Wisconsin censors accepted climate science on DNR website

Recently the State of Wisconsin scrubbed climate change-related information on a Department of Natural Resources website. The changes delete accepted climate science, and remove reference to human-caused climate change and effects in the Great Lakes.

The revised Wisconsin DNR website scrubs reference to “human activities” as a cause of climate change. It also removes reference to climate change causes and effects. The revised page specifically removes the words “climate change” and “climate” from the DNR website. They also removed several climate related links.

Here’s the screenshot of the Wisconsin DNR site before December 21st.

Wisconsin DNR: October, 2016 revision.

Here’s the same web page after the revision on December 21, 2016.

Wisconsin DNR, December 21, 2016 revision.

The Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel elaborates on the changes.

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The state Department of Natural Resources recently scrubbed language from an agency web page on the Great Lakes that said humans and greenhouse gases are the main cause of climate change.

The DNR now says the subject is a matter of scientific debate.

The department made the changes on Dec. 21, striking out whole sentences attributing global warming to human activities and rising levels of carbon dioxide.

It’s the most recent example of the DNR removing information related to climate change. More broadly, the changes reflect how the administration of Republican Gov. Scott Walker has de-emphasized the subject since he took office in 2011.

In the latest changes, the DNR says of climate change, “as it has done throughout the centuries, the earth is going through a change. The reasons for this change at this particular time in the earth’s long history are being debated and researched by academic entities outside the Department of Natural Resources.”

Officials replaced this wording:

“Earth’s climate is changing. Human activities that increase heat-trapping (‘greenhouse’) gases are the main cause.”

The old text goes on to say “scientists agree” that the Great Lakes region will see longer summers and shorter winters, decreased ice cover and changes in rain and snow patterns “if climate change patterns continue.”

Not a matter of scientific debate.

The Wisconsin DNR’s website assertion that the reasons for climate change in Wisconsin are “being debated” is ludicrous. That statement is provably false with scientific certainty. The National Climate Assessment and numerous other sources document human-caused climate change in Wisconsin, the Midwest, and the USA.

In fact, Wisconsin is among the fastest warming states in the USA, according this Climate Central report.

Climate Central

Government censorship of climate science?

The intentional removal by the Wisconsin DNR of thoroughly researched, tested and accepted climate science is disturbing. To this meteorologist it looks a lot like a digital form of scientific book burning. Not trying to be dramatic here, but this Wikipedia definition sounds about right.

Book burning refers to the ritual destruction by fire of books or other written materials. Usually carried out in a public context, the burning of books represents an element of censorship and usually proceeds from a cultural, religious, or political opposition to the materials in question.

Some are suggesting that what the State of Wisconsin is doing here is censorship. I’m sure the lawyers can parse the definition, but again practically speaking that sounds about right to me.

-Censorship, the suppression of words, images, or ideas that are “offensive,” happens whenever some people succeed in imposing their personal political or moral values on others. Censorship can be carried out by the government as well as private pressure groups. Censorship by the government is unconstitutional. – ACLU

Wisconsin Public Radio further explores the changes in this radio piece.

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Why Was Climate Change Language Stripped From DNR Web Page?

Edits Are Not First Politicized Changes On State Websites From Walker Administration, Writer Says

References to climate change, rising temperatures and the human activities that cause them have been removed recently from a Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources web page.

The revisions were caught by James Rowen, a former reporter and editor at the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel who now blogs about state politics. He said this isn’t the first time Gov. Scott Walker and his administration deliberately carried out politicized changes to state-sponsored websites, and that it’s a reflection of the “chamber of commerce mentality” coming from the state Capitol.

“I noticed that even though it’s a website about the impact of climate change on Wisconsin and the Great Lakes, most of the references to climate change, as well as the specific words ‘climate’ and ‘climate change,’ were no longer on the page,” Rowen said.

As recently as October, the heading of the web page read “Climate Change and Wisconsin’s Great Lakes” in big, bold letters, and then went on to explain human activities are increasing greenhouse gases and contributing to the warming of the planet.

I have little doubt the intent of removing accepted climate science from Wisconsin DNR websites is to censor credible science that some see as problematic to their political beliefs.

Stay tuned.

  • Joanna Jones

    Don’t like the facts? Deny they exist. Not knowing something is excusable. Knowing it, then denying it, because it doesn’t fit your worldview, is inexcusable. Shame on you, Wisconsin!

    (MPR: please note the misspelled word in the heading)

    • Joanna Jones

      And I reacted harshly. I should have said: shame on Wisconsonites who see nothing wrong with government censoring science. There are plenty of Wisconsin residents who are just as appalled as I am.

      (MPR thanks for fixing the word)

  • Mic Dan

    Thanks, Paul, for this very timely post.

