Guest Columnist

Take local action on climate change

Assembly began on the racking for solar panels at Alliant Energy’s West Dubuque solar facility in Dubuque in 2017. (Cliff Jette/The Gazette)
Assembly began on the racking for solar panels at Alliant Energy’s West Dubuque solar facility in Dubuque in 2017. (Cliff Jette/The Gazette)

The federal government’s Fourth National Climate Assessment should be a major wake-up call for the Midwest.

The report details the serious consequences of our addiction to fossil fuels in communities such as Dubuque and throughout the Midwest. Our elected leaders not only need to acknowledge the gravity and urgency of the problem but do everything in their power to solve it.

The assessment forecasts warmer, rainier and more humid seasons for the Midwest, ramping up soil erosion, breeding pests and spoiling harvests. Our region’s agricultural productivity could plummet. Projections show up to a quarter of the corn produced in the region — and even more of the soybean crop in parts of the region — could disappear. Increased frequency and intensity of poor air-quality days associated with fossil fuel use, combined with higher temperatures, also could make people sicker. Midwestern communities may see longer pollen seasons and more disease-carrying pests. Even worse, increased ground-level ozone concentrations are projected to cause an additional 200 to 550 premature deaths in the region annually by 2050.

In addition to human impacts, climate change has environmental consequences. The Midwest is home to the world’s largest freshwater ecosystem, the Great Lakes, and rising temperatures and evaporation mean less water flowing and ecosystem degradation.

Dubuque is working to prevent the worst of these effects by advancing clean, carbon-free renewable energy at the local level. With the adoption of Dubuque’s plan to reduce the community’s greenhouse gas emissions 50 percent below 2003 levels by 2030, the City Council solidified our commitment to mitigating and adapting to climate impacts.

While we are proud of the upgrades to the Water and Resource Recovery Center, our innovative restoration of the Bee Branch Creek, and installation of rooftop solar arrays on our fire stations, our obligations to reduce greenhouse gases continue. A report by the University of Nebraska at Lincoln confirmed Dubuque will be implicated in hazards originating from extremes in weather and climate conditions. Increased temperatures in the summer and autumn will drive increased demand for energy, will impact utilities during peak delivery times, and will negatively impact our most vulnerable populations.As a member of the Mayors for Solar Energy coalition, organized through Environment America, I am calling on more cities to help build a cleaner, healthier future powered by renewable energy.

The No. 1 take-away from the National Climate Assessment is clear. “Global action to significantly cut greenhouse gas emissions can substantially reduce climate-related risks” and the window of opportunity to take that action is closing fast. Solar panels, wind turbines, energy storage systems, and electric vehicles have all evolved from novelties to widespread features of America’s energy landscape over the course of the past decade, and each of those technologies continues to improve and become more affordable.

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Despite the urgent need for action, the federal government is failing to step up and lead us toward a renewable future. With all that is at stake, the Trump administration’s efforts to bury the assessment findings by releasing it on Black Friday and later to deny its validity are irresponsible. Given the void left by the federal government on this issue, state and city leaders have an opportunity and an obligation to advocate for a cleaner, healthier future for their constituents.

More action from Midwest cities and states can lead to the change America needs to solve the climate crisis. While the window of opportunity to make that change is closing, it isn’t yet shut.

• Roy D. Buol is mayor of Dubuque and a member of Mayors for Solar Energy.

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