A pier on Monona Bay is submerged during high lake levels following torrential downpours in August 2018.

Preston Cole, secretary of the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources, told those attending a forum in Madison Tuesday that climate change is inevitable and that the DNR needs to make informed decision to “protect our investment into the future.”

The four-day National Adaptation Forum, which began Tuesday at Monona Terrace, gathers members of the climate change adaptation community to share expertise and guidance on how to anticipate and prepare for the potential impacts of climate change.

“We can begin to have that conversation once again about climate change being the real deal,” Cole said.

Under former governor Scott Walker’s administration, the DNR removed information related to climate change from its website.

With thoughtful adaptation strategies, Cole said the state can plan for the risks to human health that come from climate change. For example, increased flooding can mean greater vigilance in monitoring the exposures to bacteria and toxins in rainwater.

Cole also pledged his commitment to addressing how climate change can disproportionately affect vulnerable populations.

“Climate change is also an environmental justice issue,” Cole said. “Everyone is affected by climate change at some point in their lives, but communities of color, low income communities are often the hardest hit.”

At the regional level, Dane County Executive Joe Parisi shared work that the county is doing to prevent and mitigate climate change. The 2019 budget includes over $18 million in mitigation efforts.

Parisi explained how the county has partnered with Madison Gas & Electric to build a solar farm on property at the airport and creates compressed natural gas from the landfill. On Monday, the county announced a $750,000 pilot program that offers cash incentives to farmers who convert their land grow crops that reduce runoff.

Despite the inaction of the federal government, Parisi said Dane County cannot afford to stall work on climate change.

“It’s on us in local government to protect our communities, to mitigate where possible and to work at full speeds to reduce our community’s carbon emissions before it’s too late,” Parisi said.

Addressing climate change was a major component of recently elected Madison Mayor Satya Rhodes-Conway's campaign for office. She said the city learned from the flooding in August 2018 that community resilience is a significant part of the city’s climate change challenges.

“Adaptation is critical to the city of Madison,” Rhodes-Conway said.

Rhodes-Conway underscored the importance of partnership and listening communities of color and low-income communities, who are “hit first and worst” by climate change.

“Tackling the issue of climate change is a top priority of my administration,” Rhodes-Conway said.

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