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by Michael Bloomberg
Tuesday evening I will join local business and community leaders in Des Moines for a screening of a new documentary film called “Paris to Pittsburgh.” It tells the stories of everyday Americans who are helping us tackle climate change – and Iowans play a starring role.
Iowa gets more than a third of its energy from wind power, the most of any state. If every state got as much of its power from clean sources as Iowa does, America would already be nearly all the way to the goal we set under the Paris Climate Agreement of cutting carbon emissions 26 percent by 2025.
Iowans understand what too many leaders in Washington don’t: Fighting climate change is good for our health and our economy. The most effective steps to cut carbon emissions – like switching from coal to clean power – reduce air pollution and create jobs. Wind and solar energy are increasingly cheaper than coal, and they employ far more people. There are already more than 30,000 clean energy jobs in Iowa – compared to around 50,000 coal mining jobs in the entire U.S.
Clean power also gives Iowa a competitive edge. Microsoft, Facebook, Google and Apple all built new data centers in Iowa, because of the state’s abundant supply of clean energy. These companies committed to getting more clean energy both to cut carbon emissions and to cut costs. Investing in Iowa helps them reach both goals.
A new federal report outlines how climate change could affect the U.S., and some of the most severe impacts will hit the upper Midwest: more extreme heat and humidity, more pests and crop disease, and more flooding from heavy rains. Prime corn weather could move north into the Dakotas and Canada. By midcentury, crop yields could fall by 25 percent. According to the Iowa Department of Natural Resources, many of these changes are already starting to happen.
Shifting from coal to clean energy is critical if we are going to avoid the worst impacts of climate change, and it also saves lives. Since 2011, more than half of U.S. coal plants – 281 out of 530 – have closed or committed to. Over that same time, the number of Americans dying from the effects of coal pollution has fallen by nearly half, to around 7,000 per year. One life lost to coal pollution is too many, but we’re making real progress.
With very little help from Washington, the U.S. has cut carbon emissions more than any other large nation over the past decade – and we are already halfway to our Paris goal. The reason is that cities, states, businesses and communities all recognize that transitioning to cleaner and more efficient energy systems is in their own self-interest.
That is a fact that the White House has yet to grasp. In explaining his decision to pull the U.S. out of the Paris Agreement, President Trump said that he was “elected to represent the people of Pittsburgh, not Paris.” The mayor of Pittsburgh, Bill Peduto, immediately responded: “I can assure you that we will follow the guidelines of the Paris Agreement for our people, our economy & future.”
That exchange inspired the title of “Paris to Pittsburgh.” The film – which was produced by Bloomberg Philanthropies and Radical Media and airs Dec. 12 on National Geographic – tells the inspiring stories of Americans who are helping us tackle climate change and building a bright future for our country at the same time.
Take Dan Lutat and his daughter, Faith. Dan directs the Iowa Lakes Community College wind turbine and energy technology program. Students graduate in two years with an associate’s degree and enter a fast-growing job market. Faith is one of the recent graduates. Their story is one of the most compelling in the film, because it shows how a strong economy goes hand in hand with cleaner air and a healthier planet.
But it also shines a bright light on the urgent need to do more, faster, to cut emissions, by showing how Americans are already dealing with impacts of climate change – including Iowans struggling to rebuild their lives after devastating floods.
A recent op-ed in the Des Moines Register called for aspiring presidential candidates to present a bold vision for taking on climate change. I couldn’t agree more: We need stronger leadership in Washington on this issue. But Americans aren’t waiting around for it.
Michael R. Bloomberg, the 108th mayor of New York City, is the founder of Bloomberg LP and Bloomberg Philanthropies. He is the UN secretary-general’s special envoy for climate action and co-author, with Carl Pope, of Climate of Hope.