Polk Burnett Indivisible members were on the road the last weekend in April, some headed all the way to our nation’s capital, while others traveled to Duluth and the Twin Cities. The destination in each case was the People’s Climate March on April 29th, a chance to say yes to the U.S. remaining in Paris Climate Agreement, signed by 197 nations in 2015, and a resounding no to the climate policies of the Trump administration and EPA administrator Scott Pruitt.
Weather and climate have been on a lot of folks minds these last many years. If you lived through the “land hurricane” of 2011 in Burnett County, you undoubtedly remember the sustained 110 mph winds that mowed down thousands of acres of forest land and crushed houses and cars. Last July 11th, 8 inches of rain fell in 7 hours over Burnett County and flooding was widespread in the north. This past March, Minnesota broke its record for the earliest tornado ever, not by a day or a week, but by twelve days. The American Birkebeiner, North America’s largest ski race, was cancelled after five consecutive days of record-setting warmth and rainstorms across northern Wisconsin (including Polk and Burnett counties) this past February. And for a twenty-six hour period spanning March 6th and 7th of this year, winds blew consistently from 45 to 55 miles per hour in our area, downing trees, causing power outages and making life outside just plain miserable.
These extreme weather events, which climate scientists say are the result of more heat and humidity in the atmosphere, were on the minds of PBI members as they raised their voices as part of the throng of 200,000 in Washington, D.C. and at the satellite marches closer to home. Mary Bjorgaard of Danbury was one of those who made the trek all the way to our nation’s capital. After going online to check out busing options, she and others ended up connecting with the Minnesota 350 group, part of the nationwide 350.org movement, which was sending 6 buses to D.C. at different times during the week.
She chose the “Quick Bus,” which left Minneapolis at 9 a.m. on Friday, driving through the night and arriving in D.C. on Saturday at 8 a.m. Twelve hours later, after the march and rally, it headed back to Minnesota, again driving through the night and arriving in Minneapolis by 5 p.m. Sunday evening. A tough grind, for sure, but it eliminated the need to find housing in D.C. while still putting her in town for the day’s events on Saturday.
“It was definitely worth it,” Bjorgaard said, tired but in high spirits last week back in her rural Danbury home. “It was heartening to see the outpouring of people of all ages, from diverse backgrounds, who made the sacrifice to get there and speak on behalf of those who will come after us. I have five grandchildren, and I consider acting on climate issues to be every bit as important as anything else I do as a grandmother.”
The science of climate change is pretty straightforward. For millions of years, the carbon that is present in all life has been sequestered, or stored, in layers in the Earth’s crust as that life has died and decomposed. But since the beginning of the industrial age, with the advent of the extractive industries, literally billions of tons of this carbon have been removed from that “storage” place and released into the atmosphere in a very short period of time geologically and at an accelerating pace.
Core drillings in Antarctica and other places have shown us what levels of carbon have existed in the Earth’s atmosphere going back to the beginnings of human life on Earth. Scientists have established that a level of 350 parts per million of carbon in the atmosphere is a sustainable level that will not adversely affect climate. Recently, we crossed over the 400 ppm threshold, higher than at any other time in human history, and the vast majority of climate scientists agree that this is the result of human activity, and that it is warming the planet and leading to higher sea levels, more unpredictable weather patterns and an increase in extreme weather events.
Meanwhile, back at home last week, PBI members mounted a last-ditch effort to try to stop the Trump-Ryan healthcare plan, activating the rapid response network that generated high call volumes to Representative Sean Duffy’s office. Callers cited a number of objections including cuts to Medicaid, tax reductions for the wealthy, greatly increased premiums for older Americans, and threats to coverage for those with pre-existing conditions. While the measure ultimately passed the House, members continue to hold out hope that the Senate will greatly modify the more extreme aspects of the bill. Senator Ron Johnson will undoubtedly hear a multitude of constituent concerns from our members over the next few weeks.
And, finally, a reminder that Northwest Wisconsin Speaks, a listening session with elected officials, is happening this Friday night, May 12, at 6:30 at the Siren Senior Center, on highway 35 just south of the intersection with highway 70 in Siren. Come to listen or to speak to your elected officials about whatever is on your mind, whether it’s what’s happening in Washington, Madison or your own neighborhood. Hope to see you there!