116 3rd St SE
Cedar Rapids, Iowa 52401
Talk about being stuck between the proverbial rock and a hard place. There could be no more apt description of the plight of Iowa farmers.
A recent Des Moines Register poll found that among those who make their living working Iowa’s super fertile soil, 81 percent believe our climate is changing but only 18 percent accept the overwhelming scientific evidence that humans are the cause.
Why the disparity? On the one hand, farmers are experiencing firsthand that long-term weather patterns are changing, changes that increasingly threaten not only their livelihoods, but the viability of the farms they hope to leave to their children and grandchildren as well.
On the other hand, like all of us, Iowa farmers are under the sway of their political tribe. And given that their tribe is primarily conservative, they are encouraged to embrace the narrative pushed by the oil industry that the evidence linking human activity and climate change is inconclusive.
Where does this leave farmers? With a monumental problem and no solution.
After all, to solve a problem effectively, you must understand the cause. Take asbestos for instance. In the early 1900s, doctors began to notice a large number of deaths and severe lung problems in asbestos-mining towns. But it wasn’t until scientific research established the link between asbestos and these diseases that action was taken to protect miners, construction workers, and ultimately the public.
Similarly, in the early 1980’s scientists realized that earth’s ozone layer, which protects life on our planet from the sun’s cancer-causing ultraviolet rays, was dramatically shrinking. But it wasn’t until scientific research clearly established that our prolific use of Hydrofluorocarbons (HFC s) and Perfluorocarbons (PFCs) was the cause that federal action was taken to stop the damage.
In these and innumerable other examples, respecting the conclusions of science has lead to solutions that have prevented countless human deaths and untold suffering.
So why is it then that most farmers seem so quick to reject the repeatedly tested conclusion of the world’s climate scientist that human activity – specifically our use of fossil fuels – is the cause of their ever worsening climate problems?
How’s this for starters? The fossil fuel industry has spent hundreds of millions of dollars in a brilliantly organized campaign to undermine public confidence in climate science and delay the kind of bold federal action that represents our only hope of averting a full-fledged climate catastrophe. This has included elevating the status of climate change denial – specifically the rejection of human activity as the cause – to the same level as other deeply held conservative beliefs.
Just this week, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration reported that heat-trapping carbon dioxide levels are now higher than they have been in 4,000,000 years, even after more than a year of a COVID-induced global economic recession. And with business returning to normal, all indicators suggest that the droughts and floods that threaten Iowa farms are not just going to get worse, but worsen at an ever-accelerating rate.
So what are farmers to do, trust the science that has averted so much suffering and death and demand bold climate action from government leaders, or tow the party line and leave their family farms and the future of their children and grandchildren exposed to unprecedented peril? Not an easy choice to be sure, but one that cannot be avoided any longer.
Jonas Magram is a longtime climate activist, businessman, community volunteer and musician. He lives in Fairfield.