Throughout 2017, Wisconsinites kept hearing an old argument: jobs versus the environment. We must choose, we are told, between a healthy environment and a strong economy.


In fact, during this age of global warming, one of the best ways to build a robust economy is to protect the environment and promote clean energy. And ignoring the effects of climate change hurts our economy.

In October, the nonpartisan Government Accountability Office released a report detailing how climate change will increasingly burden our national economy. Republican Sen. Susan Collins of Maine commented, “We simply cannot afford the billions of dollars in additional funding that’s going to be needed if we do not take into account the consequences of climate change.”

Here in Wisconsin, as the The Capital Times recently noted in an extensive report, a warming climate is harming recreational tourism, with declines in cool-water fish such as walleye and trout and fewer winter days for snowmobiling and skiing. Forestry is threatened by an increase in tree-killing insects, and winter logging is curtailed by fewer days of frozen roads. Agriculture faces more extreme weather events and our roads are being damaged by increased flooding.

Yet Republican politicians seem determined to move in the wrong direction. This year state Sen. Tom Tiffany, R-Hazelhurst, pushed legislation to create jobs in northern Wisconsin by allowing toxic sulfide mining. Gov. Scott Walker recently signed an agreement that will sacrifice wetland protection, and billions of taxpayer money, in order to convince a Taiwanese corporation to bring in jobs.

But those are not jobs for Wisconsin’s future. The Bureau of Labor Statistics recently published a report that found that by far the two fastest-growing job sectors are wind turbine mechanic and PV solar installer. There are also plenty of potential jobs in energy efficiency.

According to the group Clean Jobs Midwest, Wisconsin ranks dead last among Midwestern states in its percentage of clean-energy jobs—0.85 percent, compared to an average of 1.8 percent. If Wisconsin had just the average rate of Midwestern states, we would have around 30,000 more jobs.

These clean-energy jobs do not depend on handing taxpayer money to foreign corporations. They do not involve sacrificing environmental protections. They would be situated throughout the state and could not be outsourced. And, all the while, they would help protect our economy from the increasing ravages of global warming.

Mark Pischea, president of the free-market oriented Conservative Energy Network, has noted that Republican governors in Michigan, Iowa and Ohio have been encouraging investments to promote their states’ clean-energy economies. Yet in Wisconsin, since Republicans took control of the state government in 2010, support for renewable energy has declined.

It is time that Wisconsin begins building its own clean-energy economy, one that will stimulate the growth of 21st-century jobs while protecting our environment. We need state legislators and a governor who will bring that about.

David Barnhill is emeritus director of environmental studies at the University of Wisconsin-Oshkosh. This column was distributed by The Progressive, a Wisconsin-based political magazine. does not condone or review every comment. Read more in our Commenter Policy Agreement

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