Wisconsin DNR pledges to treat climate change as major issue

    Banner at Milwaukee climate march 2019
    Banner at Milwaukee climate march 2019 (Photo by Isiah Holmes).

    The Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources under Gov. Tony Evers has pledged to address climate change as a major state-wide issue. Secretary-designee Preston Cole called climate change, “one of the defining issues of our time,” and made it clear that his agency will back pro-climate policies.

    DNR Secretary Preston Cole headshot
    DNR Secretary Preston Cole

    “The DNR is entrusted to protect the people’s resources, and as a result, we need to recognize the factors that drive change and must plan accordingly,” Cole wrote. “From shifting weather patterns, increases in average temperature, higher frequency and intensity of rainfall to heavier snowfalls, the impacts of climate change directly impact Wisconsin.”

    Under Gov. Scott Walker’s administration, climate and environmental concerns took a backseat to industry growth. DNR former secretary Cathy Stepp, stanch climate-denier, was appointed by the Trump Administration as the deputy administrator of a regional office of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency in 2017.

    Walker appointed her to bring a “chamber of commerce mentality” to the DNR. Under Stepp’s leadership, the DNR was ordered to remove mentions of human-caused climate change from the agency’s website. By 2016, around 90 scientific positions at the agency researching “controversial” issues like climate change were removed. Cole’s tenure thus far is moving the DNR in a new direction.

    Climate change continues to attract global attention and concern, which has only grown over the last few years. Just a week ago, over four million people from nations across 163 countries organized for the People’s Climate March. Many countries saw record numbers of people attend the marches and strikes, including the United States. These highly publicized movements, however, aren’t the only thing fueling this shift in government policy.

    Across the world, gradually building degrees of environmental havoc are creating new challenges. Whether it’s record floods, droughts, more intense hurricanes and tropical storms or fluctuations in temperature, the reports read the same. The U.S. southern coast is now almost habitually stricken with impressive hurricanes which flood entire cities. Even Wisconsin’s weather has begun to present new problems for city governments and the state’s agricultural industry.

    In August, Evers—who began his career as a science teacher—signed Executive Order #38, which is aimed at moving Wisconsin into a clean energy future. The state’s Department of Administration was also directed to create an Office of Sustainability and Clean Energy, which would coordinate with the DNR and other agencies to develop climate adaptive measures. While many state governments are taking individual efforts to address carbon emissions and environmental footprints, the Trump Administration has largely moved in the opposite direction.

    Cole’s DNR memo also invoked the issue of environmental racism, and the toll that shifting weather will have on vulnerable populations.

    “Everyone is affected by climate change, but some people are more affected than others because of factors like where they live, their age, health, income, occupation or how they go about their day-to-day-lives,” he said. “We must also recognize that people of color and low-income communities are often the hardest hit by the effects of climate change and act to remedy such injustices.”

    Some researchers are now warning that world governments have just 12 years to address the issues fueling climate change to advert it’s worst effects.

     

    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.

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