By Janette Rosenbaum, 350 Madison
In November 2018, Wisconsinites will vote for a governor. This post is the thirteenth in a series on the environmental views of the candidates. This series is for information only. 350 Madison does not officially support any candidate.
What are the most important issues that you would take on if you were elected governor?
“The first and foremost issue that I want to take on as an Independent is the state of polarization that the two parties are in right now,” said Maggie Turnbull, whose candidacy is not associated with any political party. All the way back in the late 1700s, John Adams foresaw a time when partisanship would render our government incapable of taking any action, Turnbull told us. “We are getting to that point – in fact, I would say we’re past that point – where the two parties cannot work together.”
The effect is that whichever party has the majority – even if it’s a tiny majority – gets to make all the rules. Our elected officials no longer invest in forming relationships or building consensus across party lines. The result is a lack of compromise, which leaves half of voters feeling “completely marginalized” with every bill that passes.
Turnbull told us that she wants to “function as an adult in the room with our state legislature,” forcing senators and representatives to put together more than a simple majority. “I can use my extremely powerful veto power,” Turnbull said, “which is so powerful right now” because neither the Democrats nor the Republicans in Wisconsin’s state legislature are currently in a position to overcome a veto without some support from the other side of the aisle.
Turnbull acknowledged that forcing the two major parties to work together might slow down “the rate at which changes are made from the state level,” but those changes that do get made “will be more sustainable over the long term.” We’ll spend less time moving backwards or “swinging back and forth between two extremes,” and will instead be able to make steady, incremental progress towards a goal. The new approach will put an end to “the roller coaster of temporary successes followed by crushing defeats,” Turnbull summarized.
That’s a process issue. What political issues would you tackle first after establishing this new bipartisan way of doing things?
“I really want to try to build our economy from within,” Turnbull told us. Without naming names, she mentioned that Wisconsin is currently offering tax incentives and overruling environmental regulations in order to recruit out-of-state companies that promise to create 13,000 jobs. This approach “creates an environment where we’re going to be beholden to one company for all of these jobs, and that gives that one company a lot of power to tell us what to do, because we’ll be so worried about losing them and losing all those jobs.” Turnbull pointed out that unemployment in Wisconsin is fairly low right now, so “bringing in a giant package of jobs … isn’t what our economy needs right now anyway.”
Instead, Turnbull said, we should be investing in a diverse network of small, homegrown businesses all over the state. This way, if one industry suffers, there will still be job openings in other industries.
In addition, Turnbull said, we should “identify the communities that have some room to grow, so Wisconsin’s growth pattern can be smoothed out a bit.” Madison and Milwaukee, already the state’s biggest cities, are growing the fastest, and their infrastructure is becoming strained.
Under this agenda item, Turnbull would focus first on towns that have already conducted community revitalization studies, and have made plans for rebuilding their downtowns and creating new greenspaces. Turnbull would analyze those plans on a cost-benefit basis, choose the best ones, and invest state funds in bringing those plans to fruition.
Turnbull pointed out that both she and her running mate are fiscal conservatives. But Wisconsin has a healthy budget right now, and by prioritizing local economies, our state can accomplish a lot without raising taxes on its citizens.
Where would you rate environmental issues on your priority list?
“Very, very high,” Turnbull said bluntly, “because we’ve already seen so much climate change.”
Turnbull, an astrophysicist who works with NASA to search for “planets like ours” in neighboring star systems, has also worked with climate scientists at the University of Wisconsin to learn about how our own planet functions.
“These people understand how the planet works,” Turnbull said of her UW colleagues. Their research leaves no doubt that Wisconsin’s climate has changed dramatically over the past 100 years, especially in the northern part of the state. “Up north, the warming of the lakes is very serious,” Turnbull said. Meanwhile, over the past 30 years, southern Wisconsin has seen an extra 21 days a year with temperatures above 90 degrees.
We need to prepare for climate change, Turnbull said, as growing seasons shift, hardiness zones move, and extreme weather events happen more frequently. We need to take action to prevent rainstorms and floods from carrying away topsoil, pushing pollutants into waterways, and wiping out small towns.
In addition to proposing simple fixes to existing systems, like raising bridges and making culverts bigger, Turnbull said, “I would also like to stop making the problem worse.” One way she would do this is by “really amping up Wisconsin’s renewable energy generation.” Another potential solution is to have fewer large expanses of unshaded concrete – i.e., conventional parking lots. “Why can’t those be covered with solar panel shadeways… and generate power for the big box stores,” Turnbull asked, “as well as provide shade and comfort for those of us who are patronizing those stores?”
Thinking bigger and more long-term, Turnbull pointed out that the population is growing, and we need to pay attention to how we are constructing the buildings people will live and work in. “Let’s make sure that the building code includes passive solar heating, and passive cooling too,” Turnbull said. We should stop designing buildings that ignore the changing of the seasons and the movements of the sun. “These are things we could really take advantage of to lower our energy usage and our consumption,” Turnbull said, adding that all new buildings should have LEED certification.
