March 4, 2015

Time to Wake Up: Climate Change In Wisconsin

As delivered on the Senate floor

Thank you, Mr. President, I am back now for the 91st consecutive week that the Senate has been in session to urge my colleagues to wake up and pay attention to the threat of climate change. 

I am delighted and proud to be joined today by my colleague and friend, Senator Baldwin from Wisconsin, to consider the effects of carbon pollution in her state. 

According to scientists at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, weather stations around the state show that average temperatures in Wisconsin increased by about 1.1 degrees Fahrenheit between 1950 and 2006.  During the same period, Wisconsin got wetter:  annual average precipitation increased by almost three inches.

These changes are likely to continue and intensify, as carbon pollution continues to pile up in the atmosphere. 

Researchers at UW-Madison estimate that by midcentury, the state could warm by four to nine degrees Fahrenheit.  By the end of the century, the climate in Wisconsin may look more like that of present-day Missouri or Oklahoma, raising the possibility of dramatic shifts in the Wisconsin economy and way of life.

This winter has been pretty cold in the Eastern U.S., and in Wisconsin. So was last year.  Cold arctic air dipping down over North America drops the mercury.  As we continue into a time of what has been called “global weirding,” scientists say that climate change may make these cold blasts more common as it alters patterns in the atmosphere.  In an nut shell, on top of the long-term warming trend lies weather disorder.

But the long-term warming trend is apparent.  New research from UW-Madison Professor Jonathan Martin shows that last year the so-called “cold pool” of frigid air that accumulates in the northern hemisphere each winter was the smallest since records began in the winter of 1948/49.  This year it’s on track to be even smaller.

Sadly, some of our colleagues just can’t face up to the role that human activities, like our carbon pollution, from burning fossil fuel, play in the changes we are seeing around us.  Our colleague, indeed the senior Senator from Wisconsin, is among this group.  In January, he voted against amendments to the Keystone XL bill stating that climate change is real and that humans contribute to it. 

Well, in 2013, the Milwaukee Sentinel-Journal, his state’s largest paper, noted this type of denial was at odds with both Wisconsin opinion and scientific evidence.  The senior senator from Wisconsin, wrote the paper’s editorial board, “is just flat-out wrong.”

They went on to say, and I’ll quote again, “[W]e elect politicians to make tough decisions and find solutions,” it continued, “not to shut their eyes and cover their ears, as Johnson repeatedly has done on this issue. . . . [S]tubbornly denying the facts on climate change may be akin to denying the facts on evolution or whether the Earth is flat.”

Professor John Kutzbach of the University of Wisconsin, an elected member of the National Academy of Sciences, was among a group of climate scientists who in 2011 wrote to us in Congress, imploring us to take action on climate change. Here’s what the letter says:

Congress needs to understand that scientists have concluded, based on a systematic review of all of the evidence, that climate change caused by human activities raises serious risks to our national and economic security and our health both here and around the world.  It’s time for Congress to move on to the policy debate.

Well, I welcome that debate.  Indeed, Energy Committee Chair Murkowski recently said on the floor of the Senate, that she hopes we can, and I’ll quote her here, “get beyond the discussion as to whether or not climate change is real and talk about…what do we do.”  So where is that debate?  Where are the other Republicans?

Let’s finally talk about the costs of action and the costs of inaction.  The Wisconsin Initiative on Climate Change Impacts was formed in 2007 by the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources and the University of Wisconsin Nelson Institute for Environmental Studies.  The scientists and public officials in this program are doing important work to help the state of Wisconsin understand and prepare for the risks of climate change.  They are studying how it will affect wildlife, water resources, public health, and important Wisconsin industries like forestry, agriculture, and shipping and tourism on the Great Lakes.

Climate change threatens iconic aspects of the Wisconsin environment and economy.  The Wisconsin Initiative on Climate Change Impacts Agriculture Working Group reports that higher summer temperatures and increasing drought will create significant stress on livestock, even touching Wisconsin’s, dare I say it, famed cheese industry.  Victor Cabrera, an assistant professor in the UW-Madison Dairy Science Department, they have one, says heat stress interferes with fertility and milk production;  dairy cows could give as much as 10 percent less milk.  The U.S. Department of Agriculture predicts that, by 2030, climate change will cost the U.S. dairy sector between $79 million and $199 million a year in lost production.

When opponents say reducing carbon pollution will cost too much, they conveniently leave out these costs—the costs of doing nothing, like these costs.

Well, Mr. President, the Dairy State is not waiting for Congress to take action.  The University of Wisconsin is leading a USDA-funded effort to identify dairying practices that minimize the emission of greenhouse gasses and make dairies more resilient to the effects of a changing climate.  Some Wisconsin dairy farmers are burning excess methane in enormous manure digesters, that’s a frightening concept, to generate their own renewable electricity.

Wisconsin sportsmen know that Wisconsin has more than 10,000 miles of trout streams—some of the best trout fishing in the country, andCold-water fish like the brook trout are there but they’re highly sensitive to temperature increases in streams.  Under the worst cases analyzed by the researchers at UW-Madison and the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources, and I’ll quote, “brook trout are projected to be completely lost from Wisconsin streams.” Even the best case scenarios see losses of as much as 44 percent of the brookies’ current range by mid-century.  And, other cold water species like the brown trout are not much better off.

Trout Unlimited,sportsmen and conservationists, working to protect trout streams in the “Driftless Area” in Southwest Wisconsin and parts of Minnesota, Illinois, and Iowa did a 2009 study showing that fishing in the Driftless Area adds over a billion, billion with a b, dollars per year to the surrounding economies.

We’ve heard of loggers having trouble getting to the timber because the ground is thawed and too soggy to hold up logging equipment.  For Wisconsin’s loggers, the hard, frozen, winter ground is what lets them move logging equipment.  According to a study out of the University of Wisconsin, that period of frozen ground has decreased by 2-3 weeks since 1948, shortening the working window for loggers before their gear bogs down.

There’s the badger.  The Upper Midwest and Great Lakes Landscape Conservation Cooperative even lists the great Wisconsin badger as one of the species at risk from climate change.

Mr. President, Senator Baldwin knows that done right, action on climate change saves Americans money, spurs American innovation and creates new American industries and jobs.  Focus on Energy, Wisconsin’s statewide energy efficiency program,  has been helping Wisconsin families and businesses save money  and reduce energy use since 2001.  The Wisconsin Public Service Commission expects this program will inject over $900 million into the state’s economy, and net over 6,000 new Wisconsin jobs over the next decade. 

I am very grateful to my friend, Senator Baldwin, for her strong leadership on behalf of the people of Wisconsin to stave off the worst effects of climate change in her home state, and I yield to her now.