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The Flat Earth Department of Natural Resources

Jan. 3, 2017
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Any day now we can expect Wisconsin’s Department of Natural Resources to announce it’s sticking with the idea the Earth is flat instead of accepting that ridiculous, new-fangled notion of scientists worldwide that our planet is a round ball spinning around the Sun, which obviously would cause all of us to fly off.

Science is out at the DNR these days. Old-fashioned, right-wing, political propaganda is in, especially if it can be used as an excuse for the DNR to avoid doing its job of protecting the state’s natural environment and the future survival of the planet. We saw this coming two years ago, when Republican Gov. Scott Walker eliminated the DNR’s science and research bureau and cut half of its bothersome scientists who kept nagging politicians about threats to Wisconsin’s precious environment, wildlife, clean air and clean water from industrial and agricultural pollution and private development.

Employees whose jobs couldn’t be eliminated were shifted, along with most environmental regulation, into a new business support division that DNR Secretary Cathy Stepp, a developer herself, touted as a “one-stop shop for business assistance.” Under Walker and Republican legislators, the mission of the DNR has flipped to protect industrial and agricultural polluters and private developers from environmental regulation.

Stepp’s latest business assistance was to erase from the DNR website any acknowledgement of the continuing threat to life on Earth from rising temperatures and climate change caused by human activity that is already creating devastating and deadly weather extremes around the world. We know about the DNR’s silent scrubbing of all scientific facts—and even the words “climate change”—from its public information thanks to Jim Rowen, my friend and former colleague at The Milwaukee Journal, whose blog, “The Political Environment,” reported it.


Deleting Fundamental Truths

The DNR’s withdrawal from the battle against the most serious threat to all life on Earth violates the entire purpose of Wisconsin’s Department of Natural Resources. There’s also something eerily familiar about it. What does it remind us of? I remember now.

It was two years ago, when Gov. Walker, a college dropout himself, went through the lofty, 100-year-old mission of the University of Wisconsin and tried to cross out language legally committing his state’s university to “the search for truth” and “to extend training and public service designed to educate people and improve the human condition.”

Walker failed in his attempt to destroy the fundamental mission of higher education. But, so far, here are a few of the fundamental truths he has crossed off the concerns of his DNR: 

“Earth’s climate is changing. Human activities that increase heat-trapping (‘greenhouse’) gases are the main cause … Increasing temperatures have led to changes in rainfall patterns and snow and ice cover. These changes could have severe effects on the Great Lakes and the plants, wildlife and people who depend on them.”

After detailing “severe economic consequences” for recreation and coastal businesses and devastation to plants, wildlife and waterways from drought, tornadoes and other severe weather, the DNR previously referred Wisconsin citizens to resources to help join in the fight to reduce the effects of climate change. No more. 

Instead, all that information has now been replaced with a vague paragraph suggesting the DNR has heard some sort of change is going on, but it really doesn’t know anything about it. Here it is: “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 by academic entities outside the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources.” 

That’s pretty much an out-and-out lie. The academic debate about what’s causing climate change is over. The overwhelming consensus among scientists worldwide is exactly what the DNR purged from its website: greenhouse gases as a result of carbon emissions from fossil fuels and human activity. Resistance from corporate polluters, their paid shills and Republican politicians to spending money to clean up the befouling of the Earth’s atmosphere that is endangering the planet do not constitute an academic debate.

But, if the DNR ever finds out there is global warming going on, it promises its decimated staff “stands ready to adapt our management strategies in an effort to protect our lakes, waterways, plants, wildlife and people who depend on them.” The promise could be extremely short-lived. Walker now says he’s seriously considering busting up the DNR permanently and randomly scattering its responsibilities around various state departments, no doubt hoping to even further reduce environmental regulation and prosecution of polluters.

Walker once said his goal was to have no state citations for environmental violations, claiming it would mean pollution and environmental problems no longer existed in Wisconsin. We now know what it really means is the Flat Earth DNR has stopped recognizing serious threats to the environment and doing anything about them. 

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