Eight years ago, more than 200 scientists, researchers, educators and environmentalists warned that climate change could affect Wisconsin in major ways.
Since then: Presidential candidate Donald Trump called climate change a “hoax”; aides to then-Gov. Scott Walker scrubbed climate change references from the Department of Natural Resources website; and, Walker and Republican legislators abolished the jobs of 15 DNR scientists.
Eight years later, you decide: Do any of the following 2011 warnings by the Wisconsin Initiative on Climate Change Impacts appear to be coming true?
No. 1: “The state is likely to continue its trend toward more precipitation overall, with most probable increases in winter, spring and fall. Large storm events are likely to increase in frequency during spring and fall.”
No. 2: “More annual rainfall and more intense storms heighten the potential for significant soil erosion… This is especially true during the spring months, when cultivated fields are most bare with little plant cover to reduce soil erosion. Without appropriate adaptation measures, future precipitation patterns could double soil erosion rates by 2050, compared to 1990 rates.”
No. 3: “In many places, current infrastructure is not equipped to handle the projected increases in frequency of heavy storms and subsequent runoff. This increases the risk that stormwater management and drinking water systems will fail and flooding will damage bridges, roadways and urban areas.”
No. 4: “Wisconsin’s warming trend will continue and increase considerably. Wintertime temperatures are likely to increase by 8 degrees Fahrenheit, with slightly warmer temperature increases in northwestern Wisconsin. Summertime average temperatures are likely to rise 5-6 degrees Fahrenheit statewide, with the greatest warming in northern Wisconsin.
“The number of summer days that exceed 90 degrees Fahrenheit is projected to increase statewide. Southern and western regions of Wisconsin could see three or more weeks per year of those very hot days, while northern regions are likely to see an increase of about two weeks.”
No. 5: “Rising stream temperatures…will lead to reduced habitat for native brook trout that require cold water...(I)f summer air temperatures rise by 5 degrees Fahrenheit, brook trout habitat will decline by 95% across the state.
“However, a warming trend will benefit other species, including the grey squirrel, white-tailed deer, European starling and Canada goose, with potential negative impacts on the environment resulting from increases in their populations.
“All of these changes could reduce biodiversity in Wisconsin and weaken resilience of many ecosystems.”
Enough of the climate change history lesson.
Eight years later, do some of the same experts feel their 2011 warnings are still accurate?
“I think the report’s findings are still relevant today,” said Richard C. Lathrop, a retired DNR scientist who co-chaired the three-year effort that led to the Wisconsin Initiative on Climate Change Impacts’ report.
The initiative was started to advise state and local government officials, and leaders of environmental and civic groups, of potential climate change-related developments.
The 2011 report “was just a first step on assessing all the climate change impacts facing Wisconsin,” Lathrop added.
UW-Madison climate scientist Steve Vavrus, current cochair of the initiative, said there is a new push to revive it.
“A lot of the future projections from our 2011 report were made for time periods still into the future—middle and latter parts of this century—so it’s too early to tell how accurate those will turn out to be,” Vavrus said.
“We are in the midst of analyzing updated projections, but these paint a similar picture to the older ones from the 2011 report,” Vavrus added.
“WICCI has been a long-term partnership between the University and the DNR. We’re looking forward to a rejuvenated commitment from the DNR in their support for, and involvement in, WICCI and climate-related activities in Wisconsin.”
Democratic Gov. Tony Evers started his career as a science teacher. He and DNR Secretary Preston Cole have repeatedly vowed that science is “back” as a foundation driving environmental decisions.
Evers, for example, asked to restore five of the 15 DNR scientists Walker and Republican legislators laid off in 2015. The governor is also pushing separate “Year of Clean Drinking Water” changes.
Responding, Republicans who control the Joint Finance Committee recommended hiring two scientists for chemical contamination research.
Other “clean drinking water” funding initiatives remain unresolved, while a state Assembly task force on water quality holds hearings statewide.
So far, nobody is talking about the initiative’s 2011 climate change warnings.