Staff Editorial

Time is running out for Iowa to address climate change

Peter Thorne (left) and Jerald Schnoor discuss the Iowa Climate Statement 2019 at a news conference Wednesday, Sept. 18, 2019, in Cedar Rapids. The report predicts dangerous heat events will become more frequent and severe in Iowa. Thorne, professor of occupational and environmental health at the University of Iowa, and Schnoor, co-director of the university’s Center for Global and Regional Environmental Research, outlined strategies at the news conference that state and federal governments must take to deal with the threats posed by climate change. (James Q. Lynch/Gazette Des Moines Bureau)
Peter Thorne (left) and Jerald Schnoor discuss the Iowa Climate Statement 2019 at a news conference Wednesday, Sept. 18, 2019, in Cedar Rapids. The report predicts dangerous heat events will become more frequent and severe in Iowa. Thorne, professor of occupational and environmental health at the University of Iowa, and Schnoor, co-director of the university’s Center for Global and Regional Environmental Research, outlined strategies at the news conference that state and federal governments must take to deal with the threats posed by climate change. (James Q. Lynch/Gazette Des Moines Bureau)

Thanks to global climate changes spawned by carbon emissions, Iowa will be getting considerably hotter by midcentury.

That’s the core message of this year’s Iowa Climate Statement, signed by more than 200 scientists, researchers and educators from the state’s colleges and universities. By midcentury, according to the statement, the number of days topping 90 degrees in Iowa will nearly triple, from 23 now to 67. The average temperature of a typical five-day heat wave in Iowa will rise from 92 to 98 degrees. Peak heat waves occurring once a decade will top out, on average, at 105 degrees.

Heat, as the statement points out, is the leading cause of weather-related death in the U.S. Iowans working outdoors on farms and construction sites will feel the effects, as will low-income Iowans living without air conditioning. Livestock will be vulnerable to stress and disease. The state’s power grid will be taxed to its limits by scorching temperatures and power demand.

The Climate Statement is a call to action, a plea for leaders at all levels to take steps to reduce carbon emissions and promote more responsible energy alternatives. And in 2019, it comes as scientists around the globe warn that the window for human actions aimed at stemming the climate crisis is rapidly closing.

“Time is running out,” said Jerald Schnoor of the University of Iowa’s Center for Global and Regional Research, at a briefing last week in Cedar Rapids.

This is the ninth Iowa Climate Statement. In previous years, researchers have warned about rising humidity and gulf moisture fueling heavy rainfall and flooding. They’ve called for climate resistant architecture and smarter farming practices. They’ve explained potential risks to Iowa agriculture and public health. The first statement in 2011 urged candidates running for president to acknowledge climate science and present solutions.

The good news is, eight long years later, virtually every Democratic presidential hopeful crisscrossing Iowa has a plan for dealing with the climate crisis. Some are more ambitious than others, but at least one major party is taking the issue seriously.

That’s not the case with Republicans, including leaders who control Iowa’s Statehouse.

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In 2018 they passed and Gov. Kim Reynolds signed a bill permitting utilities to slash spending on energy efficiency measures. In 2019 they considered legislation slapping a fee on residential solar users, a misguided proposal likely to return in 2020. Republicans gutted the Leopold Center for Sustainable Agriculture, which developed responsible farming practices. This year, Reynolds blocked Attorney General Tom Miller’s request to join a national legal action against the EPA’s push to scrap the Clean Power Plan, aimed at cutting emissions.

It’s a list that presents a far different kind of Iowa climate statement, one prescribing inaction, irresponsibility and indifference.

We’ve wasted decades trading statements and political barbs while global temperatures rose and irreversible damage occurred. It’s time, past time, for action. And it’s time for voters to turn up the heat on elected officials who have failed to lead.

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