Evanson: Wisconsin’s dirty word


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Comedian George Carlin’s “The Seven Words You Can Never Say on Television” was iconic. In many ways it was a landmark discussion into the intricacies of what can and cannot be said on the radio airwaves and on television sets. Regardless of context, some words are just too “dirty” to be projected to the public. Going all the way to the Supreme Court, in 1978, the FCC was prompted to provide clearer and more specific guidelines as to what may be said to a mass audience.

Last week, the state of Wisconsin banned another dirty word (or in this case, a set of words).  This disgusting phrase was not mentioned in Carlin’s standup routine, but to some, it is just as vile as the “c-word” mentioned in his original 1972 monologue.

Climate change, now listed as [redacted], was banned by Wisconsin’s Board of Commissioners of Public Lands. The board voted 2-1 to ban all employees from discussing climate change and working on issues regarding climate change on the job. The agency oversees and manages 77,000 acres of state land, much of the land consisting of rural and heavily wooded areas that is used to finance public school libraries, the University of Wisconsin, and also gives loans to school districts for projects. With this enacted law, employees are now unable to respond to emails where constituents even mention the words “climate change” or “global warming.”

When pressed as to why the agency would ban such words, officials stated that the agency’s mission does not include issues of climate change and that it has nothing to do with what their day-to-day workings and job description. The state treasurer of Wisconsin spoke to reporters and asked, “Why would the staff have to talk about it?”

For the exact reason that it was banned, climate change must not be omitted, especially in this case where the employees are directly working with appropriating land uses and is involved with deforestation. As it pertains to the country as a whole, more than 61 percent of Americans agree that there is solid evidence backing claims of a warmer Earth. Even further, 97 percent of climate scientists as polled by NASA believe that climate-warming trends are caused by humans.

It is important to examine why laws and rules are enacted and what motivations prompted their existence in the first place. There is obviously some aura of fear among Wisconsin’s government agencies about the phrase “climate change.” You don’t just ban words you aren’t afraid of someone hearing.

In Carlin’s case, parents took it to the highest court in the land to keep their children from hearing naughty words. The board members in Wisconsin took it upon themselves to eliminate discussion of environmental climate change because of fear of its ruining their business operations. I mean, who would let a little environmental damage ruin a perfectly good profit margin?

Declining to discuss the matters that affect the environment is problematic. Banning words in a government agency is not the appropriate measure to take when their services specifically aim to serve the public at large.

To not consider possible repercussions of deforestation, to not answer emails from taxpaying citizens, to not account for environmental issues that are specific to appropriations at hand — is frankly a disservice.   

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