A Climate Action Plan for Wisconsin

by Mary Smythe and Roy Thilly

A climate-change task force appointed by Gov. Evers is drafting a climate action plan for Wisconsin – an action that’s overdue. Since 2010, our state has been largely silent about the need to reduce greenhouse-gas emissions while our neighbors have taken a variety of actions. With the president denying climate change and Wisconsin falling behind, the problems arising from global warming have become a crisis. It’s frightening that data now show that Arctic warming is substantially exceeding the projections of just a few years ago.

The Climate Change Coalition of Door County is grateful to Gov. Evers for creating the task force, Lt. Gov. Mandela Barnes for leading it and the members for their participation. We urge readers to submit comments or support ours though the task force’s website at

We have urged the task force to make the recommendations listed below. The result of taking these actions would be to substantially reduce greenhouse-gas emissions and improve public health through reduced air and water pollution.

• Increase public awareness and understanding of global-warming impacts and causes to develop the political will that is essential for legislative action. The task force should recommend reinvigorating the work of the Wisconsin Initiative on Climate Change Impacts (WICCI) – a joint project of the Nelson Institute at UW-Madison and the Department of Natural Resources (DNR) – and find ways to disseminate that work in an understandable form to broad audiences statewide. Much has happened since the excellent initial WICCI report in 2011. 

• Require the DNR to track and report the state’s greenhouse-gas emissions on an economy-wide basis annually so we know where we are and whether we’re making headway.

• Promote climate leadership by requiring the state to lead by example on energy efficiency, the use of renewable energy and electric vehicles, building construction and rental contracts, and factoring climate impacts into decision-making at all agencies; reinvigorating and upgrading the Green Tier Legacy Community program to assist and enable local governments to lead on sustainability in their communities, saving money long term and setting an example for residents in energy use, building and operational efficiencies, transportation, developing green infrastructure and across-the-board consideration of the climate impact of decisions; and recognizing businesses that are climate and sustainability leaders and leveraging their knowledge and experience, as well as that of the UW System, to assist other businesses. 

• Enable public schools to adopt comprehensive sustainability programs that demonstrate to students the importance and responsibility of taking decisive action to address climate change.

• Reinvigorate climate science and policy curricula at all school levels in ways that include hands-on citizen science.

• Adopt a goal for Wisconsin’s electric utilities to be carbon-free by 2040 and recognize the need for large commercial batteries and other innovations to succeed.

• Adopt policies that will result in the rapid growth of community solar installations to allow people to own or obtain rights to solar power at a lower cost than individual rooftop installations, and find ways to take advantage of big-box store and warehouse roofs for large solar installations.

• Substantially increase funding for Focus on Energy to reduce the energy needs and costs for homes and businesses through aggressive conservation and efficiency programs.

• Adopt a strong state energy-efficiency building code for new residential and commercial buildings that will lead to a dramatic increase in net-zero-energy buildings. 

• Use any carbon-fee revenues for programs that address efficiency and renewable programs, primarily in disadvantaged communities, recognizing the disproportional impact that pollution has had on people of color. 

• Adopt an energy-efficiency audit requirement with basic upgrade standards for the sales of existing homes and commercial buildings.

• Substantially increase the installation of electric-vehicle charging stations statewide.

• Develop programs to make the state a leader in reducing food waste at grocery stores, restaurants and in homes; and facilitate leadership by local communities and schools, including support for developing local composting programs to reduce harmful methane emissions.

• Develop programs to help farmers reduce greenhouse-gas emissions, including from cattle, the overuse of fertilizers and harmful plowing and planting practices; and dramatically increase the capacity of the state’s soils, prairies and forests to take harmful carbon dioxide emissions out of the atmosphere. 

Mary Smythe of Sister Bay and Roy Thilly of Baileys Harbor – both lifelong advocates for environmental protection and social justice – are co-chairs of the Climate Change Coalition of Door County’s Steering Committee.