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Moving Climate Solutions Forward

From the Director

Global climate change is a serious issue that becomes more serious with each passing day. This spring heralded the release of three new reports from respected scientific organizations that amplify concerns about the impact of human-driven change in our atmosphere, affirming for us that the Wisconsin Academy’s work in this arena is needed, timely, and significant.

On March 18, the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS) launched a new initiative to expand the dialogue on the risks of climate change. At the heart of the initiative is What We Know: The Reality, Risks, and Response to Climate Change, an assessment of current climate science and impacts.

According to project co-chair James J. McCarthy, a Harvard biological oceanographer and former AAAS president, What We Know is “intended to state very clearly the exceptionally strong evidence that Earth’s climate is changing, and that future climate change can seriously impact natural and societal systems.” 

McCarthy notes that many of those who already know about the evidence for climate change and what is causing it “do not know the degree to which many climate scientists are concerned about the risks of possibly rapid and abrupt climate change.” McCarthy says that this is why AAAS is redoubling efforts to discuss climate change with multiple audiences, “from business leaders and financial experts to decision makers in all walks of life.”

On March 31 the United Nations Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), which is comprised of thousands of volunteer scientists from around the globe (including a few high-level researchers from Wisconsin) issued the findings of its working group on climate change impacts, adaptation, and vulnerability.

The report details the projected impacts on human health from heat waves and flooding, losses in crop yields, increased risks for species extinction, shrinking downstream water supplies as glaciers also shrink, and much more. IPCC chairman Rajendra Pachauri delivered a blunt and sobering distillation of the impacts, adaptation, and vulnerability report: “No one on this planet will be untouched by climate change.” 

The IPCC report also provided guidance to decision makers, including two key points that bring even more immediacy to the AAAS What We Know initiative. The first was a reminder that even though we know with a high degree of certainty what kinds of climate change impacts we’ll experience, we have no way of predicting the timing or severity of impacts. Climate change is a moving target. As such, the only way to hit it is to anticipate a range of impacts—even if our efforts to adapt to these impacts may or may not be fully effective.

The second point was that near-term adaptation and mitigation choices will affect climate change impacts throughout the 21st century and beyond. If we don’t make these efforts now, the scale of impact will be more severe and widespread. 

In early April the IPPCC issued the third report of this current series with a focus on the reduction of emissions. The report affirms that emissions are still high and rising, and points out that many current strategies for reducing emissions are insufficient. Our window of opportunity for making meaningful reductions to stave off severe climate disruption is getting smaller and smaller, said the report. 

So where does the Wisconsin Academy fit in this spectrum of activity to address climate change?

In a small but significant way, we apply insight from science and guidance from Wisconsin leadership to help our state respond to this global—but also quite local—challenge. Wisconsin has a wealth of research and technical capacity in the areas of climate science and clean energy, and we have a rich conservation heritage. The Wisconsin Academy is the place where these things come together, where people who contribute to thoughtful and civil dialogue on climate change can help identify potential strategies and solutions for Wisconsin.

To this end, we’re releasing on July 1 of this year a new Wisconsin Academy report called Climate Forward: A New Road Map for Wisconsin’s Climate and Energy Future. This report is the product of a two-year collaboration and dialogue with climate and energy leaders in Wisconsin. Our intent is that Climate Forward will serve as an essential tool for addressing our climate and energy challenges in Wisconsin. It is designed to provide an assessment of current energy resources and needs, and a practical vision for how we can harness innovation, imagination, and our Wisconsin values to shape a future that is good for our environment, our economy, and life in our state.

In Climate Forward we examine many facets of solutions to reducing emissions and reliance on fossil fuel, and we hope that it thoughtfully lays out the challenge for Wisconsin to be a leader in energy conservation and efficiency, renewable energy, transportation, natural carbon storage and various process and system changes. We also profile more than a dozen businesses, communities, farms, and individuals that are in the vanguard of positive change and 21st-century thinking about climate and energy.

We hope Climate Forward will spark a wider, deeper, and more vigorous conversation about Wisconsin’s role in making informed and thoughtful choices that affect our lives today and for generations to come. We’ve included a preview of the report on page 30 of this issue. The full version will be available on July 1, 2014.

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Jane Elder recently retired from her position as Executive Director of the Wisconsin Academy. She brought to the Wisconsin Academy a strong background in public policy leadership, nonprofit management, and involvement in Wisconsin arts.

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