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Public Statements

Kohl Column: Earth Day 2009

Op-Ed

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4/21/09

By Senator Herb Kohl

In 1970 former Wisconsin Senator Gaylord Nelson saw our nation's environment changing in ways that made him fear for our future. He established Earth Day as a national holiday to raise the alarm about how we were poisoning our environment and threatening our children's future. Three decades ago the threats came from dirty water and contaminated air, and while those problems are still with us, they are now overshadowed by a risk Senator Nelson could not have anticipated: global warming.

Global warming is not an abstract concern for the people of Wisconsin - it will do serious damage. Most scientific models predict that water levels in the Great Lakes will decline as a result of global warming. Lower lakes will make it more difficult to ship goods out of our region and around the world. Global warming will cost jobs in factories across the state, and the evaporation of the maritime industry will have a profound impact on the economies of our waterfront cities.

Global warming will also threaten aquatic life in the Great Lakes. Warming temperatures will deplete oxygen from deeper portions of the lakes, making it hard for fish to survive. The commercial and sport fishing industry will take an economic hit as a result.

As temperatures rise due to global warming, our forests - and the industries that rely on them - will be affected. Forest fires and invasive pests - like the emerald ash borer - that destroy tree species could become more prevalent. As a businessman, I'm concerned about the affects this will have on the paper and forestry industry that supports roughly 70,000 jobs in Wisconsin.

Global warming will also have an impact on our state's tourism industry. Wisconsin's forests, which cover nearly half its land area, provide recreational activities for hikers, skiers, snowmobilers and hunters. Communities throughout Wisconsin rely on this economic activity to fill their hotel rooms and eat at their restaurants. Without these tourists, many of these communities will suffer.

I believe Wisconsin is uniquely positioned to help solve global warming and reap economic benefits by pursuing a new energy future.

This means generating our energy from clean sources like wind and biomass. It means saving consumers money on their gas and heating bills by using energy more efficiently. It means tapping our research and manufacturing base in Wisconsin to develop the next generation of clean energy solutions. And it means creating thousands of new green jobs in Wisconsin to develop and install these technologies.

Wisconsin has already committed to actions that will reduce its carbon emissions, including adopting a renewable electricity standard. We should not stop there. We can also drive more fuel efficient vehicles, use energy efficient appliances in our homes, and replace street lights and stop lights with energy efficient light bulbs. This would save energy, reduce the demand for electricity, and make Wisconsin a better place to live.

The changes to our environment are real. Each week there are new studies released on climate change that illustrate the impact it is having on the world. Earth Day brings these issues to light so that we can continue to find solutions to today's environmental and energy problems.


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