Climate Change

Climate change is real. And it’s impacting Wisconsin: average temperatures are warmer, spring arrives sooner, and patterns of rain and water flow in the state are changing.

Based on the latest scientific data, Wisconsin’s warming trend is expected to increase considerably by the middle of this century, bringing increased temperatures, extreme weather patterns, and changes in precipitation and water levels.

With much of Wisconsin’s natural beauty and resources tied to climate, these changes have the potential to drastically alter life in the state.

In 2008, the Governor’s Task Force on Global Warming, formed by former Wisconsin Governor Jim Doyle, presented a report that outlined ways that could make Wisconsin a national leader in curbing the impacts of climate change.

The report, entitled “Wisconsin’s Strategy for Reducing Global Warming,” which was over 230 pages in length, presents approaches the could take to curb fossil fuel use and carbon emissions over the first half of the 21st century. It gives recommendations for the utility, transportation, agricultural, and industry sectors, and it details policy suggestions to mitigate the real affects of climate change in Wisconsin.

Read the full report here.

 

In 2011, the Wisconsin Initiative on Climate Change Impacts (WICCI) published a report, titled “Wisconsin’s Changing Climate: Impacts and Adaptation,” which outlines the various impacts climate change has on the state, the climate, and its natural resources. The 226-page report also gives some suggested strategies for adapting to a changing climate.

Read the full report here.

Key Points about Climate Change

  • Wisconsin’s climate is changing, due primarily to pollution caused by burning fossil fuels for energy.
  • Wisconsin’s communities need to act in order to prepare for the coming climate change impacts.
  • In Wisconsin, climate change will lead to more severe weather, increased droughts, increased floods, damage to ecosystems like forests and stress on farm crops and livestock, raising the cost of food.
  • Climate change will strain populations of fish and wildlife, reducing certain hunting and fishing opportunities in Wisconsin.
  • Climate change will adversely impact public health in Wisconsin by increasing the incidence and severity of air pollution and water-borne and vector-borne diseases.
  • Actions to reduce global warming pollution can still help to prevent the most dangerous consequences of climate change.
Clean Wisconsin's Work

Clean Wisconsin supports local, state, regional and national efforts to combat climate change by reducing carbon pollution emissions. This includes work to reduce our energy demand through energy efficiency, to generate energy  from clean, renewable energy sources, and to combat the dirtiest form of energy generation: coal power.

Clean Wisconsin also works in a number of ways and venues to help our state prepare for and adapt to the effects of our changing climate.

Clean Wisconsin Media and Materials

Questions and Answers

What is climate change?
Climate change refers to any significant change in the measures of climate lasting for an extended period of time. It includes changes in average temperature, precipitation or wind patterns, among others, that occur over several decades or longer.[1]

What is the relationship between climate change and weather?
Climate is the average weather over time in a certain place. Variation in average weather over long periods of time is what we use to define change in climate. There are always extremes of hot and cold, but when weather is averaged over space and time over the last 150+ years, there is a definite warming trend.[2]

What are human factors that cause global warming/climate change?
Since the Industrial Revolution began around 1750, human activities have contributed substantially to climate change by adding carbon dioxide (CO2) and other heat-trapping gases to the atmosphere. These greenhouse gas emissions have increased the “greenhouse effect” that keeps heat from the sun close to the Earth, causing Earth’s surface temperature to rise. The primary human activity affecting the amount and rate of climate change is greenhouse gas emissions from the burning of fossil fuels for things such as electricity generation and transportation.[3]

How does recent climate change compare to past variations/cycles of climate change?
Climate has changed on all time scales throughout Earth’s history. Some aspects of the current change are not unusual, but others are. One key difference is that, when climate scientists have taken all the factors contributing the global climate into account, they have found that the main cause of climate change over the last 50 years is human activity; past changes were natural in origin. Additionally, the concentration of CO2 in the atmosphere has reached a record high relative to the past half-million years and has done so at an exceptionally fast rate.

Current global temperatures are warmer than they have ever been during at least the past five centuries, probably even for more than a millennium. If warming continues unabated, the resulting climate change within this century would be almost unheard of in geological terms and certainly not something that humans have ever experienced before.[2]

Quick Facts
  • Earth’s average temperature has risen by 1.4°F over the past century, and is projected to rise another 2°F to 11.5°F over the next 100 years.[1]
  • Wisconsin’s temperature has risen by an average of 1.1°F since 1950. It will increase by another 3°F to 9°F over the next 50 years, and 5°F to 13°F by the end of this century.[4]
  • The total combined emissions from the eight states in the Midwest — Illinois, Iowa, Indiana, Michigan, Missouri, Minnesota, Ohio and Wisconsin — would make the Midwest the fourth-largest polluter if it were a nation.[5]
  • For about every 2°F of warming, we can expect to see:[6]
    • 5%-15% reductions in the yields of crops as currently grown
    • 3%-10% increases in the amount of rain falling during the heaviest precipitation events, which can increase flooding risks
    • 5%-10% decreases in stream flow in some river basins, including the Arkansas and the Rio Grande
    • 200%-400% increases in the area burned by wildfire in parts of the western United States
  • The rate of temperature increase accelerated over the course of the 20th century. Fourteen of the hottest years on record have occurred in the past 16 years.[7]
Wisconsin Data, Trends, and Legislation

Climate change will and has had broad and far-reaching effects on many areas of life in Wisconsin.

