The front page headline of the Jan. 4 La Crosse Tribune reads: “Study finds contaminated wells; 42 percent of test sites in southwest Wisconsin affected.”
How did such a thing happen? The short answer: a misguided and dangerous dependence on money by a number of elected officeholders.
Somehow, our previous governor and Legislature had decided that, while 15 eastern Wisconsin counties needed their groundwater protected from manure, southwestern Wisconsin did not. We can be very grateful to the private organization Clean Wisconsin for identifying the alarming status of well water in our region.
In his 2011 inaugural address, Scott Walker declared “Wisconsin is open for business.” State governments should promote opportunity by building infrastructure and developing a well-educated, highly skilled workforce.
Walker instead sent a signal to potential campaign contributors: State government is ready to overlook pollution. The work of our DNR has been severely clamped down on for the last eight years.
Sadly, the problem goes way beyond Wisconsin and groundwater contamination. The worldwide scientific community warns us: carbon emissions-driven climate change is already producing harm, with the tipping point for massive damage approaching quickly.
Every officeholder should be required to read, and every voter encouraged to read, the eight-page Summary Findings of the Fourth National Climate Assessment. Issued the day after Thanksgiving, it represents four years of work by 1,000 individuals, including 300 of America’s leading scientists.
The report tells us that, barring a dramatic turn, we can expect every one of the following to increase: droughts, downpours and floods, and an increase in tick- and pest-transmitted illness: dengue fever, West Nile, Zika and Lyme diseases.
Also, barring changes, we should expect deteriorating surface water quality, and lowered agricultural productivity.
Finally, it predicts substantial climate change-driven damage to the U.S. economy, including “annual losses in some economic sectors … projected to reach hundreds of billions of dollars by the end of the century.”
Clearly, the inactivity and promotion of destructive policies by many of our elected leaders is subjecting us to enormous economic and environmental risk.
President Trump is determined, despite dire scientific warnings, to pursue an aggressive policy of encouraging increased emissions from smokestacks and tailpipes. It’s as if a physician learned that a patient had lung cancer, and prescribed an increase in cigarette use.
The mission of the Environmental Protection Agency is “to protect human health and the environment. EPA works to ensure that Americans have clean air, land and water, [and to assure that] national efforts to reduce environmental risks are based on the best available scientific information.” During the last two years, this mission has been completely subverted by presidential appointments.
Trump-selected EPA leadership has aggressively promoted a pro-pollution agenda. Previously leading this campaign was former EPA Director Scott Pruitt, who’d described himself on his Oklahoma governmental website as “a leading advocate against the EPA’s activist agenda.” Before being EPA director, Pruitt had filed multiple lawsuits attacking the EPA’s work.
Since July 5, Trump has left the EPA director position vacant. EPA is currently headed by acting administrator Andrew Wheelan, who spent eight years lobbying for increased fossil fuel use. From one company alone, Wheelan’s firm received $300,000 or more, annually, to promote the use of coal.
The fossil fuel industry pours billions of dollars into advocacy and elections to protect polluters. Koch Industries alone, with $110 billion in estimated annual net revenue and oil its largest focus, set aside up to $400 million for the November 2018 midterm elections, supporting candidates who oppose government regulation. Charles Koch has declared a goal of having the Koch Brothers’ policy advocacy and political contributions grow tenfold in the coming years.
The pro-pollution forces are winning, and decisively. We must fight back, because the stakes are enormous. In Wisconsin, we must demand that our new governor and Legislature implement measures to stop well contamination. The needs of our planet have to overcome the power of dark money to influence elections.
Nationally, we need to support the work of Citizens Climate Lobby. They advocate tirelessly for a market-friendly, carbon fee and dividend approach that would put a price on carbon emissions. This will facilitate an economically positive and fair way to transition from fossil fuels to sustainable forms of clean energy.
We all need to tell our leaders: Stop making the 21st century the era of greed-driven destruction of our planet. We don’t want to create a global climate that’s insect-friendly and hostile to humanity.