Wisconsin has just joined Florida in banning the use of the words “climate change”, along with any attempts to research or find solutions to the ever-growing problems that climate change brings. A Wisconsin state land board voted on Tuesday to prohibit its staff “from engaging in global warming or climate change work,” because the board’s executive director, Tia Nelson, had “wasted time” working on climate change issues. The incriminating work in question took place at the behest of then-governor Jim Doyle (D) who appointed her co-chair of a statewide global warming task force in 2007. Now that the regime of Koch-brother shill Scott Walker rules the roost, it appears that work is no longer required, lest it produce results unfriendly to the interests of his corporate backers.
According to Secretary of State Tim LaFollette (D), who cast the sole dissenting vote on the board, State Treasurer Matt Adamczyk “simply hates environmental people” and was leading “an irresponsible witch hunt” that had “reached the point of trying to gag employees from talking about issues.” Mr. Adamcyzk is responsible for the muffling, on the grounds that climate change research is “not a part of our sole mission, which is to make money for our beneficiaries”. It is therefore no surprise that he has been caught in a deepening feud with Nelson, a prominent environmental activist and the daughter of former Wisconsin governor, US Senator, and Earth Day founder Gaylord Nelson (D). Aside from the potential first-amendment implications of a government body prohibiting its employees from discussing certain topics and using certain language, the vote underscores the remarkable and disastrous ignorance of many prominent Republicans when it comes to climate change.
Such an Orwellian effort to control not only the work but also the language of government employees is especially inappropriate in a board whose jurisdiction is the land that will increasingly feel the effects of global warming in the decades to come. A recent report published by the University of Wisconsin outlined the likely effects on the state, including drought, heat waves, severe storms, and degradation of the state’s plant and animal life. In a state where polls suggest more than 70% of residents understand that climate change is happening and 60% believe the government should increase environmental regulations to prevent it, the government is doing its best to squash all talk of this issue that will affect us and our communities for generations to come. In Wisconsin, and indeed in much of the country, the blind are leading the sighted.
Beyond petty vendettas and personal ignorance, however, the move underscored an increasing movement to stifle talk of climate change in government, as if not mentioning the issue will somehow validate the delusional rejectionism of many on the right. The vote in Wisconsin came hot on the heels of a report by the Florida Center for Investigative Reporting detailing how employees of the state’s Department of Environmental Protection were “forbidden from using the terms ‘climate change,’ ‘global warming,’ or ‘sustainability’” in official communications.
Such a remarkable disregard for all science and common sense is particularly amazing – and cruelly ironic – in Florida, a state that will bear the brunt of climate change more than any other in the nation. A recent report by the National Oceanographic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) concluded that “without successful steps to build-up or otherwise protect” the state’s coasts, “9% of the state’s land area, which includes 1/10 of its population… will be underwater at normal high tide” by 2100. This represents an enormous environmental catastrophe, in terms of billions of dollars lost and millions of people’s lives upended, and yet the state agency tasked literally with “Environmental Protection” is choosing to completely ignore the problem in order to score petty political points with its reactionist base.
According to another recent report released by NOAA last month, 2014 was the warmest year on record. The United States has recently experienced a string of natural disasters, from Boston’s record setting blizzards over the past winter to the unprecedented drought plaguing California, that researchers at Yale and Stanford have concluded were influenced by climate change. And yet, Republicans in government continue to discuss global warming with all the grace and intelligence of a group of middle-school students arguing in the YouTube comments.
Their uninformed and obstructionist tomfoolery was put on full display at a February congressional hearing on the Keystone XL Pipeline when Senate Environmental and Public Works Committee Chairman James Inhofe (R) sought to disprove the fact of climate change and the “eggheads in science laboratories” who support it by displaying a snowball fresh from the Washington winter on the Senate floor. The continued willed ignorance of prominent Republicans, including those who oversee our nation’s environmental policy, regarding climate change, is not only ridiculous but dangerous, dishonest, and inevitably disastrous.
In the words of Stephen Colbert, describing a 2012 North Carolina law that banned the state from basing coastal policy on climate change science, “If your science gives you a result you don’t like, pass a law saying the result is illegal. Problem solved!”
Opinion columnist and former editor-in-chief of Occupy Democrats. He graduated from Bennington College with a Bachelor's degree in history and political science. He now focuses on advancing the cause of social justice and equality in America.