Where giants of environmental conservation and protection once walked, political pipsqueaks now scurry about trying to cover their enormous tracks.
Politicians presiding over the government of Wisconsin, where John Muir, Aldo Leopold and Gaylord Nelson began their legendary service as valiant defenders of the environment, are leading the state away from its responsibility to serve in the most consequential environmental battle of the age.
In December, members of the administration of Gov. Scott Walker expunged long-standing language from the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources website that explained the consequences of climate change and acknowledged the role of man-made greenhouse gases in trapping heat in the atmosphere.
The erasure, along with a similar deletion of information about global warming from the Public Service Commission website, signals obeisance to the orthodoxy of the climate-change deniers who, though shrinking in numbers, remain an impediment to the reduction of the carbon emissions that are causing the warming that imperils the earth.
This bow to anti-science backwardness by a state that was once regarded as enlightened in the protection of the air and water and other natural resources puts Wisconsin on the wrong side of an international campaign to reduce the volume of greenhouse gases discharged into the atmosphere.
The finding that humans cause global warming by burning fossil fuels that release carbon is firmly in the mainstream of scientific analysis. It is the conviction of an international consensus representing most of the world’s climate scientists. Yet the replacement climate-change statement now on the DNR website implies that global warming is a natural phenomenon that is unexplainable by science.
That puts Wisconsin in step with the president-elect, who has called climate change a hoax perpetrated by China, but leaves the state awkwardly out of step with people and institutions that have judged the matter based on evidence rather than a compulsion to issue political-rally-rousing sound bites.
Leaders who do not avert their eyes from the reality of man-made climate change include some of Donald Trump’s own cabinet nominees, including his choice for secretary of state, who spoke of his concerns about global warming in Senate hearings. The words came with extra heft because the nominee, Rex Tillerson, is the biggest of big oil men, the chief executive of the world’s largest fossil fuel company, ExxonMobil.
Some of the military leaders who have garnered Trump appointments have also shown they understand the role of carbon in climate change. The American military, in fact, has long recognized the threat of worldwide destabilization caused by global warming and has developed strategies to counter it. As a massive consumer of fossil fuel, the military is starting to do its part in reducing carbon emissions with the development of aircraft and naval vessels powered by renewable energy and biofuel.
Meanwhile, American businesses are not wasting time denying the carbon threat; they’re acting on it. Two hundred multinational companies, including the likes of Walmart and Procter & Gamble, have committed to science-based targets for reduction of carbon emissions. This is not necessarily out of concern for the planet—these companies see human-caused climate change as a risk to their operations.
In Wisconsin, utilities have pledged to cut carbon emissions 40% by 2030, even if Trump follows through on his threat to revoke Environmental Protection Agency regulations that require power plant emission reductions.
A number of other businesses in the state have programs in place to create so-called net-zero buildings that offset carbon emissions with energy-efficient lights and equipment and renewable energy sources.
The growing embrace by business of carbon-cutting programs along with the rapid rise of the renewable energy industry serves to neutralize the claim by climate-change deniers that measures to reduce fossil-fuel emissions cannot be tolerated because they damage the economy.
Global-warming remains an existential threat to the world, but forces are marshaling to combat it. The Walker DNR, however, is not reporting for duty.