While the current administration largely ignores or denies the current and future impacts of climate change on people across the United States, candidates running for president have taken a different tack. Indeed, from their very first stops in Iowa more than a year ago, nearly every candidate for president has made commitments to re-enter the Paris Climate Agreement and reduce U.S. greenhouse gas emissions.
In the Hawkeye State, the focus on climate change by presidential candidates reflects the reality of what Iowans have already begun to experience. Just this past year, the flooding of both the Mississippi and Missouri Rivers had devastating effects on communities and farms. This flooding resulted from record setting precipitation amounts, likely amplified by climate change, across the Midwest for the period May of 2018 to April of 2019. In addition to increased precipitation, Iowans are also experiencing higher humidity and warmer temperatures, particularly at night. The Iowa Climate Statement, released in September, suggests that the number of days in Iowa above 90°F degrees will almost triple by 2050, and that the hottest days of the year will increase from an average of 92°F to an average of 98°F. These extreme temperatures will have devastating consequences for Iowans, especially those who work outside, as well as the animals and crops upon which many people base their livelihoods.
Fortunately, each candidate who will be considered during Democratic caucuses across Iowa on Feb. 3 has a plan to address climate change, though some are more detailed than others. As we enter into the final weeks of the campaign, the onus is not on the candidates, but on us, to evaluate these plans for their merit, their feasibility, and what they say about the candidates as leaders who must place the U.S. at the forefront of the global fight to combat climate change.
If you are undecided on who to caucus for, I encourage you to use climate change action as one of the pillar issues upon which to evaluate candidates. If you are committed to a candidate, use your candidate’s climate action plan as a selling point with your neighbors and friends between now and the caucuses — and during your caucus to persuade those voters whose candidates may not have reached the 15 percent threshold.
As I go to the caucus on Feb. 3, it will be almost exactly one month before I defend my Ph.D. in climate science at Iowa State University. I look forward to standing with my fellow Iowans and caucusing for a candidate who has the vision and leadership necessary to combat climate change, one of the greatest threats facing the U.S., and the world, today.
Nina Whitney is a Ph.D. candidate at Iowa State University in the Department of Geological and Atmospheric Sciences.