The Future of Climate Change in Wisconsin

During 2016, the Wisconsin DNR and the Public Service Commission (PSC) quietly removed comments about human driven climate change and global warming from their websites. As citizens, this is concerning because these state organizations play an important role in regulating coal-fired power plants, the state’s largest source of carbon emissions. Under Scott Walker’s administration, these organizations have taken a more neutral stance on issues surrounding climate change and replaced or removed wording on their websites that acknowledged the clear evidence that human activities are driving these processes.

Original text on the WI DNR website stated “Earth’s climate is changing. Human activities that increase heat-trapping (‘greenhouse’) gases are the main cause.”  “Scientists agree” that the Great Lakes region will see longer summers and shorter winters, decreased ice cover and changes in rain and snow patterns “if climate change patterns continue.” This text was replaced in December with a much more generic  and neutral stance. “As it has done throughout the centuries, the earth is going through a change. The reasons for this change at this particular time in the earth’s long history are being debated and researched by academic entities outside the Department of Natural Resources.”

However, in a change of pace, a plan was recently released by the state’s Emergency Management agency that seeks to identify the threats from climate change (such as more frequent and destructive floods, droughts, and forest fires) and approve measures to mitigate these threats.  In alignment with new guidelines from the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) these measures seeks to keep people and property safer in the future. FEMA has found that  every dollar spent on avoiding future damages returns four dollars in benefits and avoided losses. These proactive actions might include a community buying out property that currently floods frequently or is anticipated to flood as storms become more severe. They could also include restoring natural wetlands and floodplains that would help divert water during flood events.

Figure created by UW faculty Stephen R. Carpenter, John E. Kutzbach, John J. Magnuson, Monica G. Turner, Jonathan A. Patz, Stanley A. Temple and Donald M. Waller in response to recent policy changes

Unfortunately the issue of climate change and controlling greenhouse gases has not been a priority under the Walker administration and Scott Walker has publicly opposed federal regulations to cut carbon emissions, stating that the burden of higher energy prices is unfair for Wisconsin consumers. While it’s true that Wisconsin currently relies more on coal for electricity than most states, that doesn’t mean we can not adapt to alternative energy sources and reward communities that seek to take preemptive action against climate change impacts. The evidence is clear that human activity is driving climate change and 97% of scientists agree with this evidence. Scientists from our own UW-Madison campus stood up to these changes and reminded us of Aldo Leopold’s thoughts on this topic …

“The hope of the future lies not in curbing the influence of human occupancy – it is already too late for that – but in creating a better understanding of the extent of that influence and a new ethic for its governance.” –Aldo Leopold

Featured image credit: Mike De Sisti, Milwaukee Sentinel 



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