Opinion: To fight climate change, federal efforts are needed

Local initiatives in places such as Iowa City are helpful, but only higher authorities will really move the needle.


Elijah Helton, Opinions Editor

Our typical response to tragedy is to “do something.” On Aug. 4, that chant was directed at Ohio Gov. Mike DeWine at a vigil for the victims of the Dayton mass shooting. There’s a similar demand to “do something” about the new reports of deaths linked to vaping. Now, we must do something about climate change. And like other societal threats, it’s going to take action on a massive scale to solve.

That sentiment is pretty ubiquitous in my social circles. We make sure to recycle, we own reusable bottles, we even eat vegetarian or vegan diets. I feel good when I do the little things such as breaking down cardboard, forgoing single-use plastics, and eating sustainable meals.

That’s all great, but we know that isn’t going to really save the planet.

So, the government should get involved, right? At least in Iowa City, our officials actually seem to be doing something. Last year, the city released its Climate Action and Adoption Plan. The plan maps out ecocentric reforms for everything from more efficient energy to reduced waste.

In addition to those ambitious goals, the Iowa City City Council officially declared a climate crisis on Aug. 6. The resolution said climate change “poses a serious and urgent threat to the well-being of Iowa City, its inhabitants, and its environment.” Of course it does; our rapidly devolving ecosystem threatens our livelihoods.

I applaud our city government’s efforts to responsibly address climate change. Hands-on, on-the-ground community leaders are crucial in realizing environmental policy, but it’s not enough. State-level decisions from Des Moines aren’t going to make a big-enough dent. Even larger states such as California — which made the decision to honor the Paris Agreement when President Trump pulled the U.S. out in 2017 — can’t save the world with its environmental regulations.

Climate change isn’t a phenomenon native to our friend groups, Iowa City, or even the country. But we are the country most responsible for climate change. The U.S. has the second-highest carbon emissions of any country, second only to China. But per capita, we pump more than twice as much carbon into the atmosphere as China does. (This is especially true if we consider total emissions over the previous century, where the U.S. far outpaces any other nation.)

Fighting climate change is a global emergency, and we must be the leader in solving it. In other words, the U.S. needs to do something.

This means federal policies. This means an Environmental Protection Agency that works to decrease our dependence on fossil fuels. This means commitment and investment in sustainable infrastructure and transportation. This means a president who mockingly roots for global warming because  because he says it isn’t real.

To survive the climate crisis, we must do something. And “we” means more than just a few people from Iowa City.

Columns reflect the opinions of the authors and are not necessarily those of the Editorial Board, The Daily Iowan, or other organizations in which the author may be involved.

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