Future depends on 'We the People'

The Prairie Lakes Solar Garden has 6,516 solar panels on eight acres of Prairie Lakes Park in Cedar Falls, generating enough power annually to power 275 homes. Shot on May 12, 2017. (Cliff Jette/The Gazette)
Cheryl Valenta

Elected officials are sworn to support the U.S. Constitution and defend its ideals. Does that include a responsibility to protect our water, air and land?

We’ve heard a great deal about water quality and creating the “healthiest state.” Instead, Iowans got a crude oil pipeline cutting through 18 counties. Every day 26 million gallons of explosive Bakken oil flows under 84 waterways and land belonging to 1,200 families. Our water supply is at greater risk than ever before. Former Gov. Terry Branstad ushered in Dakota Access and, with a decision by the three utility board member he appointed, the Texas-based oil company was granted eminent domain.

Watching this dysfunctional pipeline application process has crushed my understanding of government’s role to serve people and protect resources. What kind of democracy do we have when a private company can take precious Iowa farmland for their profit?

We’ve seen how the Trump administration also supports the fossil fuel industry. President Donald Trump removed the U.S. from the Paris Climate Agreement, and now he’s talking with Environmental Protection Agency Administrator Scott Pruitt about eliminating the Clean Power Plan. With FEMA’s ongoing cost from recent hurricanes estimated to surpass $200 billion, you would expect some level of responsibility from the federal government to address the climate crisis.

The maximum amount of carbon that can exist in the atmosphere to maintain a safe, livable planet is 350 parts per million. Right now we’re at 407 ppm, which is trapping heat and causing extreme weather. It’s to our advantage to work on the prevention side of these destructive weather events by cutting carbon emissions.

The great news is we don’t have to wait for Trump, Pruitt or Secretary of State Rex Tillerson to believe or understand basic science.

“We the People” are forming community collaborations to create a healthier, more sustainable world. Using current technology, fossil fuels are rapidly being replaced with clean, renewable energy.

Benefits go well beyond the money saved. Great job creation, healthier air, cleaner water, lower energy bills, and decreased health care costs are all bi-products of transitioning to renewable energy.

This is illustrated in the huge success of the Solarize Cedar Rapids and Linn County program. A total of 104 households took advantage of this Solar Group Buy to install 607 kilowatts of discounted solar power. The families will save $100,000 in utility costs, gain 700,000 kW of clean solar energy, avoid 927,000 pounds of carbon emissions, and save 14 million gallons of water in the first year alone, as compared to using fossil fuels.

The U.S. Global Research Program just released a Climate Science Special Report, the 4th National Climate Assessment that definitively finds that humans are contributing to climate change. Last month the Lancet Commission published their global research study on pollution and human health that not only identifies the extent of the climate change problem, but the opportunities that exist with implementing solutions. It calls climate change “the greatest global health opportunity of the 21st century.”

We cannot immediately change leadership or reverse bad policy decisions. But we can take personal responsibility and cut our carbon emissions. “We the people” can and will reshape our future with clean renewable energy.

• Cheryl Valenta is a co-convenor of Iowa 350, the local affiliate of 350.org, which is an international nonprofit focused on building clean renewable energy for all.