Lt. Gov. Mandela Barnes said Wisconsin is committed to becoming a global leader in combating climate change and achieving carbon-neutral electricity by mid-century.
“We are still in, regardless of the president formally beginning the process of withdrawing us from the Paris Climate Agreement,” Barnes said Thursday at the inaugural meeting of the state’s first dedicated climate change initiative.
“We have to be a leader,” Barnes said. “The moment calls for us to be a leader in the absence of federal leadership.”
Created earlier this year by an executive order, the Climate Change Task Force is headed by Barnes and made up of appointees from the agriculture, utility and tourism industries as well as higher education and indigenous nations.
Members are charged with advising Gov. Tony Evers on strategies for slowing global climate change and adapting to the local impacts.
Barnes said there was a deliberate effort to include representatives of some of the biggest contributors of greenhouse gas emissions as well as traditionally underrepresented communities that stand to suffer the most from rising waters, more intense storms and environmental degradation.
“I’m looking to make sure we’re bringing together diverse voices from all across the state of Wisconsin — different backgrounds, different regions of the state,” Barnes said. “We want to make sure people are part of the conversation.”
The task force also includes four members of the Legislature and designees of the governor’s natural resources, agriculture and labor secretaries.
Its mission includes assessing scientific research to evaluate the impacts on the state’s citizens and environment; reviewing actions taken by local governments; working with businesses and the UW and technical college systems to develop strategies for “climate smart” research, design and manufacturing; and making recommendations on the best ways to address climate change and create a clean-energy economy.
Thursday’s meeting at the American Family Insurance headquarters, consisted primarily of orientation and brainstorming sessions.
Barnes said the group will meet periodically over the coming months with the goal of delivering policy recommendations by Aug. 31.
It will be assisted by staff from the governor’s newly created Office of Sustainability and Clean Energy. Barnes said he hopes to announce that office’s leader by the end of the year.
The meeting was met with two groups of protesters — one loud, the other silent — neither of which opposed its mission or creation.
David Williams was part of the No F-35 Action Faction, which opposed the inclusion of Sen. Mark Miller on the task force because the Monona Democrat supports basing a squadron of F-35 jets at Truax Field.
“He’s good on a lot of issues but terrible on this one,” Williams said.
The group sang modified Christmas carols in the hall outside the conference room — “Jingle bells, jet fuel smells, no F-35s, no way!” — while members of the Extinction Rebellion, in white face paint and red robes, held silent poses.
“We’re here just to tell the truth about climate change,” said Justin Novotney, a spokesman for the Madison chapter of the international movement that uses non-violent civil disobedience in an attempt to halt mass extinction and minimize the risk of social collapse.
The group advocates for elimination of carbon emissions by 2025.
“We’re not here to condemn it but to remind folks of the gravity of the situation,” Novotney said.
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