Prominent scientists at UW-Madison say that the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources’ revised statement on climate change is “simply incorrect.”
“The original wording accurately reflected our knowledge about climate change and its causes, emphasizing the need for the Wisconsin DNR to focus on climate change impacts to protect and manage Wisconsin’s natural resources,” the scientists write in an op-ed released Jan. 9. “The revised statement fails to mention either human-caused climate change or science, but manages to imply that changes in climate are natural, mysterious, and driven by causes that stir debate among climate scientists. In fact, the revised version is simply incorrect.”
Signing the statement are Stephen R. Carpenter, John E. Kutzbach, John J. Magnuson, Monica G. Turner, Jonathan A. Patz, Stanley A. Temple and Donald M. Waller.
Urban Milwaukee reported in late December that the DNR had revised its statement on climate change to say that the cause is still up for debate. The agency’s original statement said that “Human activities that increase heat-trapping (‘greenhouse’) gases are the main cause.”
The response by UW scientists comes as conservative critics in the state Legislature continue to question the university’s academic offerings and priorities and what they see as ideological bias among faculty. But Carpenter, the director of the Center for Limnology, said it was important to speak out on the DNR’s actions because the agency is “deliberately” now promoting inaccurate information on its website.
“They replaced a set of fairly reasonable statements with something that is not true,” Carpenter says in an interview. “Why is the DNR now promoting untrue information, and what does that say about the role of the truth of scientific information in the DNR’s decision making? We felt it was an alarming sign that should be pointed out.”
“Our job at the university is to provide the most reliable scientific information we can to the people of the state so that they can make their own decisions” about policy issues, he added. “What we do about climate change is certainly one of the most challenging public policy decisions of our time.”
Carpenter says it’s the Wisconsin Idea in practice and reflects “the way science has interacted with democracy since there was science and democracy.” Citizens and policy makers make decisions based on available information. “Our job is to make sure factual information is available.”
In their statement, the UW scientists point out that the DNR is responsible for managing the state’s natural resources and protecting its water, wildlife and public lands. “Rapid changes in climate are threatening public health, safety and natural resources,” they write. “Failing to accurately inform the public about these threats and the opportunities to reduce them, violates the trust we place in our public institutions. Even more disturbing, the Wisconsin DNR is repudiating its own longstanding tradition of applying the best available science in the public interest.”
DNR spokesman James Dick did not immediately respond to a request for comment.