A group of UW-Madison professors criticized the state Department of Natural Resources on Monday for scrubbing its website of language that stated human activity is causing climate change, accusing the agency of ignoring facts and violating the public trust.
The Republican-controlled DNR’s revisions came last month. Instead of saying human activities that increase greenhouse gases are the main cause of climate change, the website now says that Earth’s climate is going through a change and the reasons are up for debate.
Seven UW-Madison climate, zoology and ecology professors sent an essay to media outlets Monday saying the new language incorrectly implies climate change is mysterious when it’s clearly caused by greenhouse gases produced by burning fossil fuels.
“The Wisconsin DNR has a responsibility to accurately inform the public about the challenges presented by climate change,” the scientists said. “Ignoring facts and this responsibility hobbles the state agency entrusted to manage natural resources and protect the public. It also portrays the Wisconsin state government as anti-science.”
DNR spokesman James Dick said Monday that agency officials decided to “update” the website in response to an inquiry from The Lakeland Times newspaper in northern Wisconsin.
The Minocqua newspaper reported last week that it asked why the site wasn’t changed since agency officials have been stating publicly for years that the cause of climate change is up for debate.
Asked for comment on the scientists’ essay, Dick said the DNR doesn’t have the capacity to evaluate the causes of climate change and the agency continues to adapt management strategies to address changing environmental conditions.
Most scientists agree burning fossil fuels has increased greenhouse gases and caused global warming. A 2014 United Nations report found that human influence on climate is clear and global warming is unequivocal and unprecedented.
Gov. Scott Walker, who controls the DNR, and his fellow Republicans have been critical of President Barack Obama’s climate change initiatives.
The scientists’ column threatens to further inflame tensions between UW-Madison and Republican legislators.
Republican state Sen. Tom Tiffany of Hazelhurst, which is near Minocqua, is a frequent DNR critic who leads the Senate’s Sporting Heritage, Mining and Forestry Committee. He said the agency appropriately updated its website.
“Their criticism is off-base,” Tiffany said, “because climate change is a theoretical construct.”