Farmers want to see leadership and a healthier climate as extreme weather wipes out more crops.
Whether they live in rural or urban parts of Wisconsin, residents of the Badger State have many of the same concerns about climate change, ranging from water quality to extreme weather to dependence on fossil fuels, Lt. Gov. Mandela Barnes told a major state agricultural group Wednesday.
Barnes and other members of Gov. Tony Evers’ Task Force on Climate Change have heard about those issues and more during five task force virtual public meetings this summer. Feedback during those sessions is evidence such issues as more frequent severe storms and flooded farm fields are having significant, adverse impacts across the state, Barnes said during an address to the annual Wisconsin Farmers Union Summer Conference, also held in virtual form due to the coronavirus outbreak.
“This is really about how climate change impacts all of our communities,” Barnes said.
Climate change has been an issue of growing concern for many in Wisconsin and elsewhere in recent years, as evidenced by the fact Wisconsin Farmers Union organizers decided to make the topic the focus of this year’s summer conference. Increasing adverse weather in recent years has had significant impacts on Wisconsin farmers, Farmers Union President Darin Von Ruden said, and has prompted growing attention to the topic.
For most of his life, he said, droughts and floods happened periodically but weren’t the norm. However, so-called 100-year floods now seem to happen annually, said Von Ruden, who farms in rural Cashton.
“We’re seeing storms dump larger and larger amounts of rain,” Von Ruden said, noting action on climate change is needed to “try to make sure the world is a safe place for all.”
In October, the governor’s Task Force on Climate Change was formed, another sign of growing public discussion of the topic. The task force is reviewing public input from more than 1,000 state residents, Barnes said, and is scheduled to compile recommendations to Evers’ office by Oct. 31. Those recommendations could go before the state Legislature for possible action early next year.
While some Wisconsin cities have taken steps such as pledging to reduce their carbon footprints to address climate change, much work remains to more fully address climate-related issues, Barnes said. Other Midwestern states such as Iowa, which has invested heavily in wind power, have enacted more climate-friendly policies than Wisconsin, he said.
The state needs to enact policies to address climate change because “we’re already late to the game,” Barnes said.
Those policies must focus on addressing environmental justice, he said, noting that climate change tends to have the biggest impact on people of color and those with little income most.
“For far too long we’ve come up with solutions to issues that have left far too many people out,” he said.
Pressure to force needed changes regarding climate change will be prompted by people connecting with lawmakers to express their concerns, Barnes said. He criticized the Republican-controlled Legislature in Wisconsin, saying they have failed to enact regulations and policies to address climate change.
“We have a Legislature that is slow to act in the face of this crisis,” he said of the Republican-led Assembly and Senate.
Under former Gov. Scott Walker, all references to climate change were removed from Department of Natural Resources publications. Last year, with Evers in office, the agency recommitted to addressing climate change and its impact on natural resources.
Nationally, President Donald Trump has been critical of climate change and ordered the United States to withdraw from the Paris Agreement on climate change. In contrast, Democratic presidential nominee Joe Biden recently proposed a climate and clean energy plan that aims to get the United States to net-zero emissions by 2050.
Actions that ignore the impacts of climate change only serve to further climate-related problems, National Farmers Union President Rob Larew said. Policies must be enacted to address those issues, he said, and to create an economy that creates more opportunities for family farmers instead of corporate agriculture operations.
“Climate change is a big issue,” Larew said. “We know that we have no time to lose on this.”
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