Editorials: We can solve this

The embers are barely cool in Australia as wildfires rage from Arizona to Washington. The mayor of Los Angeles is asking for people to reduce air-conditioning use to avoid brown-outs. People in California were advised to jump in the nearest lake for shelter and wait for a helicopter. Just what does it take for us to address the climate crisis burning before our eyes?

The Southwest and Great Plains are at the beginning of a mega-drought that could last decades, worse than anything in the past millennium. It’s showing up in Western Iowa with drought challenging the corn this summer. The new normal is extreme rain followed by heat and drought. We have been living through its amplifications over the past decade. The effects have been especially intense in the last five years.

The wildfires are getting worse every year. So is the extreme weather in Iowa — we still haven’t assessed the damage from that freak derecho wind that flattened 14 million acres of crops. We must get a handle on climate change driven by greenhouse gas emissions immediately.

Iowans are awake to it. Climate change is among the leading issues for likely voters, left and right. Almost all of us are for renewable energy and sustainable agriculture. These are two of the rare issues of common ground here. It’s something to build on that could save our planet, revitalize our rural lifestyle and mend our politics.

An all-out effort to convert us from a carbon economy to a renewable energy economy fed by regenerative agriculture can turn around this listing ship. Agriculture can be the most effective and efficient way to combat climate change. Planting more grass (generally speaking) and less corn can bring back a diverse livestock economy that a healthier Midwest once knew. It can solve surface water pollution and offset the carbon footprint of the nation’s transportation fleet — if we apply conservation techniques everywhere.

We need to pay farmers for environmental services. They can cure the pollution of the Gulf of Mexico by planting cover crops. They will do it if you pay them. It would be better than paying them to plant more corn in a river bottom that is bound to flood. We need to shift our funding emphasis from corn and wheat production to conservation payments that keep farms whole. This year, 1 million acres of grassland and pasture were converted to row crops. We need to reverse that trend. We have too much corn, too many soybeans, too much ethanol and too much pork, and rural Iowa is paying the price for all that cheap eating. So is California, the nation’s top agricultural producer.

We need to build out a solar and wind array that cements our position as the world leader in renewable, carbon-free energy. It is the future. Vehicles are going electric. Investment in battery research is paying off. Solar installations are dropping in cost as technology improves. Iowa enjoys cheap power because of those wind turbines that surround us, and they provide royalties to land owners that more than compensate for the loss of corn production.

Our state leaders, from Terry Branstad to Tom Vilsack to Chet Culver to Kim Reynolds, embrace renewable energy. They all support stronger farm conservation payments, or at least say they do. That’s because the people support it. But the real leadership must come at the federal level.

There is no question that Joe Biden gets it. He understands what electric car production could do for Ohio. The Obama Administration was headed down that road, but we have let the Chinese take the lead in electric vehicle production. They lead in solar technology.

Iowa has the resources to lead the world in climate change — from capturing carbon in the soil to wind that seldom ceases. We can reshape our economy to bring back small meat processing if the hooves are back on grass. We can break up the dominance of the big meatpackers that drive the destruction of grasslands for corn and soy production, and the burning of the Amazon rain forest. But that will take a Justice Department that understands that rural workers can’t stand market concentration anymore than cattlemen or pork producers can. And, we need a State Department that can convince the Brazilians that we must work together on feeding a world amid climate chaos.

We need to make big changes as the world burns. It can start here. It must start with a change at the top in November. When California burns, Trump tells people to grab a rake. We can do so much more. Look at how Albert City-Truesdale is saving itself with solar panels. Pocahontas is able to maintain schools with turbine tax revenue. The Raccoon River once was drinkable, and it can be again. We can have prosperous family farms if the government can help us break loose from the petro-chemical addiction.

Iowans aren’t ignoring climate change. They’re still begging for relief in Cedar Rapids. We need a national response that can point us to a wealthier and healthier future by giving farmers and rural communities the break they sorely need. We can’t put it off any longer than November.

-ART CULLEN

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