Won’t we just move to another planet?
“Not any time soon,” Turnbull said, in response to 350 Madison’s halfway-joking question. “Planet Earth is where it’s at for me. The more I learn about the universe, the more I realize how precious this planet is.”
Turnbull spoke about the importance of getting kids outside and interacting with nature from a very young age, to ensure they would grow up to appreciate the ecology and environment that we have here on Earth.
We, and all the other life on this planet, are connected to the Earth through 4.5 billion years of evolution, Turnbull concluded, and the idea that we could just go somewhere else is “kind of fantastical.”
Within the broad topic of the environment, what do you think are the most important issues?
“One of the most important,” Turnbull began, “I would say the most important, actually – is protecting our waterways, protecting our groundwaters and our water supply and our surface waters with rivers and lakes.” Threats to our waterways include invasive species, the warming of the lakes, the effects of this warming on fish populations and the fishing industry, and runoff from farms “that is just fueling the fire with making invasive species worse and triggering toxic algae blooms.”
If Turnbull suddenly found herself in office with the power to unilaterally accomplish just one thing, she would “buffer every single river and lake from runoff from the agricultural industry.” This would keep topsoil in fields, where it belongs, and would make sure that nutrients applied to fields “do not end up in our waterways, because that throws off the entire balance of the lakes and rivers.”
Under a Turnbull administration, farmers would not be allowed to “plant corn all the way up to the edge of a river.” What can go on the shoreline instead? “I want to see those buffers filled with pollinator plants,” Turnbull said, “so all the migratory insects and birds can get through this massive corn belt.”
“Working with farmers to really, really shore up – literally shore up – the waterways would be my number-one thing that I would want to tackle,” Turnbull concluded.
Magic wands aside, Turnbull named climate change as another issue in need of urgent action. Even if we stop emitting greenhouse gases right now, the scientist reminded us, significant climate change is already on its way. “That’s going to happen, no matter what, over the next two, three, four decades.”
And what would be the effects of this? “We may suffer a total loss of brook trout by the middle of the century in Wisconsin, and end up with a bass population instead.” That would have downstream effects on tourism, recreation, and Wisconsin’s $2 billion fishing industry.
Tree species are also headed out of Wisconsin, following the northward movement of hardiness zones. Some of our cold-loving tree species are already departing, Turnbull noted, and will need to be replaced with species that prefer warmer weather.
Finally, Turnbull wondered what would happen if Wisconsin could no longer count on getting snow every year. “What are we going to do with ourselves in the winter?” she asked. “How can we build an economy that is thriving all year round?”
Where would you rate climate change on your priority list?
“That’s going to have to inform every single thing we do,” Turnbull said, citing forestry, agriculture, and the building trades as industries that will be especially affected by climate change. Architects and construction workers will have to be smarter about using trees around buildings for shade and cooling, while farmers will have to figure out how to get good yields despite an increasing number of high-ozone days, and other challenging growing conditions.
“Climate change is the backdrop for all of our policy-making moving forward,” Turnbull told us.
If you were elected governor, what would you do to address climate change, and how soon would you do it?
“The first thing I would want to do is reinstate science into the Department of Natural Resources,” Turnbull said, “to make sure that there is a strong science council that is informing the DNR’s policies.” Turnbull would make the DNR independent again, and would ensure that policies were both based on science and seriously enforced.
Turnbull would also subject major development projects to more environmental scrutiny. “You have to think about the environmental consequences of these kinds of projects,” she said, specifically mentioning the importance of formal Environmental Impact Assessments. “We can still do these projects, but we want to do them intelligently, and make sure they’re not going to trigger really expensive environmental consequences. We’re smart enough that we can figure that out.”
Do you know what Line 61 is?
Turnbull couldn’t answer 350 Madison’s pop quiz question, and was similarly stumped by “What is Enbridge?” When asked “What is tar sands?”, Turnbull tried to answer, then decided it was better to be honest: “Okay, never mind. I don’t know what they are.”
After learning that Line 61 is an Enbridge-owned pipeline that carries toxic tar sands oil across the state of Wisconsin, Turnbull expressed little faith that either a Republican or Democratic governor would do anything about it, commenting, “This is the kind of thing that both parties are in on.”
“What I would like to do,” said the Independent candidate, “is just shine a light on the fact that this exists, and it’s happening, and bring it to the attention of Wisconsin voters.”
Turnbull expressed her intention to learn more about Line 61. She acknowledged that she doesn’t know everything, but pointed to her experience assembling and collaborating with teams of people who collectively know a lot.
“I would say that the future of our society really depends on our ability to increasingly work with nature, not against it,” said Turnbull. “Being able to use our natural resources in a sustainable way is one piece of that.”
How are we going to achieve this sustainability? Turnbull promised she would not “declare war” on people who worry more about jobs than about the environment. What she would target is the “us vs. them mentality” of our current governmental system, “because that results in the destruction not just of our relationships with each other, but our entire world, including the natural environment around us.”
Turnbull’s parting thought? “We are in this together.”