Banner at Milwaukee climate march 2019 (Photo | Isiah Holmes).
The Department of Natural Resources (DNR) has released a climate action report outlining some of the challenges and achievements of the last year. While efforts are underway to reduce the state’s greenhouse gas emissions and promote renewable energy, the impacts of climate change are becoming more apparent by the year.
“Climate change is one of the defining issues of our time,” said DNR Secretary Preston Cole in a press release. “By working together we can make a real difference for Wisconsin’s climate resilience and the most vulnerable among us.” Cole added that “the DNR is committed to climate action and addressing the impacts of climate change on the state’s resources, communities and people is a top priority for the department.”
The brief, three-page report summarizes many of the DNR’s ongoing efforts. It highlights the DNR’s development of Wisconsin’s first greenhouse gas emissions inventory in 2020. Using a U.S. Environmental Protection Agency tool, the inventory allows the DNR to compare Wisconsin’s emissions to other states. According to the 2021 inventory, gross greenhouse gas emissions statewide decreased by 6.1% from 2005 to 2018. Coal remained the largest source of CO2 emissions from the electricity generation sector in 2018. Electricity and transportation, according to the greenhouse gas inventory, consistently contributed more than other sectors to greenhouse gases leading up to 2005, and then to the decreases seen thereafter.
The DNR has also been gathering more information about landfills statewide. “A statewide landfill study found that the amount of Wisconsinites’ yard and food waste increased since the last time the department studied landfills,” the report states. “As this organic material decomposes in landfills, it produces a significant amount of methane, a powerful greenhouse gas. To reduce these emissions, the DNR started an effort to discover how to reduce the amount of food waste going into Wisconsin landfills.”
Capturing carbon is another strategy being developed. The DNR has committed to the state’s Trillion Tree Pledge, a collaboration with public, private and non-government partners. “This effort includes conserving 125,000 acres of forestland and planting 74 million trees in rural areas and 1 million in urban areas by 2030,” the report states. “In the first year of the pledge, 2021, partners planted over 9.2 million seedlings.”
The DNR’s climate action report also admits “our climate has already changed.” Communities across the state “have been hit hard with extreme weather related to climate change, like much more frequent and severe flooding, high heat days, and damaging storms,” according to the report. “The DNR has been working with communities to help them plan for ways to make infrastructure like roads and culverts more resilient to these changes and the DNR rolled out a plan to improve our dam safety program.”
Severe weather events have increasingly afflicted the state. Just days ago, rain fell in parts of the state all day and night. Portions of the I94 highway were flooded near Pewaukee, with some areas deploying snow plows to push the water. Wisconsin Public Radio reported that in Racine, more rain fell in less than 24 hours than the area experienced all summer.
Bill Graffin, the Milwaukee Metro Sewage District’s public information manager, said that about 4 inches of rain—or 28 billion gallons of water—fell over just two days. A sewer overflow occurred on Sunday night, which results in raw sewage being released into Lake Michigan to relieve the system. The storms come as Jackson Mississippi struggles to recover three weeks after severe storms flooded the area, and overwhelmed its water treatment system.
In June, severe weather erupted all over the state from tornadoes in the town of Tomah to trees being uprooted in Madison. In Milwaukee, heat-related deaths were reported in the day, and severe floods at night swept away a 10-year-old boy and two men who attempted to save him.
“Addressing these important issues requires a collaborative approach,” said Heather Berklund, DNR Climate Executive Oversight Team co-chair and Forestry Division Administrator. “In addition to the excellent work by DNR staff, we applaud the efforts of many key partners, including the Wisconsin Initiative on Climate Change Impacts, businesses, conservation organizations, other government entities and the many individuals who are taking action such as planting trees and recording them on the Wisconsin Tree Planting Map.”
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