Recent Pence visit doesn’t reflect the perceptions of climate change in Wisconsin

    Vice President Mike Pence participates in a roundtable with executives in the State Dining Room of the White House Wednesday, April 29, 2020, to discuss a plan to reopen America. (Official White House Photo by Andrea Hanks)
    Vice President Mike Pence participates in a roundtable with executives in the State Dining Room of the White House Wednesday, April 29, 2020, to discuss a plan to reopen America. (Official White House Photo by Andrea Hanks, public domain)

    Wisconsin has received a lot of attention from Vice President Mike Pence, with his repeated visits to the Badger State in recent months. At a campaign rally held on July 17 in Ripon Wisconsin the vice president’s speech touched on a few key concerns for his conservative base. Among those was climate change, something the Trump Administration has consistently treated as a non-issue for America.

    Pence’s climate comments flowed from a portion of his speech denouncing Democratic presidential candidate Joe Biden. “It was President Donald Trump who withdrew America from the job-killing Paris Climate Accord and saved thousands of American jobs. Joe Biden wants to join the Paris Climate Accord again, placing a crushing weight on American businesses in the American economy.”

    The vice president claimed that under Trump, “America has actually achieved energy independence, no longer relying on the Middle East for oil. And now America is a net exporter of energy. For the first time in 75 years, Joe Biden would destroy our fossil fuel industry, return to the war on coal, prevent the development of America’s immense energy reserves and impose a regime of climate change regulations on literally every new building in the United States, every home, every business that would drastically increase the cost of living for families and the cost of businesses at the cost of jobs.”

    Pence’s rhetoric flies in the face of the growing concern about climate change among residents across the state. Listening sessions held by the Governor’s Task Force on Climate Change have continued to grow with each event. One of the last listening sessions drew around 1,000 Wisconsin residents for the virtual meeting.

    “I am blown away by the strong attendance during these five sessions,” Amber Meyer Smith, vice president of programs and government relations at Clean Wisconsin, wrote in a press release. “People showing up to have their voices heard at a government hearing is always powerful, but for people to place such an emphasis on the issue of climate change during these uncertain times tells you it’s particularly important for Wisconsinites to see the state tackle this issue.”

    The group Climate Power 2020 conducted a fact check of Pence’s Ripon speech. A memo the group produced, partnered with Global Strategy Group, recommended that Democrats lean heavily on the climate issue. The memo was informed by an online poll conducted by the two organizations between June 23 and July 1. It drew on over 3,200 interviews of people in battleground states. It found that 71% of respondents support action on climate change policy.

    About 55% of Wisconsinites are worried about climate change, according to Climate Power 2020. This is supported by an interactive climate opinions map for 2019, produced by Yale University. Despite Pence’s assertions that climate-related policies are job killers, a recent analysis of climate sector jobs found that Wisconsin ranked fourth among the states for rural clean energy jobs, at over 19,000.

    Many of the people virtually attending the climate task force meetings live in rural Wisconsin. Outside of its few major cities, Wisconsin communities are rural and agricultural. Climate change in the state is beginning to have overt impacts on the state’s growing seasons and on low-income rural communities. The Alliant Energy Company has recently announced it will transition its Edgewater coal plant in Sheboygan to renewable energy by 2022.

    “Wisconsin residents are the ones dealing with the impacts of climate change, and they told us about the health impacts they’re facing, the flooding that has devastated their communities and the opportunity to create jobs and bolster the economy through clean energy,” says Smith. “People understand that the window to address climate change is closing. They’re demanding that the state take a comprehensive approach.”

    Isiah Holmes
    Isiah Holmes is a journalist and videographer, and a lifelong resident of Milwaukee, Wisconsin. Holmes' video work dates back to his high school days at Wauwatosa East High, when he made a documentary about the local police department. Since then, his writing has been featured in Urban Milwaukee, Isthmus, Milwaukee Stories, Milwaukee Neighborhood News Services, Pontiac Tribune, and other outlets.