  • Wisconsin accounts for about 2% of U.S. global warming emissions.[5]
  • Energy use accounts for 85% of Wisconsin’s global warming emissions, while agriculture accounts for approximately 8% of greenhouse gas emissions.[5]
  • Wisconsin ranks 21st in a state-by-state comparison in terms of amount of greenhouse gases emitted at 123 million metric tons. If Wisconsin were a country, it would be the 42nd-largest emitter in the world.[8]
  • Since 1950, on a statewide annual average, the temperature has increased by 1.1°F, with the highest average warming of 2.5°F across northwestern Wisconsin.[4]
  • The statewide average growing season length increased from 1950-2006 by an average of 12 days.[4]

Projected climate change impacts in Wisconsin include:

Temperatures: A 4°F-9°F rise is predicted in average annual temperature by the mid-21st century. These changes are expected to be the most severe in northern Wisconsin and in the winter months, which will see a 5°F-11°F average increase in average temperatures. There will also be a significant increase in the frequency extremely hot days in the state.[4]

Precipitation and Extreme Weather Events: Annual average precipitation is predicted to increase somewhat in Wisconsin with climate change, with a shift toward more frequent, intense rain events. This increase in intense rain is expected to be paired with more dry days and an increased chance of droughts through the summer, as well as significantly less snowfall on average in the winter. The combination of these changes will be a much different pattern of precipitation throughout the year, which could have major impacts on ecosystems in the state.[4]

The Great Lakes: Higher temperatures throughout the year will mean more evaporation in general, which will likely lead to a reduction in Great Lakes water levels. Reduced lake ice will also increase evaporation in the winter, further contributing to the decline. This will affect shipping, ecosystems, recreation, infrastructure and dredging requirements. Costs will include lost recreation and tourism dollars and increased repair and maintenance costs.[9]

Agriculture: Since more than 44% of land in Wisconsin is devoted to agriculture, the temperature and precipitation changes projected have potentially profound implications for the state economy. While growing seasons are likely to lengthen by three to six weeks by the end of the century, those changes will be accompanied by many other factors that threaten production. These include added heat stress on crops and livestock, increased drought and flood risks, and an expansion of crop pests’ range.[5] Spring flooding is likely to delay planting, while increased summer heat swells are likely to cause frequent and severe droughts.[9] On the whole, according to Chris Kucharik of UW-Madison’s Nelson Institute for Environmental Studies, “For every degree of warming during the core of the growing season, we see a yield decline of about 15 percent.” [10]

Current Law

There is no current law directly targeting climate change in Wisconsin.

Proposed Legislation

There is no proposed legislation addressing climate change in Wisconsin.

 

Cited Resources
  1. U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (n.d.). “Climate Change Basics.” Web. Retrieved 2012 from http://www.epa.gov/climatechange/basics/
  2. U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (n.d.). “Climate Change Basics.” Web. Retrieved 2012 from http://www.epa.gov/climatechange/basics/
  3. International Panel on Climate Change (2007). “Frequently Asked Questions.” Climate Change 2007: The Physical Science Basis. Contribution of Working Group I to the Fourth Assessment Report of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change.
  4. U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (n.d.). “Causes of Climate Change.” Web. Retrieved 2012 from http://www.epa.gov/climatechange/science/causes.html
  5. Wisconsin Initiative on Climate Change Impacts (2011). “Wisconsin’s Changing Climate: Impacts and Adaptation.”
  6. Union of Concerned Scientists (2009). “Confronting Climate Change in the U.S. Midwest; Wisconsin.”
  7. U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. “Climate Change Facts: Answers to Common Questions.” Web. Retrieved 2012 from http://www.epa.gov/climatechange/facts.html
  8. International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies (2010). “Climate Change Facts & Figures.”
  9. Governor’s Task Force on Global Warming (2008). “Wisconsin’s Strategy for Reducing Global Warming.”
  10. United States Global Change Research Program (n.d.). “Regional Highlights from Global Climate Change Impacts in the United States – Midwest.”
  11. Shannon Hayes (2013). “Wisconsin climate trending towards more extremes.” Agri-View, February 28, 2013.

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Please cite this resource as: Clean Wisconsin, Inc. “Climate Change.” Clean Wisconsin Enviropedia. Retrieved from www.cleanwisconsin.org/enviropedia.