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Reaffirming Our Commitment to Science and Wisconsin’s Public

Thu, 01/12/2017 - 11:54am -- Chelsea Chandler

As has been widely reported in the last couple weeks, the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources (DNR) recently replaced language on its website describing human-caused climate change with a vague description of a changing earth and natural cycles. Over recent years the state agency has been wary of the topic of climate change. So, while this latest move is not necessarily surprising, it represents another step away from supporting scientific fact and educating both state leaders and the public about human-driven climate change.

The Wisconsin Academy is a 147-year-old Wisconsin institution founded with a mission of “gathering, sharing, and acting upon knowledge in the sciences, arts, and letters for the benefit of the people of Wisconsin.” We take this mission seriously today, which is why we are concerned about these steps that take us even further from scientific fact and public education.

The recently amended DNR webpage notes, “As it has done throughout the centuries, the earth is going through a change. The reasons for this change at this particular time in the earth’s long history are being debated and researched by academic entities outside the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources.”

Citing an ongoing debate is misleading when 97% of climate scientists agree that the warming climate is extremely likely caused by humans. The IPCC affirms, “Warming of the climate system is unequivocal, and since the 1950s, many of the observed changes are unprecedented over decades to millennia.”

It is unfortunate that a state agency “dedicated to preserving and enhancing the natural resources of Wisconsin” has concluded it is no longer suited to educate leaders and the public about climate change, especially considering its significant and meaningful contributions to the Wisconsin Initiative on Climate Change Impacts study of 2011.

But science-based education is still something we are committed to. Through our Climate & Energy Initiative, we seek to understand the drivers and impacts of climate change, consider Wisconsin’s role in addressing this shared global challenge, identify solutions to create thriving communities, and educate decision-makers and the public about these critical issues surrounding climate change. Acknowledging the cause of the problem is crucial, because you can’t find appropriate solutions to a problem you can’t name.

Our name is a mouthful, but it’s an important description of our breadth and interdisciplinary mission: we are the Wisconsin Academy of Sciences, Arts and Letters. “Science” is in our name and we cherish and uphold scientific discovery. The Academy’s work is strictly nonpartisan, but nonpartisan does not, and should not, mean nonfactual. We take our charge seriously to remain a trusted resource for all of Wisconsin’s citizens, regardless of background or opinions. We strive to bridge divides by bringing people together around shared concerns and values such as critical thinking, curiosity, and open-minded inclusivity through conversation that is critical but grounded in facts.

So, this is our commitment to you: We rely on science and will continue to educate ourselves and each other with the latest scientific findings, and let the public draw their own conclusions. We seek to reach wider audiences by telling factual stories that provide context to help explain complex topics.

Specifically, here are several ways we’re working toward this commitment through our Initiatives in 2017:

  • Publishing an update to our foundational report on climate change in Wisconsin, Climate Forward. Through an interdisciplinary collaboration of the leading thinkers on climate in our state, we’ll create a summary highlighting where Wisconsin is progressing, where we’re falling behind, and new opportunities since we published the original synthesis report in 2014.
  • Organizing a local government summit on energy and resilience. This spring, we will convene a full-day summit to empower local Wisconsin leaders to advance energy efficiency, renewable energy, and resilience across the state. Building on the success of our inaugural local government summit in 2015, this event aims to inform key decision-makers on the latest technologies, funding opportunities, policy strategies, and communication tools to move Wisconsin forward in addressing climate threats, encouraging energy innovation, and building sustainable and thriving communities.
  • Continuing to educate around the intersection of water and climate as discussed in our recent Shifting Currents publication. Our Waters of Wisconsin network of experts continue to share these recommendations through outreach and events across the state.
  • Sharing stories of success. Through our blog, magazine, and other media outlets, we will continue to highlight stories of progress on slowing and planning for climate change in Wisconsin’s communities. We hope this knowledge inspires and equips others to take action.

Let’s conclude with a topical analogy. Weather describes short-term atmospheric conditions (e.g., rain, the high temperature for the day), whereas climate speaks to longer-term trends (e.g., El Niño, increasing average global temperature). At the Academy, we engage in important daily issues, but like climate change itself, the challenge and solutions are long term and large. We collaborate with many partners to provide tools and information to address the critical issues of today, aware of the potential impacts on generations to come. Since 1870 we have worked to sustain Wisconsin’s communities and environment. We’re in this for the long term. To thrive in the next 150 years, Wisconsin’s citizens must intelligently plan for the future and our shared wellbeing. To do that, we need to navigate through today’s obfuscating fog so that we can find a clear path forward. We hope you join us on the journey.

Contributors

Chelsea Chandler is the director of the Academy's Environmental Initiatives. She leads the Climate & Energy and Waters of Wisconsin Initiatives, to which she brings her interdisciplinary experience and passion for researching and communicating solutions to environmental challenges.

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