Wisconsin’s Solitary Stance On Climate Change

This is the only state in America without a Clean Power Plan.

By - Dec 28th, 2015 11:49 am
Coal pile, with the Bay View turbine in the background. Photo by Dave Reid.

Coal pile, with the Bay View turbine in the background. Photo by Dave Reid.

Some important numbers stand out after the climate agreement signed in Paris:

  • $20 billion in new funding for research and development on climate solutions
  • 800 of the world largest corporations signing on to address climate change
  • 400 mayors from around the world meeting to make their cities healthier and more livable.
  • Nearly 200 nations on the planet committing to a common goal on reducing global warming.
  • 2.0 degree Celsius – with a preferred lower rate – of global warming set as a single unifying goal.
  • 1 state – Wisconsin – not moving ahead with a plan to implement a Clean Power Plan (CPP) in the United States.

That’s right: the cheese stands alone.

Wisconsin continues to gamble on a dangerous, negative strategy that every major country and every major corporation in the world came to grips with in Paris: the inevitability of carbon regulation in one form or another.

Wisconsin does not stand alone in one sense. It has joined a cohort of Republican-led states to fight the Obama administration’s CPP standards which aim to drastically reduce carbon dioxide emissions at existing power plans by 2030. The administration is required to develop national policies on greenhouse gas pollution in accordance with a recent US Supreme Court decision.

But even a conservative state like Kansas, which is also part of that litigation, is still working on a state plan to meet the federal standards. Wisconsin, the only state not to even start a plan according to the Natural Resource Defense Council, is putting all its chips on delay through litigation. It’s a dangerous bet for a lot of reasons, but two stand out.

First, we are walking away from early action incentives and credits that would lower our ultimate cost of compliance. Second, if we do not develop our own plan, the federal government has to impose one on us. Our utilities can’t want that. None of us should, when we could be designing our own energy future.

By its inaction, Wisconsin not only turns its back on the findings of the scientific community, but it also ignores its own business interest in favor of an ideological position that is sure to lose eventually. We are clearly on the wrong side of history.

An alternative is sitting on a shelf in my office. It is Governor Doyle’s Global Warming Task Force report from 2008 that I co-chaired, along with utility executive Roy Thilly. Designed from the ground up after a year of hearings, the report – if enacted – would have put Wisconsin on track to be a leader in the clean energy economy.

We had buy-in from businesses, utilities, elected officials of both parties, environmental groups and citizens on recommendations for increased investment in energy efficiency and new jobs, for strong renewable energy standards and for tough, but reachable, emission reduction targets.

But little of that was acted on. So instead of leading, Wisconsin has fallen far behind on helping protect public health and the environment, growing the economy and providing energy security for its citizens. We must now look for leadership to other states, like Minnesota, which has spent the last year in a productive and robust conversation about what they want their energy future to look like.

Denying the science, telling state employees not to talk about it, ordering the DNR not to work on it leaves us all in the lurch on the issue. And ultimately it hurts our environment AND our economy.

Wisconsin deserves better. We already have a set of recommendations designed by Wisconsinites for Wisconsin. Let’s get them off the shelf and get back to work on a conversation about what we want our future to be. We can’t afford to stand alone in the nation.

Tia Nelson is Managing Director, Climate at Outrider Foundation, a globally focused not-for-profit dedicated to providing comprehensive, science-based information on issues affecting the long-term well being of the planet.

Categories: Environment, Op-Ed, Politics

14 thoughts on “Op-Ed: Wisconsin’s Solitary Stance On Climate Change”

  1. AG says:

    Walker’s plan to cut carbon emissions in WI is to have all the lefty’s hold their breadth waiting for such plan to go public. We’d probably reduce our carbon emissions more than any other state!

  2. Kevin says:

    There is enough contrary evidence to suggest warming is merely a religion. Get over it.

  3. Mark E. Bye says:

    The cute remark by “AG” is typical of the quality policy making we’ve come to expect from Walker and his puppeteers. Just ignore the problem. Maybe it’ll go away. Or better yet, blame it on a public employee.

  4. Dave says:

    “There is enough contrary evidence to suggest warming is merely a religion. Get over it.”

    You are a particular brand of stupid, aren’t you Kevin?

  5. Al Lindro says:

    I’m all for taking initiatives that will improve air quality via reduced emissions, but remain unconvinced that “global warming” (aka, “climate change”) is something over which mankind has much control or even much impact.

    Somehow, there was enough warming in nature for the Ice Age glaciers to recede, and man had nothing to do with that.

