As we start another legislative session, the fourth National Climate Assessment is too valuable to be ignored. In it, more than 300 scientists and 13 federal agencies — including the departments of the Interior, Energy, Commerce, Transportation and Agriculture — explain how “the potential for (economic) losses in some sectors could reach hundreds of billions of dollars per year by the end of this century.”
Here in the Midwest, the report details how increasing precipitation, especially heavy rainfall, has upped the flood risk for the network of highways, railroads, airports and navigable rivers that transport our region’s goods and commodities to market. Along with projected precipitation changes, rising extreme temperatures before midcentury will reduce Midwestern agricultural productivity to 1980s levels without major technological advances.
I’m a resident of rural Iowa and a small-business owner who spent nine years as a Navy SEAL. I read the report closely, and I take its findings seriously. I view climate change as the central economic and environmental challenge of our time. This is especially true after news broke this week that global carbon emissions have reached record levels, dashing hopes that we had turned the corner when emissions leveled off between 2014 and 2016.
Regular Iowans like you and me should speak up and demand our elected officials stop trying to pull the wool over our eyes on climate change. We can call upon them to enable the business community to transform climate change from an unprecedented economic threat into a generational economic opportunity.
We can start by calling upon the new Congress to make climate change a priority again. Congress can halt the Trump administration’s planned rollbacks of common-sense policies that would cut emissions from cars and power plants and increase energy efficiency in our appliances, homes and buildings.
There’s work to be done at the state level, too. Iowa lawmakers can repair the economic damage caused by rolling back energy efficiency standards during the last legislative session. By passing Senate File 2311 in the spring, the legislature undermined decades of bipartisan efforts on energy efficiency legislation — and put consumer energy savings and private-sector jobs at risk.
According to the Clean Jobs Midwest report from the national business group E2 (Environmental Entrepreneurs), there are now more than 30,500 clean energy jobs in Iowa. Nearly two out of three jobs are in energy efficiency, along with thousands of jobs in renewable energy. As E2 noted, Iowa renewable energy jobs grew 9.2 percent over the past year alone.
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I’ve witnessed this growth firsthand. In 2009, my wife Amy and I founded a solar energy company in Fairfield. We started with just the two of us. Now, we directly employ 30 people, with more in seasonal hires. On any given day at one of our southeastern Iowa worksites, our employees join contractors from other businesses — excavators, rental yards, landscapers, you name it — in building out the clean energy infrastructure that will power our economy for the next 100 years.
Let’s be clear: the National Climate Assessment the White House tried to sweep under the rug does not make for pleasant reading. But it’s an important report that demands the attention of all of us — including the business community and lawmakers from Washington to Des Moines.
Now isn’t the time to hide. It’s time to act.
• Troy Van Beek is a former Navy SEAL and founder of the Fairfield-based solar company Ideal Energy.