Panelists address climate change in Des Moines, Iowa on Earth Day

EDITORIAL NOTE: This guest blog post was written by Bonnie Pitz, President, League of Women Voters of Iowa

On Earth Day 2014, the League of Women Voters of the United States and the League of Women Voters of Iowa joined with The New Republic Magazine and Drake University in Des Moines, Iowa to sponsor a forum focused on climate change. Roughly 160 people attended the forum including students, community leaders and League members from all over the state of Iowa.

The event started with two Midwest mayors, one from each major political party, discussing their efforts to manage climate change in their communities. James Brainard (R), Mayor of Carmel, Indiana and Frank Cownie (D), Mayor of Des Moines, Iowa discussed their specific efforts. I was surprised to learn “roundabouts” are environmentally friendly and reduce fuel usage, reduce accidents and improve overall air pollution. The residents of Carmel also needed lots of education about this highway structure, but currently have adopted their use, creating 50 such intersections. Carmel has also adopted a fleet of hybrid or flex-fuel vehicles to improve overall fuel consumption and air quality, and recently enacted a “no idling policy” for city vehicles. Mayor Cownie has also been a long-time proponent of adding hybrid vehicles to the city fleet in Des Moines. Adopting green principles, Cownie led the initiative to have the first LEED (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design, a voluntary, consensus-based, market driven program that provides third party verification of green buildings) certified building constructed in Des Moines. Both cities also have extensive parks and bike trails to encourage use by local citizens.

A subsequent panel highlighted that Iowa garners 27 percent of its energy from wind, proportionally more than any other state. A few speakers emphasized the importance of the Production Tax Credit, a federal incentive that provides financial support for the first 10 years of a renewable energy facility’s operation, to be renewed by Congress to spur economic development. They emphasized the continued need for regulatory and legislative support to develop solar technologies and to improve infrastructure such as transmission power lines that are being built now. They were also very supportive of LEED building because the investment can be recouped in as little as six years because of the low costs of operation.

It was an honor to present the League’s statements and recent work on climate change. This year in Iowa, the League adopted water quality improvements in a nutrient reduction strategy as one of our Legislative Priorities (PDF). We have received support from environmentalists and the general public for adopting this important priority and advocating for increased funding during the 2014 Legislative Session.

Secretary Vilsack discusses climate change on Earth DayI also had the pleasure to introduce our former Governor and current U.S. Secretary of Agriculture, Thomas J. Vilsack; we are proud of his leadership in Washington, D.C. on environmental issues. In his remarks, Secretary Vilsack stressed the need to innovate, not mandate, to make changes and that there needs to be a balance between economics and climate change. Vilsack also emphasized the necessity for working with other countries on research and collaboration to manage climate change.

One fact he emphasized is that 30 percent of the food produced in this country goes into landfills when it is thrown away:

In 2010, that amounted to 133 million pounds of food discarded from homes, restaurants and retail food stores, valued at $161 billion, according to USDA estimates. Most of the food ends up in landfills, where it decomposes and creates methane gas. Methane is a greenhouse gas that contributes to climate change. It puts a whole different spin on the argument of food versus fuel that is often raised about the use of corn ethanol. That’s the concern about devoting too much of the corn crop to ethanol production while people go hungry in the United States and around the world. We are worried about taking land away from growing food. Meanwhile, most of us never think about the fact that when we dump millions of pounds of food in landfills, we’re also wasting all of the energy used to produce, package, distribute and cook it.

Several hundred companies are currently working on portion size and other strategies to avoid waste to address this issue.

The information shared throughout the course of the day by the various speakers offered fresh thinking on problems we sometimes want to avoid. The leaders on the panels represented a range of perspectives on how we are making changes for the better and showing us pathways to improve all our communities.

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Photo Credits: The New Republic