    A given: The data shows long term warming even though methodologies are diverse and somewhat unreliable. Their shorcomings probably cancel each other out when aggregated, I think warning is pretty much a certainty, although I bristle at the statement about the science being “settled” and to debate the validity and interpretation of the data sets is irresponsible. Science ALWAYS should be open to different theories and new data, and those who claim otherwise are (in my opinion) anti-science.

    In actuality, what would be noteworthy, is if there were no longer ongoing and potentially substantial climate change, since we’ve experienced that, and can deduce that from the historical record and investigation.

    The real question is, “to what extent is any recent change associated with human activity?” I submit that we don’t know the answer to that, although various interest groups and self-promoting individuals and self-proclaimed experts (read: Al Gore) will always throw out their guesstimates based on their agendae. Politicians are the last people we should rely on to talk honestly and clearly about this.

    I’ll keep reading and thinking about this and will not be surprised if any and all predictions turn out to be wrong.

  6. Al Lindro says:

    edit: “Their shortcomings probably cancel each other out when data sets are aggregated, and therefore I think warning over recent decades is pretty much a certainty …..”

  7. Al Lindro says:

    One more thing. I wish commentators would back off the statement that “97% of scientists agree …” re: humans’ role in global warming. That’s a bogus statement derived from one flawed article. It is essentially a false representation that has been recited over and over until people actually believe it. It is no more reliable than Ted Cruz claiming there has been no documented warming during what is called the “pause”, i.e, the past 18 years.

  8. Tim says:

    Al Lindro, please come back from make-believe land.



    “Among abstracts expressing a position on AGW, 97.1% endorsed the consensus position that humans are causing global warming.”

  9. Al Lindro says:

    Tim, it’s not my nature to toss cute/flippant grenades at strangers, so I’m ignoring yours and will just offer a reply for your consideration. The linked-below website came up along with many others when I Googled for the details of what I’ve read from various sources about Cook’s flawed article and the “97%” claims arising from it.



    When you think about it, what statement or position would EVER be backed by 97+% of people surveyed? Consider that something like 10-15% of the population seems to think Congress is doing a fine job … yikes!

    To be clear, my position is not to refute that warming is an ongoing phenomenon. Rather, I’ve not yet been convinced that man has done enough or can do enough to make much difference. Don’t get me wrong; I want cleaner air and lower emissions from citizens and businesses. But justifying such initiatives by assuming they do and will have a material effect on the world’s climate is a bridge too far for me at this point. In my 70’s now, I’ve learned to kick the tires before jumping on any bandwagons (to “make-believe land” or elsewhere).

    For my own purposes, I boiled down (shortened/simplified) an op-ed piece by Dr Judith Curry, Head of Earth and Atmospheric Sciences Dept at Georgia Tech, whom I find very credible. Her Research areas are: Remote Sensing, Dynamics of Weather & Climate, Oceanography & Climate, Atmospheric Chemistry, Aerosols & Clouds. She has a Ph.D. in Geophysical Sciences, University of Chicago, 1982. So she’s no spring chicken. And here is that edited version:

    The so-called “grand hiatus” was a period from 1945 to 1975 where the world stopped warming, and even cooled slightly, despite carbon dioxide emissions rapidly rising. Scientists are unable to explain why there was no warming even though global warming theory predicts there would have been warming.

    Nearly half of the 20th century warming trend occurred from 1910 to 1945, but CO2 emissions didn’t increase enough to explain most of the warming. The period 1910-1945 comprises over 40 per cent of the warming since 1900, but is associated with only 10 per cent of the carbon dioxide increase since 1900.

    Moreover, there’s evidence the Earth has been warming for the past 200 years — a period that began before human carbon dioxide emissions would have been a factor.

    Some scientists have tried to explain the “grand hiatus” away by adjusting it out of the data to correct for “biases” in thermometers that may have caused the world to appear warmer than it was. Emails leaked to the public in 2009 include a conversation between a U.S. and U.K. scientist on “correcting [sea surface temperatures] to partly explain the 1940s warming blip.”

    Ironically, U.S. government scientists claimed to eliminate the 15-year “hiatus” during the 21st century by adjusting sea surface temperatures upwards — a move that doubled the warming trend during that time. What’s unclear, however, is if these thermometer data “adjustments” will stand the test of time and continue to be validated by the scientific community. It’s especially unclear given the huge uncertainties looming over climate models and the accuracy of the global temperature record.

    …. So that’s me, speaking my piece through Dr. Curry. Happy New Year.

  10. Tim says:

    The poorly put together website you linked to, just keeps putting out headlines with no data to back it up. You can click through to their “sources” which are just more terrible articles with more links to itself.

