Over the last seven months, a task force has been deliberating over what Wisconsin can do about climate change. A panel picked by the governor includes industry and tribal leaders, elected officials, and youth activists. Now, everyone in the state has a chance to weigh in.
The Governor’s Task Force on Climate Change came to life with Executive Order #52. It brought together a 31-member panel task force members who've been addressing a daunting mission in a series of meetings, starting late last year.
They’re expected to hammer out recommendations for the state, folding in everything from energy to housing to infrastructure, while creating a vision for a sustainable economy of the future.
So far, more than 600 Wisconsin residents have participated in meetings to share ideas with members of the Governor’s Task Force on Climate Change.
Last week, 160 people joined a virtual session on Zoom. Paul Daigle was an invited speaker. He shared how Marathon County is attempting to mitigate climate change by adjusting farming methods. Daigle, who heads the county’s land and water program, suggests the task force recommendations fold in farming systems that mimic nature.
"More perennial forages, managed grazing, cover crops on the contour with no-till farming into them, so that when the crop is removed we have green, growing vegetation underneath them. We cannot leave our soil bare any longer," Daigle says. "These practices that we’re promoting up here in north-central Wisconsin are applicable statewide – they’ll reduce carbon dioxide levels, temperatures extremes, sediment runoff, nutrient runoff by more than half."
Lauren Johnson listened to what Daigle and others had to say before offering her thoughts. The Madison high school student, who just turned 17, says her priorities include everyone being at the table as policy is being designed.
"First and foremost, I think we really need a comprehensive climate solution that's grounded in justice. Climate justice and clean energy is impossible without racial and economic justice. We need to be ambitious and fight for a green new deal and go carbon-free by 2030," Johnson says. "I think the discussion that we’ve just had has really highlighted the urgency and I don’t think we can afford to wait."
Another Madison resident, Victoria Gillet, believes climate change is both a social justice and public health crisis. The primary care physician says her patients are already being negatively impacted. And she expects that to continue if nothing changes.
"I’m gonna take care of more heatstroke from rising temperatures, I already see that; worsening lung disease from decreased air quality, already starting to see that; infectious disease from contaminated water; physical injury from severe storms and tropical diseases that are gonna become endemic to the United States. We’ve already seen that tick-borne diseases are having new areas of spread," Gillet says. "And that’s just the changes that I know that I’m gonna see in my practice in my personal community."
Yet, Gillet believes there is much Wisconsin can do to create a healthier future for all of its residents — including a transition from fossil fuels to renewable energy.
The two-hour conversation flowed back and forth from how best to generate power and to sustain farming and food production without contributing to climate change.
Patrick Pelky of the Oneida Nation shared how it farms 6500 acres while providing nutrition and jobs for its community.
"We developed this Oneida Community Integrated Food System where we actually look at the community and how we can help them and the families to really bring the community food systems from the fields to the tables; really look at educating and providing good jobs; promoting and encourage long-term solutions to not just on the farms but how you bring nutritional values to our community," Pelky says.
The task force recommendation on how Wisconsin can address climate change is due to the governor’s desk by the end of October.
If the panel heeds the concerns of many of those weighing in so far, the recommendations will be bold and feature solutions informed by social justice.
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