Two climate experts told a crowd at the University of Wisconsin Thursday Wisconsin’s climate and economy will suffer consequences as a result of climate change, but state officials and scientists are already working hard to help the state adapt.
“The science is really unequivocal that the earth is warming, climate is changing,” said Richard Lathrop, a research scientist with the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources. “So we’re not here to argue that tonight.”
According to Lathrop, the effects of climate change on Wisconsin are numerous and wide-ranging.
He said climate change increases temperatures, humidity and the number of storms seen in Wisconsin. The temperatures increase the risk of heat stroke, while the storms can lead to more damaging floods. The floods can increase the amount of pollution in runoff.
According to Dan Vimont, UW atmospheric and oceanic sciences assistant professor, Wisconsin can also expect more heat waves in summer and more rainy days in winter.
This leads to more ice, creating problems with potholes and decay in road quality, Vimont said.
With the current model of Wisconsin’s climate, the state’s ecosystem will be damaged, according to Lathrop.
“The loss of winter is a real potential for our future,” Lathrop said.
He went on to say milder winters lead to loss of recreation and can also slow the economy.
Logging depends on frozen ground for operations, while ice fishing and snowmobiling will unquestionably suffer, Lathrop said.
Also, milder winters will threaten species like the snowshoe hare, while other species such as deer and geese will swell to uncontrollable numbers. According to Lathrop, trees such as the white birch and red pine may disappear from Wisconsin.
However, the two speakers introduced the Wisconsin Initiative on Climate Change Impact, a joint effort from the University of Wisconsin’s Nelson Institute for Environmental Studies and Wisconsin’s Department of Natural Resources. WICCI focuses on the consequences of climate change on Wisconsin’s ecosystems, farms and health.
“We are trying to bring the best minds of the state together to address these problems collaboratively,” Lathrop said.
Vimont agreed, saying some sort of organization must be created that brings scientists and decision makers together.
He went on to say WICCI, which advises how Wisconsin can adapt to its new, warmer climate, does this in a very effective way.
“This is kind of a depressing talk, and we’ve got a lot of problems in the future,” Lathrop said. “But we can change and we can adapt. And I think now I’ll show you that if we do some mitigation as opposed to business as usual the future won’t be as bad.”
For example, according to Lathrop, an adaptation strategy would be planting trees that are adapted to the future warmer climate.
“We need people who are going to connect [climate research] to impacts that are easily grasped,” said Steven Olikara, a first-year political science and business student at UW who attended the event. “On an international level, this is the direction that research needs to be going if we want to make a change.”
The lecture was the first of a nine part series titled “Bracing for Impact: Climate Change Adaptation in Wisconsin.” The next segment is scheduled for Wednesday, March 4.