    I applaud you, I thought websites with a geocities level of technical detail had gone extinct. Take that scientists!

    But really though, are you paid for your posting or are you a conspiracy nut?

  11. Tim says:

    Maybe you’ll understand if I copy your style:


    Curry has a B.S. in Geography from Northern Illinois University (1974) and her PhD in Geophysical Sciences from the University of Chicago (1982).[2]

    Research interests
    Curry’s research interests have included hurricanes, remote sensing, atmospheric modeling, polar climates, air-sea interactions, and the use of unmanned aerial vehicles for atmospheric research. In 2010 and beyond, she has been looking at uncertainty.

    Academic institutions
    Curry’s academic positions have been:[1]

    2002- : Georgia Tech, Chair, School of Earth and Atmospheric Sciences
    1992-2002 University of Colorado at Boulder, Professor, Department of Aerospace Engineering Sciences
    Earlier positions at Penn State, Purdue University, University of Wisconsin at Madison.
    Business – Climate Forecast Applications Network
    With partner Peter J. Webster, Curry has run a weather prediction consulting business, Climate Forecast Applications Network (CFAN), since 2006.[3].

    Clients not disclosed
    The identities of Curry’s clients have not been disclosed.

    Fossil fuel industry funding
    Curry receives ongoing funding from the fossil fuel industry. In an interview with Curry for a October 2010 Scientific American profile[4], Michael Lemonick reports (pers. comm.) that he asked Curry about potential conflicts of interest, and she responded,

    “I do receive some funding from the fossil fuel industry. My company…does hurricane forecasting…for an oil company, since 2007. During this period I have been both a strong advocate for the IPCC, and more recently a critic of the IPCC, there is no correlation of this funding with my public statements.”
    Climate views
    Curry believes the IPCC has done a bad job of characterizing uncertainty”.[5] She believes “skeptical scientists” have difficulty getting their papers published.[6] She does not view herself as a climate hawk[7] (one who judges that the risks of climate change are sufficient to warrant a robust response.[8]) – though somewhat confusingly, she denies playing down the urgency of climate action: “I am saying nothing about that one way or the other”.

    Blog – Climate Etc
    In September 2010, Curry started a weblog, Climate Etc., which takes the same “stress-the-uncertainties” approach also seen in other efforts to thwart science-based policy actions, as documented by Naomi Oreskes and Erik Conway in their book Merchants of Doubt[9].

    Criticisms from climate scientists
    Criticisms of outreach communication
    Laundry list
    Curry’s contrarian-leaning “public outreach” public communication is criticized by prominent climate scientists and other science-aligned climate bloggers for a propensity toward “inflammatory language and over-the-top accusations …with the…absence of any concrete evidence and [with] errors in matters of simple fact.”[10],[11],[12],[13],[14],[15].

    “…Examples of the unreliability of Curry’s blog publications are illustrated by Michael Tobis[16] and James Annan[17], who both showed basic flaws in her understanding of uncertainty and probability, or at least an irresponsible level of sloppiness in expressing herself. Arthur Smith pointed out an under-grad level misunderstanding[18] in her own field’s basic terminology,” said Coby Beck.[10]
    Climate scientist James Annan has provided examples (with rebuttals) of assertions made by Curry on topics like no-feedback climate sensitivity, aerosols, climate change detection&attribution, and the IPCC tolerance of challengers; he finds there’s a pattern of “throwing up vague or demonstrably wrong claims, then running away when shown to be wrong”,[19]

    Willingness to criticize based on second-hand info from contrarian, inexpert sources
    “In a 2010 comment[20] she called blogger Deep Climate’s detailed and well-documented investigation into the Wegman Report “one of the most reprehensible attacks on a reputable scientist that I have seen” even as she revealed in her incorrect synopsis of the charges that she had not even read it for herself. … [i.e.] she shows herself ready to publicly criticise someone else in the strongest terms based entirely on second hand information gleaned from places like Climate Audit and Watts Up With That.”[10]
    Offering off-the-cuff, uninformed criticism of mainstream climate science
    Gavin Schmidt has criticised Curry for “not knowing enough about what she has chosen to talk about[21], for not thinking clearly about the claims she has made with respect to the IPCC[22], and for flinging serious accusations at other scientists without just cause.”[23].

    2011: Berkeley Earth Project “BEST” dissension, and widely publicized claims of “pause”
    Curry was a member of the partially-Koch-funded Berkeley Earth Project temperature reanalysis project headed by former global warming skeptic Richard Muller, which reanalyzed existing weather station data and found yes, global warming was real. The project FAQ[2] (and a draft paper, which lists Curry among the authors[3]) reported there was no evidence to indicate the rate of global warming had changed in the last decade.

