In February of this year, the IPCC Sixth Assessment Report warned that the world is on track to reach the 1.5 Celsius level within the next two decades instead of by the end of the century and that only immediate and drastic cuts to carbon emissions can help prevent environmental catastrophe. Many of us are now accustomed to hearing these urgent calls to climate action and can feel overwhelmed. At the same time, it is more important than ever for individuals to get involved and motivate their communities to act and demand policies to fight for a better future.
This motivation is why I got into this work. To bridge the gap between the personal feeling of helplessness and the people with the power to act. For instance, why is it that when there are reports like this one — scientifically proving that we are going to face irreversible environmental impacts that will ripple across all parts of our life — that so many decision-makers slam on the breaks once money is brought up?
In the past year, I’ve learned how to navigate through Iowa’s energy realm, peering at it from a local level in Des Moines. I’ve observed debates surrounding the topics of building electrification and the use of utility franchise agreements to meet local climate action goals. These debates centered on the understanding that if the adaptation measures take place, the city will then remain on track to meet its ambitious climate goals to help prevent catastrophic events. This is often met by pushback from powerful interests that claim taking action would cost too much for the city, for companies, for residents . . . for whomever. But the bottom line is that it would just be too much.
City officials want to ensure that their community remains a desirable place to live, where residents can achieve economic success, rightly not wanting to make decisions that would push anyone out. Powerful entities like MidAmerican Energy emphasize how much the city would lose financially if they were to prioritize clean energy initiatives, like community-wide decarbonization or electrification.
Utilities hope to shift the focus away from the fact that their profits are tied to energy generation, which often times contributes to climate change and leads to amplifying extreme weather patterns. In August of 2020, the Derecho resulted in $11.2 billion in total costs, and last December’s Derecho totaled at least $1 billion in damages. More extreme weather is expected to impact Iowa if nothing is done to combat climate change. There is an understanding in the scientific community that we still have time to prevent the most catastrophic impacts of climate change from taking place — but we can’t waste time. Iowans cannot get delayed by corporate smoke and mirror tactics to avoid taking action just for the sake of increasing profits.
Significant action is already being taken at the federal level with acts such as the Inflation Reduction Act, which will providing funding for cities to improve local resiliency and reduce greenhouse gas emissions. This act will follow the Justice40 principle, which seeks to ensure these resources are distributed equitably, prioritizing disadvantaged communities.
While it’s exciting to see a serious commitment to climate happening at the federal level, it is important to ensure these funding opportunities are shared throughout the state, to communities facing hesitancy to act based on cost. If this isn’t done, then we cannot expect to see any genuine action occur — which is infuriating to watch happen over and over again, knowing we are up against the clock.
Activists of all ages in Iowa are demanding that more is done and climate action is taken seriously within the state, especially from younger generations as they will have to deal with the consequences of inaction down the road. That is why it’s essential to raise awareness about what needs to be done now, and the upcoming opportunities to achieve community-wide climate goals. Knowing that pushback is bound to happen, however, we must distinguish between real obstacles and corporations just looking for another way to make a profit at the expense of our planet. Staying connected with organizations such as IEC will help us all to fight fiercely and advocate for meaningful climate solutions that will help us work towards a better, equitable, and healthier future for all.