Guest Columnist

Earth Day at 50: Let's rebuild better

A manure pit is seen under a confined animal feeding operation in rural Monticello on Friday, Nov. 30, 2018. (Rebecca F.
A manure pit is seen under a confined animal feeding operation in rural Monticello on Friday, Nov. 30, 2018. (Rebecca F. Miller/The Gazette)

Throughout our nation’s history, the worst of times have brought out the best in us.

That was certainly true 50 years ago today when Americans united around the first Earth Day to fight back against the environmental degradation that was threatening our air, water, and natural resources.

In 1970, America was at a crossroads, our natural systems were at risk of falling into permanent disrepair. That first Earth Day paved the way for landmark environmental protections like the Clean Water Act and launched a new fight for the future of our planet.

As we celebrate Earth Day this year, the spread of coronavirus has put America once again at a consequential crossroad. This virus has created a respiratory crisis that has taken the lives of thousands of Americans and it has brought our economy to an unprecedented standstill.

But like the crises we have conquered in the past, Americans will unite and rise again to fight for a better tomorrow. From the air we breathe, to the Earth we stand on — we’re in this together.

As a state representative from Cedar Rapids, I’ve seen climate change wreak havoc. Floods devastated our communities last spring, and this spring the coronavirus may limit the Federal Emergency Management Agency’s ability to respond.

The economic downturn caused by the coronavirus has hit Linn County just as hard as the rest of the state. While elected leaders continue to work to ensure our hospitals and medical systems have the resources they need to combat the virus, soon it will be time to make the economic policies that families, businesses and workers need to recover.

Lawmakers, both in the Statehouse and in Washington, will be making important decisions in the coming months about how to do just that. These discussions should focus not on merely getting the economy running again, but on how to make our economy better. It is time to listen to the scientists and bolster 21st-century policies that will put Americans to work rebuilding a cleaner economy.

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One way to do that is to invest in green, carbon-neutral infrastructure. That means money for public transit and passenger rail systems, constructing charging stations to support the growing demand for electric vehicles, and providing grants to make our air healthier and our electric grid more reliable. It also means rewarding companies that cut pollution by transitioning to renewable resources such as wind, solar and geothermal.

Policies that put people back to work and improve air quality are important to everyone in Iowa, but many of our friends and neighbors shoulder a disproportionate negative impact of climate change and the spread of coronavirus. We need our elected leaders to understand the urgency these communities are facing and take strong steps.

In 1970, the first Earth Day served as a catalyst for a monumental wave of environmental action. Policymakers answered the call and made sweeping reforms to protect the air we breathe and the water we drink.

On this Earth Day, let’s launch our nation into a new era, an era when we rebuild better and rebuild smarter. An era that meets the demands for a booming economy and is powered by clean energy and built by workers with sustainable jobs.

State Rep. Art Staed represents District 66 in Cedar Rapids.

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