A guest op-ed from Mayor Pete Buttigieg.
Over Labor Day, I heard from Iowans in Cedar Rapids who’d been impacted by devastating floods, and connected the dots to our bigger climate crisis. As State Senator Rob Hogg put it: “Could we have had a flood like this without climate change? Sure. But climate change is making these floods happen more often, with more severity.”
As mayor of a Midwest river city myself, I’ve had to activate our emergency operations twice just for floods that were supposed to occur once in a millennium. These floods are no longer rare. More powerful storms like Hurricane Dorian are devastating coastal communities. This year, historic flooding breached four levies in Iowa, and 41 of the state’s 99 counties received disaster declarations.
According to the Iowa Farm Bureau, the harm to Iowa’s economy could top $2 billion from damaged farm infrastructure, destroyed crops, and whole fields that can’t even be planted. And climate change is a major threat to agriculture. If emissions continue to rise, corn and soybean production in America could drop by 80 percent in the next six decades.
For too long, Washington has chosen denial and obstruction rather than dealing with our climate crisis. The timeline that compels us to act won’t be set by Congress—it’s being dictated by science. And the science tells us we’ve reached a now-or-never moment. So we must channel all of our energies into a national project—one that draws on the resources of every American, from big cities to rural communities, and seizes the opportunities of a new era of climate action. As big as this crisis is, our ideas and aspirations are big enough to meet them. When I’m President, we will.
First, we’ll invest in the innovation to transform America into a net-zero emissions society by 2050. We’ll quadruple R&D investments in advanced wind and solar, battery storage, and carbon capture to $25 billion a year—more than the Manhattan Project. Many of these investments will be financed by Climate Action Bonds, modeled on war bonds during World War II, which will allow every American to own a piece of our clean energy future.
Too often, rural America has been told they’re part of the problem, when in fact agriculture is a critical part of the solution. Scientists indicate that our soil can absorb as much carbon as the entire global transportation system emits, so American farmers must be at the center of our climate revolution. I will double research and development at the Department of Agriculture and incentivize the creation of new techniques to capture more carbon in the soil. Through investments in soil management and other technologies, we can make a farm in Iowa as powerful a tool to confront climate change as an electric vehicle in California.
Iowa’s farmers have long been at the center of the climate fight—producing more than a quarter of the nation’s ethanol, an industry that supports over 40,000 jobs. But the current administration’s abuse of “small refinery” exemptions are hurting Iowa farmers by cutting demand for ethanol by 2.25 billion gallons. As president, I’ll reverse this gift to oil companies while also investing in advanced biofuels.
Second, my administration will prioritize resilience to climate shocks. That means building resilient green infrastructure that can withstand extreme weather and sea level rise. We’ll also establish next-generation regional resilience hubs, with $5 billion annual grants focused on rural communities. Facing increasingly severe weather, we’ll streamline disaster assistance and help communities like Cedar Rapids build back stronger. And we’ll bring young people together in a Climate Corps to help make communities more sustainable through their service work.
Finally, we’ll rebuild international relationships and ensure that America – not China – leads the world on climate. As growing food and water insecurity increases migration and political unrest from Syria to sub-Saharan Africa, we’ll integrate climate management into every aspect of our national security planning. We’ll place a senior climate security advisor on the Secretary of Defense’s staff and create a Climate Watch Floor to monitor climate-related risks. Retrofitting existing facilities and non-combat vehicles and making new ones zero-emissions, the Department of Defense will lead the way in clean energy. And as President I will not only rejoin the Paris Agreement, in my first 100 days, my administration will convene a Pittsburgh Summit of regional, state, and local leaders to support locally-created solutions to our climate crisis.
From Norman Borlaug — who harnessed the power of agriculture to save more than 1 billion people from starvation — to today’s rural entrepreneurs, innovation and creativity are part of Iowans’ DNA. We need that spirit more than ever today. With renewed dedication and smart investments, we can come together and harness the power of every American – from scientists to steelworkers – to overcome this challenge together.
by Mayor Pete Buttigieg
Photo by Julie Fleming