In February, Sen. Jim Inhofe, R-Okla., brought a snowball to the floor of the Senate to “disprove” global warming. Unfortunately, what Inhofe did not understand was that even though it was a colder than normal February in Washington, the Earth’s average temperature has been rising each year for decades.

Global warming is what is happening to the whole world regardless of isolated areas of cooler-than-usual temperatures.

According to the EcoLogic Development Fund, global warming is primarily caused by the growing concentration of heat-trapping gases in the atmosphere, often referred to as greenhouse gases. The most widely known greenhouse gas is carbon dioxide, but greenhouse gases also include methane, nitrous oxide and others. Most of the increase of greenhouse gases in the Earth’s atmosphere has been scientifically shown to result from human activities, such as deforestation, pollution and burning fossil fuels.

What does that mean for the people of Wisconsin? In 2007, the University of Wisconsin-Madison’s Nelson Institute for Environmental Studies and the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources organized the Wisconsin Initiative on Climate Change Impacts.

In 2011, WICCI issued a report. These are some of the findings:

  • Except for northeastern Wisconsin, most of Wisconsin has warmed since 1950. Wisconsin is becoming “less cold,” with the greatest warming occurring during winter-spring and nighttime temperatures.
  • Wisconsin is projected to warm by 4 to 9 degrees by the middle of this century, based on one emission scenario. Northern Wisconsin is projected to warm the most, while the least warming is expected along Lake Michigan.
  • Since 1950, the growing season has become one to four weeks longer in different parts of Wisconsin. Winter has become correspondingly shorter. Lakes freeze later and thaw earlier on average now than they did in the past. Spring birds arrive earlier today than in the past. Spring plants bloom earlier. Gardeners are seeing shifts in plant hardiness zones. Everyone in Wisconsin will be affected: farmers, fishermen, hunters, tourists, friends, families and children.

What would happen if we could stop all greenhouse gases today? “The damage will persist even when, and if, emissions are brought under control”, said Susan Solomon, who is among the world’s top climate scientists at the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.

In April 2015, the U.S. Geological Survey released a report: “Projected Warming of Wisconsin Streams Could Negatively Affect Trout.” USGS scientist William Selbig said: “A persistent increase in daily mean stream temperature can affect the diversity of fish species in northern Wisconsin.” A 2009 study found that trout anglers travel from all 50 states to fish in the Driftless area, which includes much of southwest Wisconsin. The annual economic impact from these anglers is $1.1 billion.

The latest Census reports that the forest industry contributes about $2.6 billion annually in wages to Wisconsin. Researchers from UW-Madison predict that red pine, balsam fir and paper birch may fail to reproduce and could become extinct as Wisconsin warms. Global warming will allow invasive species to threaten the health of our forests. Longer growing seasons, higher temperatures and severe weather will change the types of plants and animals that can survive in Wisconsin. Global warming will have a negative impact on this industry and the jobs it provides.

Global warming will impact the health and well-being of Wisconsin’s residents. Air pollution gets worse with higher temperatures and will increase respiratory illness, such as asthma, bronchitis and emphysema. Plants may produce more pollen, affecting those with allergies. Heat waves, storms and flooding, waterborne illnesses, infectious diseases and drought will cause additional health challenges. According to the National Academy of Sciences, the use of fossil fuels causes $120 billion, primarily health-related, damage annually.

Without a doubt, global warming is negatively affecting our economy, the way we play, work, and care for ourselves. This situation will continue to worsen.

We cannot give up in our efforts to radically reduce our carbon emissions and transition to sources of clean, renewable energy. Nationally, we need to put a tax on carbon, and rebate to our citizens the money gathered.

In the meantime, more and more Wisconsin businesses and homeowners are turning to independent green technologies for their energy needs. Why? It saves money, controls costs and pollutes less. Each of us must actively work to reduce our carbon footprint, support sustainable businesses, and urge our legislators to quickly pass legislation to address the causes of global warming and climate change.

Glen Jenkins is a member of the La Crosse chapter of the Citizens Climate Lobby.

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