100.” The authors also note, “Montana produces less than 2 percent of total U.S. CO2 emissions. Even under an optimistic scenario, completely eliminating Montana CO2 emissions would lower global temperature by only approximately 0.003 degrees C by the year 2100, an amount too small to be measured or noticed.”

Weather and climate data show climate change has had a minimal impact in Montana,” Taylor and Watts conclude, “and to the extent modest climate changes have occurred, most of the impacts have been largely beneficial. But even if Montana were showing signs of substantial climate change or negative climate change impacts, Montana has already dramatically curtailed its carbon dioxide emissions, which means state government action to reduce carbon dioxide emissions or otherwise address climate change would have extremely minimal climate impact.”

The following documents provide more information about climate change and fossil fuels.

Policy Brief: Climate Change and Montana: A Scientific Assessment
This Heartland Policy Brief provides Montana-specific climate information to help educate lawmakers so they can craft the best possible climate-related policies on behalf of the people of Montana. It aims to put the Montana climate picture in a more accurate perspective than the Montana Institute on Ecosystem’s 2017 Montana Climate Assessment.

Climate Change Reconsidered II: Fossil Fuels
In this fifth volume of the Climate Change Reconsidered series, 117 scientists, economists, and other experts assess the costs and benefits of the use of fossil fuels by reviewing scientific and economic literature on organic chemistry, climate science, public health, economic history, human security, and theoretical studies based on integrated assessment models (IAMs) and cost-benefit analysis (CBA). (Also see the “Summary for Policymakers” of Climate Change Reconsidered II: Fossil Fuels

Climate Change Reconsidered II: Physical Science
Climate Change Reconsidered II: Physical Science is an independent, comprehensive, and authoritative report on the current state of climate science, published in October 2013. It is the fourth in a series of scholarly reports produced by the Nongovernmental International Panel on Climate Change, an international network of climate scientists sponsored by three nonprofit organizations: the Center for the Study of Carbon Dioxide and Global Change, the Science and Environmental Policy Project, and The Heartland Institute. (Also see the “Summary for Policymakers” of Climate Change Reconsidered II: Physical Science

Climate Change Reconsidered II: Biological Impacts
Released on April 9, 2014, Climate Change Reconsidered II: Biological Impacts is an independent, comprehensive, and authoritative report on the impacts of climate change on plants, terrestrial animals, aquatic life, and human well-being. (Also see the “Summary for Policymakers” of  Climate Change Reconsidered II: Biological Impacts

The U.S. Leads the World in Clean Air: The Case for Environmental Optimism
This paper from the Texas Public Policy Foundation examines how the United States achieved robust economic growth while dramatically reducing emissions of air pollutants. The paper states that these achievements should be celebrated as a public policy success story, but instead the prevailing narrative among political and environmental leaders is one of environmental decline that can only be reversed with a more stringent regulatory approach. Instead, the paper urges for the data to be considered and applied to the narrative.

The 100 Percent Renewable Energy Myth
This Policy Brief from the Institute for Energy Research argues that a countrywide 100 percent renewable plan would put the U.S. economy in jeopardy. The brief investigates the intermittency, land requirements, capacity factors, and cost of transition and construction materials that limit the ability of the U.S. to adapt to 100 percent renewable energy.

Legislating Energy Poverty: A Case Study of How California’s and New York’s Climate Change Policies Are Increasing Energy Costs and Hurting the Economy
This analysis from Wayne Winegarden of the Pacific Research Institute shows the big government approach to fighting climate change taken by California and New York hits working class and minority communities the hardest. The paper reviews the impact of global warming policies adopted in California and New York, such as unrealistic renewable energy goals, strict low carbon fuel standards, and costly subsidies for buying higher-priced electric cars and installing solar panels. The report finds that, collectively, these expensive and burdensome policies are dramatically increasing the energy burdens of their respective state residents.


Nothing in this Research & Commentary is intended to influence the passage of legislation, and it does not necessarily represent the views of The Heartland Institute. For further information on this subject, visit Environment & Climate News, The Heartland Institute’s website, and PolicyBot, Heartland’s free online research database.

The Heartland Institute can send an expert to your state to testify or brief your caucus; host an event in your state; or send you further information on a topic. Please don’t hesitate to contact us if we can be of assistance! If you have any questions or comments, contact Heartland’s Government Relations department, at [email protected] or 312/377-4000.