climate change wisconsin
The Wisconsin Farmers Union president said "we have no time to lose" in fighting climate change and its effects on Wisconsin farmers, such as drought and flooding. (Shutterstock)

While Trump has rolled back environmental protections, Biden talks up a new generation of green energy jobs.

President Donald Trump and his Democratic challenger for president, former Vice President Joe Biden, offered starkly different visions of how America will treat the environment Thursday during their last debate before the Nov. 3 election as a Wisconsin task force seeks to address climate change.

To address the issue, last year Gov. Tony Evers formed a climate change task force headed by Lt. Gov. Mandela Barnes. The 30-member task force held a series of virtual public hearings to solicit input on climate change-related issues and is scheduled to make a series of recommendations to the governor at the end of this month. Evers presumably will pass on at least some of those recommendations to the state Legislature for consideration. 

Climate initiatives at the state and local levels of government were spurred to action after Trump announced his intention to pull the United States out of a global agreement to reduce carbon emissions. 

“Climate change is happening,” Barnes told UpNorthNews during a recent interview. “Its impact is already being felt, and that impact is accelerating. We’re already behind in terms of addressing this. We have to do something, and we have to do it soon.”

As the task force continues its work, farmers across the state known as America’s Dairyland said increased severe weather in recent years that has included flooding making planting and harvesting crops more difficult are evidence climate change is having a bigger impact here. 

During Thursday’s debate, Trump touted his pulling the US out of the Paris Agreement, saying joining the rest of the world in that accord would be too costly and result in lost jobs in this country. 

“The Paris accord. I took us out because we were going to have to spend trillions of dollars and we were treated very unfairly … It would have destroyed our businesses,” he said.

In sharp contrast, Biden called climate change “an existential threat to humanity” and said his plan to address it involves investments and the creation of an estimated 10 million jobs that would create a cleaner environment and boost the economy. He said he is committed to rejoining the Paris climate accord.

“We have a moral obligation to deal with (climate change),” Biden said, noting this country’s environment “will be in real trouble” with another four years of Trump as president. 

The trouble brought by a changing climate impacts urban areas as well as farmland, with increased flooding damaging infrastructure, businesses and housing. Climate change also can further the spread of disease, which can spread more rapidly in more populated areas. 

Since 1950, Wisconsin’s climate has become 3 to 6 degrees Fahrenheit hotter and the southern half of the state has gotten 15 to 20% more precipitation, according to the Wisconsin Initiative on Climate Change Impacts. Without altered policies to reduce carbon emissions, those trends are likely to accelerate, scientists have said. 

Trump made a series of unfounded claims about the clean environment in the US, saying his administration has made significant progress in that area in his nearly four years as president. Rather than vague actions to address climate change the president referenced, his record shows unprecedented rollbacks of environmental regulations intended to lift restrictions on businesses. 

During his presidential tenure Trump’s administration has enacted such anti-environmental actions as relaxing rules on the storage of coal ash and the storage of methane, removed national standards for carbon emissions, made it harder to protect wildlife and stripped protections for millions of miles of waterways and wetlands. 

The president pressed Biden on alternative energy sources, asking whether he would “close down the oil industry.” Biden said he plans to transition from oil to other, cleaner energy sources as part of his broader climate change plan that involves the creation of millions of new clean energy jobs.

“It has to be replaced by renewable energy,” Biden said in reference to oil.