Subscribe for 33¢ / day
Marianne Cotter cutout

In the movies and in real life, smoking cigarettes used to be much more common. When entering a restaurant, the hostess would ask “do you prefer the smoking or non-smoking section?” Airplanes had little lights that went on when the plane reached a sufficient altitude and it was OK to smoke again. Ashtrays were a fixture in most living rooms.

Things began to change in the mid-1960s when warning labels from the Surgeon General started appearing on cigarette packages. The hazards of second-hand smoke became more widely known. In July 2010, a Wisconsin law requiring all workplaces be smoke free went into effect. Smoking no longer was a relatively harmless habit. It became a public health problem.

Years ago climate change was portrayed as something only those crazy, kale-eating “green” types cared about. But that’s changing. Here in Sauk County, people are recognizing this as an issue of public health. On Feb. 4, at the Plain Kraemer Library and Community Center, more than 40 people from law enforcement, emergency management, fire departments, county governments, local municipalities, schools, hospitals and the faith community gathered to talk about building local capacity to address climate effects.

The health department received a mini-grant from the Wisconsin Department of Health called Building Resistance Against Climate Effects. Sauk County was one of three Wisconsin counties that received funds in 2016 to study climate effects and their potential impact on our community. A speaker from the Wisconsin Department of Health Services gave an overview of global climate data as it pertains to Wisconsin discussing that Wisconsin has been getting warmer; we’ve been getting more precipitation; less snow cover, more freezing rain and ice storms in the future and the growing season in Wisconsin is getting longer.

Attendees worked in small groups to identify the likely public health concerns arising from a changing climate. The impact on mental health was the no. 1 concern due to stress, depression and anxiety resulting from extreme weather events. Nos. 2, 3 and 4 were impact on those with chronic diseases, injuries and waterborne illness. Sauk County Preparedness Coordinator Cassidy Walsh led a follow-up meeting Dec. 8, summarizing the final report of the BRACE grant. One of many actions steps is making sure every county resident knows about the 211 help line they can call for emergency help with housing, food and shelter. Also, anyone with text capability can text their zip code to 888777 and that will connect them to the “Nixle” emergency system. Residents then receive emergency alerts and updates via text message.

In a practical, quiet and unobtrusive way, we’re in the middle of an evolution in our thinking about climate change. Here in Sauk County, from what I see, we are doing it quietly, avoiding the sometimes contentious political debate over the issue. The amount of carbon we put in the air through burning of fossil fuels no longer is a harmless habit we can enjoy without thinking about it. There are real impacts to the health and well being of our neighbors.

Marianne Cotter is the Pastor of First United Methodist Church in Baraboo.