By Kathleen Masterson (Harvest Public Media)
Climate change is already affecting Midwestern climate and state and local governments should start doing something about it, prominent Iowa scientists urged Tuesday. Thirty-one scientists from colleges and universities across the state signed apetition that advocates for action on climate change.
Warmer and wetter weather is already affecting agriculture in Iowa and the Midwest and Iowa farmers are about on par with the general public in that nearly two-thirds believe climate change is real. Still, climate change is a political issue.
"Just as evidence seems to be increasing that climate change is happening, there seems to be increasing skepticism among both the lay public and, certainly, among politicians about it," said David Courard-Hauri, a professor of environmental science and policy at Drake University.
A Pew Research Center report found that those who think climate change is "a very serious concern" dropped from 47 percent in 2007 to 37 percent in 2010. The group of Iowa scientists signed the petition not only to remind people that climate change is happening, but also to make it a tangible -- and local -- issue.
"When the National Academy of Sciences puts out a statement, it's not obvious to people who don't follow science what that really means," Courard-Hauri said. "They're a bunch of people in Washington D.C., or at various schools, that are far away making a statement. Then, skeptics come out."
But this petition is a statement from scientists whose names people may know, who live nearby and who an Iowan could even pick up the phone and call with questions, Courard-Hauri said.
It's campaign season and the scientists timed their petition to encourage people to ask tougher questions of presidential candidates.
"It has been easy for candidates to get away with vague statements about, 'Well we can't really tell that this is caused by people,' and it's important for us to get candidates to clarify exactly what it is that they disagree with," Courard-Hauri said. In fact, the consensus of the scientific community is that climate change is occurring and is largely driven by human activity.
The petition also points out that it's not just farmers already feeling the effects of climate change.
"Over the last 40 years intense rainfall has occurred about five times more often than in our previous history," the petition reads. "As a result, our communities have faced enormous expense to recover from repeated '500-year' floods. Cedar Rapids, Des Moines, Iowa City, and Ames all have suffered multi-million dollar losses from floods since 1993."
Scientists from 22 different colleges and universities in Iowa signed the petition. It is also endorsed by Iowa Sen. Robb Hogg, who organized a group called Iowa climate advocates, a loose organization of people working to address climate change in the state.