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Scientists: Iowans need to ask presidential candidates about climate change

'It is not an issue that can be ignored'

(From left to right) Gene Takle, director of Iowa State University’s Climate Science Program and ISU Professor of Geological & Atmospheric Sciences; Yogesh Shah, associate dean in Des Moines University’s, Department of Global Health; David Courard-Hauri, associate professor in Drake University’s Environmental Science and Policy Program; Diane Debinski, ISU professor of Ecology, Evolution, and Organismal Biology; and  Chris Anderson, ISU Research Assistant Professor and assistant director of the ISU Climate  Science Program; hold a Statehouse news conference Monday to release the fifth annual Iowa climate statement signed by 188 science faculty and research staff from 39 Iowa colleges and universities. (Rod Boshart / The Gazette)
(From left to right) Gene Takle, director of Iowa State University’s Climate Science Program and ISU Professor of Geological & Atmospheric Sciences; Yogesh Shah, associate dean in Des Moines University’s, Department of Global Health; David Courard-Hauri, associate professor in Drake University’s Environmental Science and Policy Program; Diane Debinski, ISU professor of Ecology, Evolution, and Organismal Biology; and Chris Anderson, ISU Research Assistant Professor and assistant director of the ISU Climate Science Program; hold a Statehouse news conference Monday to release the fifth annual Iowa climate statement signed by 188 science faculty and research staff from 39 Iowa colleges and universities. (Rod Boshart / The Gazette)

DES MOINES — A coalition of Iowa scientists issued a statement Monday declaring that the impacts of climate change are real and calling upon Iowans, as residents of the first-in-the-nation caucus state, to quiz presidential candidates on policies they will support to address a critical public issue.

The joint statement issued by 188 researchers and scientists at 39 Iowa colleges and universities warned of environmental and health consequences of climate change in the form of negative health effects for people via respiratory conditions, allergies, insect-borne illnesses and other problems that are expected to get worse if corrective action is not taken.

“Climate change is affecting Iowans and will continue to affect us in increasingly significant ways,” said David Courard‐Hauri, an associate professor who directs the Environmental Science and Policy Program at Drake University. “It is not an issue that can be ignored.”

Courard-Hauri said the goal of the Iowa scientists is to clearly communicate the expected impacts of climate change and to ensure that decisions made to address the issue are based upon accurate, current scientific information.

“Iowans are experiencing real impacts from climate change, including heavier rains, increased flooding and negative effects on human health,” said, Chris Anderson, assistant director of Iowa State University’s Climate Science Program. “It is time to hear directly from presidential candidates their ideas for addressing this critical issue.”

Anderson, an ISU research assistant professor, said 13,950 peer-reviewed scientific publications have been produced that point to humans as the primary cause of climate affects while 24 have not seen the presence of human-caused climate change.

“Iowa Climate Statement 2015: Time for Action,” the fifth annual statement issued by Iowa scientists and researchers, was issued at a Statehouse news conference where lead authors said they were not interested in telling Iowans who to vote for but stressed the need to elevate climate change in the national discussion.

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“The upcoming Iowa caucuses provide Iowans with a unique opportunity to bring their questions about the need for climate action into the national conversation,” said Courard‐Hauri. “As presidential candidates come to our state to ask Iowans for their votes, Iowans should ask these candidates how they will address the negative impacts that Iowa farmers and communities have and will continue to experience.”

According to the joint statement, humans are adding heat trapping gases to the atmosphere that are a major contributor to climate change, which already is having significant effects on Iowans economically, socially, and psychologically that are expected to intensify.

They also noted there is “clear evidence” that the frequency of intense rain has increased in Iowa over the past 50 years and that natural systems are responding to the increase in the global average temperature with a northward expansion of species that could disrupt natural ecosystems and introduce new agricultural pests and diseases.

The changes are expected to lead to negative health effects for Iowans, including the direct impacts of flooding, stresses on the heart and lungs, allergens that are more abundant and have a longer season, and the spread of diseases carried by organisms like mosquitoes and ticks, they added.

“There are policies and practices that, if implemented, would help Iowans adapt to climate change in the short term and avoid unmanageable consequences in the long term,” said Yogi Shah, associate dean of Des Moines University’s Department of Global Health. “We recognize the important responsibility Iowans have in the process of vetting presidential candidates and we strongly encourage all Iowans to ask them what specific policies they will advocate to address climate change in Iowa,” Shah added.

Gene Takle, director of ISU’s Climate Science Program and a professor of geological and atmospheric sciences, said former President Abraham Lincoln established the National Academy of Science for the purpose of informing Congress and Americans about scientific matters and the academy.

That academy has “said climate change is real and humans are responsible for a large portion of that. If the present class of candidates chooses to ignore science, then the public needs to know about that,” Takle noted. “Once you start saying I’m going to choose which science, then it’s a slippery slope. Where do you draw the line? We’re fulfilling our obligations as scientists.”

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