    I would normally say I am shocked by the Walker administration’s attempt to control the Wisconsin DNR in this manner. But I have resided in Wisconsin long enough to know this indeed is standard operating procedure.

    Joanna: you are correct. Shame on Wisconsin. I will be calling my state senator (Sheila Harsdorf) to let her know of my outrage.

    For the rest of you, be aware. This is what happens when a single, extremist party controls all branches of government.

  • Bonnie

    Thank you for putting this out there and being vocal and candid. I feel like it’s not getting enough attention. I contacted the Wi DNR to voice my opposition. I will also contact my local representatives.

  • Philip A. Rutter

    The book burning comparison is precisely correct. Hm. Maybe Wisconsin citizens should go to Madison – and have a book burning. Of Walker et.al. writings. There are plenty, and he couldn’t claim the fire is contributing to climate change…

  • Presley Martin

    Unfortunately this is just a preview of what to expect on a national scale under DT. Words matter! Thanks Paul for shining a light on this.

  • David Nutzuki

    My grade 6 class is asking;

    Couldn’t science just end this debate instantly if it’s really about the death of the planet?
    If climate change is a real planet flattening end of days why isn’t it as real as they say the planet isn’t flat? Are they also only 99% sure it’s not flat?
    Will they say it before it’s too late to say it?

    • Philip A. Rutter

      David- I have spoken to my daughter’s 6th grade class on climate change, at the teacher’s invitation. Whole period, powerpoint etc. I’m up to my ears in Trump voters here, and of course the children mirror their parents’ statements. 2 points that went well, I think – I spent a good 10 minutes documenting the history of the tobacco industry – and how the executives flat out lied to Congress. Easy to start that one- “How many of you think smoking cigarettes is good for you?” That educational battle has been won; basically they were astounded at the question. Followed by slides of old tobacco ads claiming “8 out of 10 doctors recommend Camels” or whatever. Big business executives have a proven track record of lying for money- tobacco lost in court, and it cost them billions. Fact. 2nd one- it helped to explain a bit about “chain of evidence” in science- since that is not taught at all. Start- “Everything in this room EXISTS – because of science. The floor? Desk top? Projector, computer, glass – literally 100% of everything you see was created by the scientific process. It works. By building one fact at at time.” Then pick an example from something in the news and demonstrate a little of long chains of evidence. That- is how we know. Oh, and you can tell them there has been NO scientific debate for 20 years now- only the constant lies that “we don’t know”. Just like tobacco.

  • Geezer44

    Unfortunately, Wisconsin is becoming Mississippi North, in my opinion. The public officials in Wisconsin behind this move will also be reelected again and again, as they are what Wisconsin citizens want. So sad to witness this happening to our sister state!

  • locust415

    Since I’m a meteorologist I will keep the education going by writing blogs and may even make a few videos to teach kids and adults of climate change. What the GOP is doing is just protecting the interest of oil companies to keep their pockets stuffing with more dollars.

  • Lisa DesCoteaux

    As a resident of Florida, I certainly can relate. Our notorious governor would not allow the words “climate change” to be uttered in government offices while whole cities experienced daytime flooding resulting from sea level rise. Science is science is science. If Walker denies the science of climate change, then by rights he must abstain from the benefits of other scientific endeavors, including the health sciences (no more diabetes or heart disease drugs for you buddy) or physics (sorry kiddos- no more technology since your dad doesn’t believe in that stuff). The arrogance is mind-blowing- When do they stop to think “What if I’m wrong?”

    What indeed.

  • ptoadstool

    This is how Republicans roll these days. A once rational GOP leadership has been upended and replaced by bible thumpers and carbon oligarchs who fund astroturf groups to promote “debate” – really science denial – on things they don’t like, such as evolution, abortion, green energy, climate change, gun violence, and anything that doesn’t fit their idea of sexual behavior. In Florida, they gagged doctors who wanted to talk to their patients about safety when there are firearms in the home. They love silencing whistle-blowers about animal cruelty on factory farms. They force textbook publishers to rewrite history and science books to water down the effects of slavery and to ignore the reality of climate science and evolution. It’s no surprise that the heavy-handed censorship of this crowd has visited this shameful nonsense on the Wisconsin DNR.

  • debaloo

    If you are so inclined, let the DNR know your opinion. Cathy Stepp is the Secretary of the Wisconsin DNR (608) 266-2121.

  • wyldoak

    After reading this story elsewhere last week, I checked the MN-DNR site to see what its climate change information looks like. I found it quite healthy and robust. Not that I think our DNR makes all of its policy decisions based on best available science (look at their decision to authorize wolf hunting, for example), but so far, our state is officially recognizing climate reality. Yay.