Governor’s Climate Change Task Force Starts Work
Don Behm, WI Green Fire, December 28, 2019
Photo: Dan Vimont, co-chair of the Wisconsin Initiative on Climate Change Impacts, discusses global warming at Dec. 19 meeting of Governor’s Task Force on Climate Change. Photo courtesy Don Behm.
Lt. Gov. Mandela Barnes opened the first meeting of the Governor’s Task Force on Climate Change held December 19, 2019 in Madison by reminding its 31 members of the urgency of both mitigating the severity of climate change and helping communities adapt to its impacts after eight years of inaction by the previous administration.
The task force will ensure Wisconsin plays “a very critical role” in addressing the climate crisis by drafting recommendations for both mitigation and adaptation strategies, according to Barnes.
Since other states continued working to find such solutions during Wisconsin’s recent absence from national and international discussions of global warming and climate change, Barnes said the task force can review their successes and failures and take this opportunity to ask “what’s unique to us?,” meaning the state, and “how can we come up with the best solutions to benefit all Wisconsinites?”
As if on cue to respond to what is unique about Wisconsin, Dan Vimont, co-director of the Wisconsin Initiative on Climate Change Impact at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, subsequently discussed how the state’s combination of natural resources – particularly its extensive forests, as well as grasslands and wetlands, and farm croplands – could store carbon from the atmosphere and help mitigate the severity of future climate change due to global warming.
This “natural sequestration” of carbon is an opportunity for Wisconsin, according to Vimont, a professor of atmospheric and oceanic sciences.
Wisconsin’s Green Fire and other conservation groups have recommended enhancing natural storage capability by replanting trees in existing forests, adding more trees along urban streets and in parks, restoring wetlands and prairies, as well as establishing grass pastures for livestock.
At a November 8 Climate Fast Forward conference in Madison sponsored by the Wisconsin Academy of Sciences, Arts & Letters, Wisconsin’s Green Fire representatives joined other state residents in advocating for a state carbon policy that would both define carbon as a forest product and pay farmers for sequestering carbon on the land.
For the United States, a strategy of enlisting nature could store 21 percent of the nation’s current net annual emissions of greenhouse gases, Vimont said. That was the finding of a 2018 study by The Nature Conservancy, the Nelson Institute for Environmental Studies at UW-Madison, and other partners.
A separate 2017 study published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences estimated those same natural resources could store up to one-third of the carbon needed to be removed from the atmosphere by 2030 in order to hold global warming to no more than 2 degrees Centigrade in this century and mitigate the impacts of climate change.
“What we do now makes a huge difference” in what amount of mitigation is possible by the end of this century, Vimont told the task force.
Gov. Tony Evers established the task force under executive order #52 and gave it an August 31, 2020 deadline for forwarding recommendations to the governor.
The task force is to work closely with the newly created Office of Sustainability and Clean Energy in the Department of Administration in achieving Evers’ goal of distributing electricity within Wisconsin that is 100 percent carbon-free by 2050.
The task force’s December 19 meeting was held at the American Family Insurance National Headquarters in Madison.
A date and location for the task force’s second meeting has not been set.
In remarks to the task force, Kari Grasee, Vice-President of Business and Workplace Services for American Family, said the company was “aware of the impact of greenhouse gas emissions on our environment,” specifically climate change.
Regarding the increasing concentration of carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases in the atmosphere from burning fossil fuels and other human activities, Grasee said it is “undeniable that the actions of us, who are populating our planet, have really impacted our environment.”
For those reasons, American Family has set a goal of cutting its greenhouse gas emissions by 50 percent over the next five years, according to Grasee. That can be accomplished largely through increased use of renewable energy resources, such as solar power, and energy conservation in its buildings, she said.
“Climate change has a direct impact on us,” an insurance company, as more severe weather events impact our customers, Grasee said in explaining American Family’s motivation.
The company also is looking for other strategies to mitigate the impacts of climate change on its customers, Grasee said. And American Family will look to the task force to develop solutions “that are going to help us tackle the climate change problem.”
A video of the first meeting of the Governor’s Task Force on Climate Change can be viewed at: https://wiseye.org/2019/12/19/governors-task-force-on-climate-change/.
Don Behm retired from the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel. He is a member of Wisconsin’s Green Fire’s Communication Team.