On Monday, 188 researchers and scientists from across Iowa posed a pointed question to potential presidential candidates: what will you do about climate change?
In the fifth annual Iowa Climate Statement, the diverse group of scientists from 39 colleges and universities across the state focus on getting politicians to weigh in on what they plan to do about the problem. The lead authors of the statement feel that climate change has been ignored by presidential candidates from both parties in previous elections, and they want presidential hopefuls to address climate change while campaigning this time around.
Iowa is the first state to hold its primary caucus, and for this reason it possesses an outsized influence on the presidential race. The authors feel that this attention can be used to their advantage in an effort to highlight the issues surrounding climate change.
Chris Anderson, assistant director of Iowa State University’s Climate Science Program, told ThinkProgress that the debate over climate change in the 2016 presidential election will differ from previous elections in that there will be more existing and proposed policies that candidates can comment on. These include the proposed Environmental Protection Agency regulations on carbon emissions from power plants, the international agreements coming out of the Paris climate talks in December, and the Production Tax Credit (PTC) for renewable energy such as wind and solar power, to name a few.
Many of these policies would affect Iowa directly. For example, eliminating the PTC, as some lawmakers want to do, “would undermine the economic staples Iowa has built and prevent continued growth of it,” Anderson said. “Would candidates oppose this legislation if it passed through Congress?
During the announcement of the Climate Statement Monday, David Courard‐Hauri, an associate professor who directs the Environmental Science and Policy Program at Drake University, said “climate change is affecting Iowans and will continue to affect us in increasingly significant ways” and that “it is not an issue that can be ignored.”
Courard‐Hauri said it’s clear that “how to address climate change is one of the most important choices that a president will make.”
“Whether he or she wants to reduce carbon emissions, come up with a plan to cope with expected damages, or ignore the issue and leave the costs to our children, we want to make sure anyone who wants to be president can say specifically how they will deal with climate change,” he said.
Each year the Iowa Climate Statement has focused on different aspects of climate change. In 2014 the scientists highlighted public health threats like increased cardiovascular and respiratory health problems and more exposure to allergens.
The 2014 statement also brought attention to water quality issues, especially critical in a state so reliant on an agricultural economy. It stated that “excessive heavy rains” have increased exposure to toxic chemicals and sewage spread by floods as well as led to “soil runoff in agricultural areas which then pollutes waterways with nitrates and phosphorus.”
Anderson said that climate change is increasing the frequency of excessively wet springs in Iowa as well as the number of excessively wet days.
“The U. S. is a global leader in agricultural production and this provides our government with trade leverage,” Anderson said. “Excessive rainfall from climate change is eroding our soils, which undermines our agricultural productivity.”
Anderson also said that the longer the U.S. waits to adapt to climate change, the more expensive this adjustment will become and the more Americans will “expose ourselves to weather hazards that could have been avoided.”
The Iowa Climate Statement has been growing in scope every year. In 2011, it got a modest 33 signatures. By 2014 it had 180, and this year’s statement has 188 signatories.
“The great majority of people teaching science and policy classes in the state of Iowa at the secondary education level believe that climate change is very important and that it’s caused by humans, and they’re willing to sign a statement to that effect,” Jerry Schnoor, the co-director of the Center for Global and Regional Environmental Research at the University of Iowa, told ThinkProgress in 2014.
As a conservative state with a lot of renewable energy, Iowa also finds itself in the crosshairs of another similarly divisive debate: the future of energy generation. In 2014, Iowa led the country in ethanol production and got 27 percent of its total electricity generation from wind power — second only to coal, which has dropped significantly in the last decade as a source of power in the state. In the last decade, about $10 billion has been invested in Iowa’s wind energy industry, which now supports some 6,000 jobs.
The debate around ethanol production is especially heated this election cycle, as biofuel subsidies, long supported by Republicans campaigning in the state, may fall out of favor with some candidates who lament any type of federal involvement. At the Iowa Ag Summit in March, both Texas Sen. Ted Cruz and former Texas Gov. Rick Perry — both of whom are Republicans — chose not to endorse the Renewable Fuel Standard, which sets a minimum percentage of biofuel that must be blended into gasoline supply.
This diehard conservative approach does not sit well with Anderson.
“Iowa is conservative where it makes sense to be conservative and progressive where it makes sense to be progressive,” said Anderson. “We can show the economic value of investing in renewable energy to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. Iowa shows that addressing climate change does not have to be an economic drag.”