A group of 31 scientists from universities across Iowa wrote an open letter to political candidates asking them to acknowledge the scientific evidence for human-caused climate change.
“We urge all candidates for public office at national, state, and local levels to acknowledge the overwhelming balance of evidence for the underpinning causes of climate change, to develop appropriate policy responses, and to develop local and statewide strategies to adapt to near-term changes in climate,” the letter states.
Most scientists who study the topic believe that increasing the amount of carbon in the atmosphere, mostly by burning fossil fuels, is causing the earth to get warmer through a “greenhouse effect.”
Many of the current Republican presidential candidates have argued, to one degree or another, that the science behind human-caused climate change is inconclusive. Former Massachusetts Governor Mitt Romney had previously said he believed that human activity is causing climate change, but more recently said he does not know what is causing climate change.
Iowa is also an important state in the presidential election because it will be the first state in the nation, on Jan. 3, 2012, to hold an election to select the Republican nominee.
David Courard-Hauri, associate professor of environmental science and policy at Drake University, one of the signers, spoke with The Christian Post on Wednesday about the letter.
“Having a large number of presidential candidates saying there is a lot of debate about the topic, I think, has added to some of the confusion folks feel [about climate change],” Courard-Hauri said.
“It's not a political question, whether climate change is happening. What concerns me is that it has become a political question.”
The letter does not call on candidates to hold specific policy views, which are the political questions, Courard-Hauri explained.
“The political question is what to do with [the scientific understanding of climate change], which is open to discussion. We didn't call on candidates to do this or do that.”
Former Utah Governor Jon Huntsman has been highly critical of other candidates who have expressed skepticism over human-caused climate change, but from a policy perspective, his views on public policy responses to atmospheric carbon are nearly identical to the other candidates. Huntsman opposes, for instance a “cap-and-trade” program or carbon tax, because he feels it will make U.S. industries less competitive globally.
Courard-Hauri said that, from the standpoint of what the letter is saying, Huntsman's position is legitimate, because he acknowledges what the majority of scientists are saying about climate change.
“I believe that all candidates should acknowledge the science that is out there. Once they've acknowledged that, then they should create policy choices based upon it,” Courard-Hauri said.
Federal subsidies for corn-based ethanol are an important political topic in Iowa for which there is some disagreement among political candidates. Environmentalists are also divided on the overall benefits of using ethanol as an alternative to fossil fuels.
Ethanol is “carbon-neutral” in the sense that carbon is taken out of the atmosphere (when the corn is grown) before it is returned to the atmosphere (when the ethanol is burned). Creating ethanol, however, takes a lot of land (to farm the corn) and a lot of energy (to plant, fertilize, harvest and transport the corn, and to extract the ethanol from the corn).
Courard-Hauri said, speaking only for himself not the other signers, that while he can see some benefits to government subsidies for ethanol, on the whole, he opposes the policy.
“It has benefits but it has significant costs. If it were me, I would remove subsidies from ethanol and focus my energy on solar and wind.”
This summer, devastating floods from the Missouri river impacted some major metropolitan areas in Iowa.
“Cedar Rapids, Des Moines, Iowa City, and Ames all have suffered multi-million dollar losses from floods since 1993. In 2008 alone, 85 of Iowa’s 99 counties were declared federal disaster areas,” the letter points out.
The letter argues that these events are tied to climate change.
“These changes in Iowa’s climate have clear connections to changes in global climate and to changes in how we use the land. As the global climate continues to evolve, our farmers and city planners will face new challenges to maintain the prosperity of our state and its role in national and global food security,” the letter states.
The letter grew out of an informal association of scientists in Iowa, with professors in the Climate Science Program at Iowa State University playing an important role.
Among all the scientists that Courard-Hauri contacted, no one explicitly declined his request to sign the letter, but there were several emails which were not returned.