Guest Columnist

Denying the truth of climate change hurts Iowa's farmers

Rye grass cover crop grows in between rows of vegetables at the Johnson County Poor Farm in Iowa City on Wednesday, June
Rye grass cover crop grows in between rows of vegetables at the Johnson County Poor Farm in Iowa City on Wednesday, June 7, 2017. The farm has expanded its growing space, added a storage cooler, and leaders hope it continues to grow. (Rebecca F. Miller/The Gazette)

Farmers know all too well the price of our national failure to address climate change.

According to Iowa farm organizations, historic flooding cost our state more than $2 billion in damages in 2019. All across Iowa, farmers are still recovering from this heartbreaking catastrophe with farmers losing millions in damaged crops and experts estimating that it could take years for much of our farm ground to recover.

While my farm in Polk County and many others in central Iowa were not as directly hit by last year’s flooding, it has become increasingly difficult to plant and harvest due to extreme weather — made more intense and frequent by climate change — in the fall and spring. Farmers are tied to their land, and we are living with this very real threat each and every day.

I’m a fifth-generation farmer, and my children want to be the sixth. In order to make this possible, we need to take action on climate change now. That starts with a plan to reduce the carbon pollution that is contributing to climate change and to encourage and compensate farmers to create living soils.

This makes it all the more disappointing that President Trump spoke for 78 minutes this week during the State of the Union without mentioning two words: climate change. While the President has made clear he has no real plan to address climate change, his administration has worked to roll back nearly 95 public health and environmental protections.

He’s proposed slashing the EPA’s budget, leaving the agency unable to monitor big polluters. He continues to ignore established science, while at the same time, removing scientists from key agencies that oversee our health and environment. He has sided with big oil over renewable fuels again and again.

From 2007 to 2016, our state saw a total of 21 extreme weather events, including droughts, flooding and severe storms, that caused more than $1 billion in economic losses. Iowans can’t afford our leaders not having a plan to address climate change. While some of our Congressional delegation has shown they are ready to act on climate, our junior Senator, Joni Ernst, does not acknowledge the real risks climate change poses.

Too often Ernst has maintained that climate change, even after last year’s flooding, has had no bearing on extreme weather, and her record shows that she is in denial about the climate crisis. Ernst voted to uphold the so-called Affordable Clean Energy (ACE) rule, which in reality does nothing to curb carbon pollution but instead slows our transition to cleaner sources of energy. Additionally, Ernst supported the toxic nomination of Andrew Wheeler to be EPA Administrator.

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Rather than ignore the threat of climate change, Ernst can act on climate by supporting our growing clean economy. Iowa already has over 31,000 clean energy jobs, with nearly 4,000 Iowans working in wind generation, which is the state’s leading renewables sub-sector.

Clean energy technologies stand to benefit rural Iowans as well. Wind developers often pay farmers and ranchers to host wind turbines, providing them additional income without displacing crops. Rural landowners, including those in Iowa, have received more than $10 million annually from wind leases.

Farmers have already developed innovative, sustainable agriculture practices, such as creating living soils, that help curb carbon pollution. They should be rewarded for using these climate smart practices.

Ernst continues to side with the Trump administration’s toxic environmental agenda that is dangerous for Iowa’s farmers. Instead, to take immediate action, she should support sustainable agriculture practices that promote living soils, as well as legislation to move us closer to a 100% clean energy economy.

Otherwise, farmers like me run the very real risk of not being able to pass along our way of life to the next generation.

Aaron Lehman is the President of the Iowa Farmers Union.

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