The average Wisconsin temperatures could rise anywhere from three to nine degrees by mid-century, a new White House National Climate Assessment report said this week.
The report, considered the most comprehensive report of regional carbon impacts on future climate systems in America, highlights increased extreme weather events, such as heat waves, droughts, flooding and wildfires as one of the central concerns of a warmer climate in coming years.
“The Midwest is a place that will experience a lot of climate change. The concern that I have on the point of health is the issue of extreme events like extreme heat waves, extreme rainfall and flooding, extreme drought,” University of Wisconsin professor and Director of the Global Health Institute Jonathan Patz, who authored the Midwest part of the report, said.
Patz, a lead author for the United Nations Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change that shared the 2007 Nobel Peace Prize with former Vice President Al Gore, said climate change is happening — and happening mainly due to human burning of fossil fuels. It is time to move away from the question of whether climate change is real and start figuring out ways to address it, he said.
Despite a roughly 97 percent consensus among scientists that climate change is real and due to human carbon emissions, 60 percent of Wisconsin farmers, a group who would be most affected by changes in climate, still believe climate change is either not caused by humans or does not exist, according to a study.
Sen. Tom Tiffany, R-Hazelhurst, said the issue of climate change was unsettled among the scientific community and that economic resources, national and local, should go toward spurring economic activity.
“While the White House is trying to treat this like it is settled science, it’s not,” Tiffany said. “Science is not about consensus. Going back to people like Einstein and Copernicus, they were very much swimming against the tide in consensus in society, so the whole notion that there’s this consensus, trying to herd people along, that’s not what science is about.”
Tiffany called for a balance between environmental protections and continued economic growth to maintain the “American way of life.”
The Midwest’s “energy-intensive economy” emits about 20 percent more emissions than the national average, according to the White House report, but also has a large and increasingly utilized potential to reduce climate-altering emissions.
UW professor Dan Vimont, co-chair of the Wisconsin Initiative on Climate Change Impacts, said one of the more interesting aspects of the report was the shift in the way people are viewing the issue of climate change.
“This discussion is no longer how are we going to avert climate change. The discussion is now how are we going to avert dangerous climate change and how are we going to deal with what is already inevitable,” Vimont said.
As awareness and public demand for action on the issues surrounding climate change grow, Wisconsin and other areas in the Midwest have begun to take significant steps toward reducing their carbon footprint, according to the report.
Despite Wisconsin carbon emission nearing 50 million tons in 2012, power plants across the state are working to improve carbon emissions of their factories while investing in renewable sources of energy, including wind, solar and geothermal power, the report said.
The report also recognizes government initiatives on both the federal and state level to reduce the environmental impacts of energy consumption.