Climate Corner: When Government Suppresses Science We All Lose


Tia Nelson

By Tia Nelson

It was reported recently in the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel that the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources had substantially edited a web page about climate change in the Great Lakes region by deleting longstanding references to climate change and its relationship to human activity.

Gone also from the page was a direct link to the Wisconsin Initiative on Climate Change Impacts (WICCI) report that included common sense ideas to make Wisconsin stronger and more resilient in the face of climate change.

The report was produced in cooperation between the highly respected UW Center for Climatic Research (CCR) and scientists at the DNR in 2011 and has set a national standard for climate impacts assessment and related strategies for adapting to a warming planet. For decades world-class researchers at CCR have carefully collected and vetted scientific data on the climate system.

And the WICCI report documented the realities of rising temperatures and heavier precipitation events, which are having negative effects on Wisconsin, its public infrastructure, people, waters, fisheries, forests and farms.

What is gained by disconnecting the public, educators, students and business owners from the best available science? How can we have an informed discussion on the appropriate public policy response to a significant challenge when government is actively suppressing the science and deleting critical information from public websites?

Who ordered and directed these edits? Most importantly, why now?

Certainly it is not because the vulnerability of the state and its people is somehow diminished by new information. Indeed, the science has only grown clearer and more compelling over time.

And what is there to gain from insinuating a debate when the reality is a broad scientific consensus?

What the DNR has done looks even more questionable after reading that spokesman Jim Dick told WKOW-TV that the agency understands scientists are no longer debating whether there is a human connection to climate change. When Dick was asked if the DNR’s statement was an acknowledgement that climate change is no longer being debated among climate scientists he replied:

“Yes, we are aware of that but as I’m sure you are aware it’s still being debated amongst the public,” wrote Dick.

So while the DNR seems content with fueling a debate that even they admit the science has already settled – let’s look at a few recognizable names that would disagree with this point-of-view:

In 1989 Margaret Thatcher, the Prime Minister of the United Kingdom at the time, gave an eloquent speech at her Conservative Party’s conference in Blackpool, England, about the relationship between fossil fuels and global warming. The same year, her ally in many conservative causes, the late President Ronald Reagan said this:

“Because changes in the earth’s natural systems can have tremendous economic and social effects, global climate change is becoming a critical concern.” Ronald Reagan, Jan. 9, 1989 in a letter to the Speaker of the House and the President of the Senate presenting the 1990 budget.

Or former President George H. W. Bush, who signed in 1992 a climate change treaty at The Earth Summit in Rio de Janeiro, said this:

“Many scientists are concerned that a buildup of certain gasses in the atmosphere may cause significant climate changes with serious, widespread consequences.” – George Bush, Earth Day Proclamation 6085 of Jan. 3, 1990.

It is important to our future prosperity that we agree that science very much matters, as do facts, and that cutting off the public’s access to scientific facts is dangerous. People have the right to know that a warming planet right now and into the future carries significant risks.

Let’s also agree that openly acknowledging and actively addressing climate change is not and should not be treated as a partisan matter, which as the previous statements demonstrate is a relatively new development.

While climate change is certainly one of the greatest challenges of our time, it also presents an enormous opportunity to forge a clean energy future that protects public health, grows a prosperous economy, creates greater energy independence and protects the environment for this and future generations. A better future is within our reach.

But sound public policy must be built on sound science. And it requires an informed discussion.

Let’s conclude by saying in unison that pretending climate change isn’t real is the wrong way to govern in the public interest.

Senator John McCain said it best in 2008:

“Whether we call it ‘climate change’ or ‘global warming,’ in the end we’re all left with the same set of facts. The facts of global warming demand our urgent attention, especially in Washington. Good stewardship, prudence, and simple commonsense demand that we to act to meet the challenge, and act quickly.”

This column first appeared on the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel website on Jan. 6, 2017.

Tia Nelson is Managing Director, Climate, of the Outrider Foundation, a Madison-based, not-for-profit globally focused on climate change and nuclear policy and non-proliferation. Tia is a longtime Wisconsin environmental leader and former executive secretary of Wisconsin’s Board of Commissioners of Public Lands. She was co-chair of Governor Doyle’s Global Warming Task Force (2007-8). Tia has been a regular participant in the Annual Door County Climate Change Forum held each May in Sturgeon Bay and has assisted with a class at The Clearing this month.

The Climate Corner is a monthly column featuring a variety of writers from around the state and Door County addressing various aspects of the challenges and opportunities climate change presents. The column is sponsored by the Climate Change Coalition of Door County, which is dedicated to “helping to keep our planet a cool place to live.” The Coalition is always open to new members and ideas. Contact the Coalition at


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