by Sam Dunaiski
Few states in the union can compete with the natural beauty of Wisconsin. From our picturesque farm fields, to our dense forests, to the shores of Lake Michigan, we have a wealth of natural wonders. We also have a rich history of protecting these lands. John Muir and Aldo Leopold are household names, but without any current environmental leadership, Wisconsin’s landscape could face serious disruptions from climate change.
A majority of Americans now believe climate change is happening and that human activity is likely the cause. However, only about 40% of Americans believe that climate change will affect them personally. At 36%, that number is even lower in Wisconsin.
We tend to believe climate change will only affect faraway places. Iconic images of climate change (stranded polar bears, calving icebergs, low-lying island beaches) may be relevant, but the average Midwesterner has rarely, if ever, experienced these images. Wisconsin may not be directly affected by sea-level rise, or melting glaciers, but we’ll hardly be immune to the effects of climate change. In fact, our state could face major changes in a warming world.
With our northern, continental climate, Wisconsin faces more significant long-term temperature changes than much of the United States. We have already warmed about 2°-3°F since 1950, compared to the continental U.S. average of 1.3°. Our state faces both an increased risk of drought and an increased risk of heavy rainfall events. The most noticeable changes will come during the winter months, where temperatures have already risen 3°-5°F. Extended heat waves and warmer nights are also likely during the summer months.
By the end of the century, Wisconsin’s climate may look more like present-day Oklahoma or Kansas than the upper Midwest. While it may be easy for you or I to adjust to a new climate, ecosystems take much longer. Without sufficient time to adapt, our celebrated natural wonders will be at risk.
Climate change won’t be uniform, and the impacts Wisconsin faces will be different from those of Florida, New York, or Alaska. Major disruptions to our climate could affect everything from dairy production, to infectious disease, to skiing and ice fishing. As Wisconsinites, we know the importance of these issues. We must rise to the challenge of mitigating and adapting to climate change if we are to save Wisconsin’s environment for future generations. Luckily, we have history on our side.