OPINION

What would Henry A. Wallace do?

Many Iowans might be astonished to learn that Henry A. Wallace grew up a Republican, the scion of an Iowa farm family so prominent both his father and grandfather were offered the job of Secretary of Agriculture under Republican U.S. presidents. (His father accepted, but his grandfather declined.)

Henry A. was a Republican when FDR offered him the same job, and it didn’t occur to him to change his party registration for another four years, at the age of 48. Frankly, it didn’t matter to him, or to FDR. What mattered was restoring the farm economy, badly battered by the Depression and the Dust Bowl. His legislation to help farmers passed Congress with broad bipartisan support. In his sunset years, he endorsed Republican Dwight Eisenhower for president.

But my grandfather would be appalled at his old party today — at their obstructionism on issues affecting American farming.

Next to soil, the most important factor in farming is climate, and there is overwhelming evidence global warming will have disastrous consequences for agriculture in Iowa. And yet, Iowa Republican leaders refuse to do anything about it.

According to the 300 experts who conducted the 2014 National Climate Assessment for the National Academy of Sciences, the unpredictable jumble of climate extremes — heat waves, too little rain, too much rain — will lead to declines in agricultural productivity and increased stresses from weeds, diseases and insect pests. Steady increases in the average number of days without precipitation will lead to drought and suppressed crop yields, especially for corn. Heavy downpours and flooding don’t simply balance out the dry spells; the sudden runoff overwhelms man-made defenses and accelerates soil erosion. Wetter springs reduce yields and profits, as growers switch to late-planted, shorter-season varieties. Increasing heat waves are predicted specifically for Iowa, which particularly suppress yields if occurring during pollination. Henry A. Wallace would not sit still and let this happen. Regardless of what causes it, he would focus on what we can do to fix it for future generations.

If 99 out of 100 experts tell you that something you are doing is harming your children, would you ignore them? That’s what today’s Republican leaders are doing. Recently elected U.S. Senator Joni Ernst says she doesn’t “know the science” of global warming and can’t say what the impact is, but is dead set against fixing it — even to the extent of killing the one agency that is doing anything about it: the Environmental Protection Agency. Third District Congressman David Young insists there are “credible studies” on “both sides,” but thinks that global warming might be caused by volcanoes. Fourth District Congressman Steve King dismisses climate change as “more of a religion than a science,” and thinks it may actually be a “good” thing — because he personally prefers to be warm rather than cold.

And why is there any controversy about renewable fuels? Renewable fuels are putting money in farmers’ pockets and growing Iowa’s economy while replacing dirty carbon-based energy.

Blocking renewable energy standards and refusing to do anything about climate change would outrage my grandfather, whichever political party he belonged to. As a politician and public servant, ordinary people always came first, and the party line dead last.

• Henry Scott Wallace is an attorney and co-chairman of the Wallace Global Fund, a foundation founded by his grandfather, Henry A. Wallace. Comments: swallace@wgf.org

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