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An American challenge we must confront

U.S. Sen. Tammy Baldwin

In Wisconsin, we have a long and proud tradition of being a national leader on issues of our environment and conservation.

Throughout our history, Wisconsin has been home to environmental leaders who have worked to pass on a stronger environment to future generations — Aldo Leopold, John Muir and Sen. Gaylord Nelson, the founder of Earth Day.

This week, as communities across Wisconsin celebrate Earth Day, it is important to keep in mind Gaylord’s call to action in 1970, when he proclaimed: “Our goal is not just an environment of clean air and water and scenic beauty. The objective is an environment of decency, quality and mutual respect for all other human beings and all living creatures.”

Today, our nation and the world face the threat of global climate change. This is a challenge that we must confront and one that demands action.

Let there be no doubt, global climate change is real. It is a fact. The question is not whether climate change is occurring, but how our nation is going to take it on. And the question for this generation is; are we going to do all we can to leave the next generation a safer, healthier world?

The impact of climate change can be seen on agriculture, biodiversity, extreme weather and our Great Lakes.

Of particular concern to us in Wisconsin is the fact that climate change is causing big changes in both the Great Lakes ecosystem and economy. The Great Lakes are directly linked to 1.5 million U.S. jobs and $62 billion in annual U.S. wages, with many of these jobs in key industries that can be impacted by climate change.

In Wisconsin, our natural resources support over $5 billion of economic activity in the state’s economy. According to the American Sportfishing Association, recreational fishing alone brings in $350 million every year to Wisconsin’s Great Lakes coastal communities. So preserving the Great Lakes is not just an environmental goal, it is an economic necessity.

Climate change must be addressed to avert the most costly impacts to our infrastructure and economy. As global temperatures rise, extreme weather events — both hot and cold, both floods and droughts — are increasing. The most extreme events, such as weeks of heavy rainfalls, can cause flooding that overwhelms our storm water and wastewater treatment systems. This leads to water contamination and property damage. Climate change has also facilitated the growth of invasive species like Asian Carp, which pose a major threat to the ecology and economy of the Great Lakes by devastating the food chain and causing major damage to our ports, pipes and water infrastructure.

To respond to these challenges, I support the Great Lakes Restoration Initiative, a cooperative inter-agency initiative to protect and restore the integrity of the Great Lakes, including a focus on invasive species. In addition, I cosponsored the Great Lakes Economic and Ecological Protection Act to expand this important work of protecting fragile Great Lakes habitats, improving water quality, and removing contaminated sediments at more than 30 sites.

The threat of climate change to our Great Lakes industry is one of the reasons I supported the Water Resources Development Act, which passed the Senate in May 2013 and is moving forward for passage by the full Congress in the coming months. In this bill, I fought for funds to support the health of the Great Lakes because we know the investments we make today will not only protect these valuable waters, but they will strengthen our environment and our economy.

As I have traveled the state, I have developed a rich appreciation for Wisconsin’s proud tradition of making environmental protection and conservation a top priority for our country. I take very seriously the responsibility to carry on this proud tradition.

I have had the opportunity to visit Bayfield and Ashland, our ports in Superior and Green Bay, and see first-hand the exciting work by the Water Council at the Global Water Center in Milwaukee. From Lake Superior to the Manitowoc Maritime Museum, to the fresh coast in Milwaukee, we know that our Great Lakes are a great asset for our quality of life but also for our long-term economic security.

Confronting the challenge of climate change, making smart investments in clean waters, and maintaining our harbors can help generate business development, support research opportunities related to water and technology, and drive industry both now and in the long-term.

Our state motto is one word — “Forward.” We have never been afraid of the challenges we face, or what the future holds. We have a strong progressive tradition of confronting our challenges and working together to shape our future, to build a stronger future for the next generation.

Taking action on climate change will help us build that stronger future. Taking action on climate change will help us carry on our proud American “can do” tradition. And most importantly, taking action on climate change will ensure that we keep our promise to future generations to confront today’s challenges and pass on a world better than we found it.

U.S. Sen Tammy Baldwin represents Wisconsin.