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 went on when the plan 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-1960’s 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 was no longer 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 February 4th, at the Plain Kraemer Library and Community Center, over 40 individuals from law enforcement, emergency management, fire departments, county governments, local municipalities, schools, hospital and the faith community gathered to talk about building local capacity to address climate effects. The health department received a mini grant by the Wisconsin Department of Health called BRACE (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: 1) Wisconsin has been getting warmer 2) we’ve been getting more precipitation 3) there will be less snow cover, more freezing rain and ice storms in the future, and the growing season in Wisconsin is gradually 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 number one concern (stress, depression and anxiety resulting from extreme weather events). Numbers two, three and four were impact on those with chronic diseases, injuries and waterborne illness. Sauk County Preparedness Coordinator Cassidy Walsh led a follow up meeting on December 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 you 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 you to the “Nixle” emergency system. You’ll then receive emergency alerts and updates via text message. (Refrigerator magnets with information about the 211 hot-line and Nixle emergency system are available on the table in Fellowship Hall).
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 is no longer a harmless habit we can enjoy without thinking about it. There are real impacts to the health and well being of our neighbors.
This article was published in the December 24, 2016 issue of the Baraboo News Republic.