The following editorial appeared in the Sunday edition of the Des Moines Register:
Go to directory.iowa.gov. Click “Departments” near the top right of the page. This helpful page describes 97 state government departments, agencies, boards and committees, encompassing all manner of Iowans’ concerns, as broad as the roads we all use and as narrow as the Office of the State Archaeologist.
In this network, there is certainly room for one new agency, one whose addition would demonstrate the seriousness of the challenge that, more than any other, is likely to reshape Iowa’s future: climate change.
This is not at all to say the state has ignored warming and its causes and implications. Iowa was the first state to adopt a “renewable portfolio standard,” signed into law by Gov. Terry Branstad in 1983, and our wind and solar production remains among the nation’s best. At the agency level, the Iowa Energy Office and the Department of Agriculture and Land Stewardship necessarily work on climate problems every day. Gov. Kim Reynolds’ Carbon Sequestration Task Force, which deals with carbon emissions’ contribution to warming, held its first meeting Friday. The work of counties and cities and businesses and individuals can’t be ignored, either.
But a new state Office of Climate Change Mitigation and Adaptation (we’ll workshop the name) would be a step toward putting preparation for a transformed climate and the dangers of unabated emissions at the front of mind for political, industrial, commercial and even individual decision makers.
The state would need to invest in new positions to make a real difference in the transformation required, and that investment would signal the importance of the mission. The office’s staff would include scientists and others who would tackle a humbling breadth of practical considerations: storm sewers capable of funneling once-uncommon deluges, transitions away from fossil-fuel-burning personal and agricultural vehicles, changes in growing seasons, accommodations for the vulnerable during overwhelming and unrelenting summer heat.
Nobody wants the state or its major industries to fall behind in economic development, but that consideration would not be this agency’s primary charge. (Reynolds’ introductory remarks to the carbon task force focused on agriculture profitability, and environmental advocates are not part of the panel.) And after setting up the new office, legislators will need to back it up with laws that require action; voluntary approaches, like what has happened with polluted water in Iowa, won’t be enough.
The need to do something more than what we’ve been doing is clear after spending any amount of time with the latest report from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change.
The report hedges its predictions and conclusions with notations about where research is more or less conclusive, which makes the stark opening stand out: “It is unequivocal that human influence has warmed the atmosphere, ocean and land. Each of the last four decades has been successively warmer than any decade that preceded it since 1850.”
Science backs up what our eyes tell us about what’s happening with extreme heat waves and intense, heavy-rainfall events. Just in the past five years, Iowa has experienced two of its 10 warmest years in nearly 150 years of records, and 2018 was the second-wettest year on record.
Science tells us these trends in frequency and intensity are likely to continue. Even under the most ambitious predictions for arresting emissions, the report says warming that has already occurred is unlikely to abate, meaning the scorchers and deluges are here to stay. And the predictions that appear most realistic involve more transformation and more extremes.
Iowa can continue with a fractured approach to climate change that proceeds in fits and starts and reacts to problems after they occur. Or it can set up proactive, coordinated leadership that is a model for other states and for governments around the world.