Weather Update: Talking About Climate Change

Air Date:
Heard On The Larry Meiller Show

The Weather Guys share their thoughts on a recent ban about discussing climate change that has been imposed on some Wisconsin public servants. Plus, answers to your weather questions.

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  • Weather Experts: There Should Be More Talk About Climate Change, Not Less

    Earlier this month, the question arose of whether climate change should be in the scope of some Wisconsin public employees’ work. For two weather experts at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, the answer is clear: Climate change needs to be talked about more, not less.

    On April 8, a state public lands board effectively banned its employees from working on or discussing climate change. The ban was passed after a commissioner learned that Tia Nelson — the board’s executive secretary and daughter of former Wisconsin governor and Earth Day founder Gaylord Nelson — had served on a climate change task force under former Gov. Jim Doyle.

    Proponents of the ban include Attorney General Brad Schimel, who also serves on the lands board. He likened the measure to a restriction on engaging in political activity while on state time.

    Steve Ackerman does not find the parallel convincing. The professor of atmospheric sciences and director of the Cooperative Institute for Meteorological Satellite Studies at UW-Madison said that he can understand the expectation that employees focus on their work at hand. However, he said that the ban goes much further.

    “To ban words, and particularly in that job, where you’re looking at our resources and we know that the climate is changing in this area, that’s going to impact our resources, that’s going to impact our economy, it’s going to impact our culture. And you can’t just pretend that it’s not there,” Ackerman said.

    Jon Martin, a professor of Atmospheric and Oceanic Sciences at UW-Madison, compared the situation to another one that arose in the early 20th century. Martin said that before the 1950s, the National Weather Service banned use of the word “tornado” in weather forecasts — despite the fact that there had been extensive research done in the late part of the 19th century on what factors made for tornado conditions.

    “The idea was that the panic that might ensue in the general populace upon hearing this word ‘tornado’ would be more devastating than the tornado itself, which is an absolutely ridiculous proposition,” Martin said.

    While the current situation in Wisconsin may not have such directly dangerous consequences, Martin said that it should not go unchallenged.

    “You just can’t help but draw a parallel between that sordid story from the past and what’s happening right now around the country. It isn’t just in Wisconsin, and in fact it’s not as acute in Wisconsin as it is in places like Florida and Texas,” Martin said.

    Added Ackerman: “It makes so much more sense to educate people about what these terms mean … We should not ban words, we should not ban books. We should have intellectual conversations.”

Episode Credits

  • Larry Meiller Host
  • Judith Siers-Poisson Producer
  • Steve Ackerman Guest
  • Jon Martin Guest

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