Staff Editorial

Locals are leading the way on climate

Ulrike Passe (left), associate professor of architecture and director at the Center for Building Energy Research at Iowa State University, and Jerry Schnoor, co-director, Center for Global and Regional Environmental Research at the University of Iowa, answer questions during a news conference on climate change and building design for Iowa’s changing climate at the Cedar Rapids Public Library in Cedar Rapids on Thursday, Oct. 11, 2018. (Liz Martin/The Gazette)
Ulrike Passe (left), associate professor of architecture and director at the Center for Building Energy Research at Iowa State University, and Jerry Schnoor, co-director, Center for Global and Regional Environmental Research at the University of Iowa, answer questions during a news conference on climate change and building design for Iowa’s changing climate at the Cedar Rapids Public Library in Cedar Rapids on Thursday, Oct. 11, 2018. (Liz Martin/The Gazette)

A large group of Iowa scientists and researchers is urging Iowans to recognize the realities of global climate change and prepare accordingly. Our state, already dealing with more frequent heavy rainfall, will only get wetter and likely hotter during heat waves, according to the statement signed by 201 college and university faculty.

We’re not expecting this eighth annual statement to jolt the calcified politics that have locked the highest levels of our government into a state of perpetual inaction on the climate threat. But the good news is this year’s message — urging action to improve infrastructure and building practices to deal with climatic consequences — is making some headway at the local level.

Iowa City, for example, has unveiled and ambitious Climate Action Plan that includes efforts to make businesses, residences and city facilities more energy-efficient. The city’s plan also calls for mapping vulnerable populations and assessing stormwater management practices.

Cedar Rapids has revised its stormwater fees, raising the cost for large commercial properties while also offering incentives for runoff reduction efforts to both businesses and homeowners. Revenues are being pumped into long overdue system improvements. The city also requires builders to restore topsoil to finished building sites to reduce runoff and has worked with upstream landowners in the Middle Cedar Watershed.

Des Moines officials are working with Iowa State researchers to look for strategies to make buildings and residences more climate- resistant. The Iowa Department of Transportation commissioned a study on how climate change will alter the way it builds bridges.

But elsewhere in state government, steps are being taken are in the wrong direction. Lawmakers approved a utilities-backed bill slashing funding for energy-efficiency programs, including weatherization, insulation and tree planting. The voter-approved Natural Resources and Outdoor Recreation Trust Fund, which could provide funding for runoff control efforts, sits empty. Environmental regulators, at the behest of builders, deleted a state rule requiring topsoil replacement.

These adaptive efforts are critical in the absence of political will in the United States to meaningfully address carbon emissions. A recent U.N. report warns that climate change consequences are occurring and will intensify, not in some future generation, but in the next two decades.

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Local governments not mired in the politics of climate are leading the way. State leaders should follow their example.

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