    But despite Curry’s having agreed (as evinced by her coauthorship) with this conclusion, London Daily Mail contrarian (and oft-misrepresenting[4], [5], [6]) journalist David Rose portrayed a vigorously-disagreeing Curry saying, “This is ‘hide the decline’ stuff. Our data show the pause, just as the other sets of data do. Muller is hiding the decline.”[24].

    Curry backtracked somewhat on her blog, saying “The article spun my comments in ways that I never intended”[24], but didn’t step back from “Our data show the pause”, and “There has been a lag/slowdown/whatever you want to call it in the rate of temperature increase since 1998.”[25] When pressed for the scientific basis for these statements, Curry admitted the time period was too short for a statistically significant difference to emerge.

    In response Tamino noted, “There is Occam’s razor — … the simplest hypothesis (namely: the trend hasn’t changed) is preferable. Besides which, basing her statement on “It may have stopped since 1998” is really no different than “it may have stopped since last Thursday.””[7]

    Eyeballed “pauses” are misleading – in a graph titled “How “Skeptics” View Global Warming”, Joe Romm shows that if you see a “pause” in the post-1998 temperature data, you’ll also think global warming “paused” at least six times from 1973-2010, covering almost the entire period – yet the global temperature actually continued to increase.[26]

    Criticisms of academic research
    2011 WIRES article on uncertainty
    Climatologist James Annan noted in passing that in this article Curry had “grossly misrepresented the IAC report.”[27].

    Claims not backed up
    The WIRES article also didn’t back up claims made earlier: in an earlier paper, Curry and Webster had said the forthcoming article “argues that the attribution argument cannot be well formulated in the context of Boolean logic or Bayesian probability…[and] argues that fuzzy logic provides a better framework…”[8] But when the WIRES paper appeared[9], it didn’t do so – not even mentioning fuzzy logic, Boolean logic or Bayesian probability.[28]. (When asked, Curry said her reviewers had found that section confusing, so “in the revised version, I simplified the argument”.[29])

    2010: Liu and Curry
    Liu and Curry’s August 2010 paper, “Accelerated warming of the Southern Ocean and its impacts on the hydrological cycle and sea ice”[30], has been criticized for its failure to cite previous papers drawing the same conclusion, and for its “uncritical use of invalid data”.[31], [32]

  12. Tim says:


    Never confuse weather with data, but this is an interesting data point.

    “…This week, temperatures around the North Pole were fifty degrees higher than usual for December—and today, they rose above the freezing point. That’s right: In the middle of what’s supposed to be winter, the NORTH POLE was registering temperatures you’d expect to feel in New York around New Years, according to the GFS Forecast Model, which collates data from satellites and weather stations to produce global weather predictions. It’s only the second instance in which we’ve seen above-freezing temperatures at the North Pole this time of year— minus 20 degrees Fahrenheit is more typical.
    Let me point out that the North Pole has been in 24/7 darkness for 72 days now..”

  13. M says:

    Al Lindro: In the link you cited for expertise on climate research, the first-name-only editors are listed as such:


    Andrew K (Computer Analyst)

    Copy Editor
    Karl (Computer Scientist)

    Contributing Authors
    Doug (Computer Engineer)
    Mike (Electrical Engineer)

    I imagine they know a lot about computer science, which has nothing to do with climate science. Would you trust an eye doctor to diagnose and treat brain cancer?

    By refusing to implement a Clean Power Plan, if for no other reason than to protect the public health of current residents, Wisconsin GOP legislators are simply saying: “I’m with Stupid.” But those lawmakers are likely being handsomely rewarded by climate-research-denying lobbyists and donors.

    Such head-in-sand stances are not merely annoying. They are holding back the state’s economy and research and piling up more stats to repel potential smart residents, students, and business people.

  14. Bruce Thompson says:

    The Popular Technology web site seems to prefer quantity over quality. I notice that most of their links are to right-wing blogs, rather than anyone with some claim of expertise in climate science.

    One of the people they particularly like is Richard Tol, because he wrote a critique of the study that arrived at the 97% figure. But Tol himself would have qualified for the 97% if he were a climate scientist rather than an economist. Here is the final sentence of a paper he wrote: “There is a strong case for near-term action on climate change, although prudence may dictate phasing in a higher cost of carbon over time, both to ease the transition and to give analysts the ongoing ability to evaluate costs, benefits, and policy mechanisms.”

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