Environment Sustainability

Now or Never on Climate

Field Corn

Nothing better illustrates what’s at stake in mitigating the worst effects of climate change than the debate between eliminating internal combustion cars, trucks and SUVs, and Iowa’s corn ethanol business which produces automotive fuel. Simply put, we must curtail greenhouse gas emissions to avert the worst effects of global warming. That means reducing, then eliminating, internal combustion engines in automotive transportation.

Last week’s events brought the debate into focus.

On Thursday, Aug. 5, President Biden signed an executive order intended to strengthen America’s leadership in clean cars and trucks. Biden set a goal “that 50 percent of all new passenger cars and light trucks sold in 2030 be zero-emission vehicles, including battery electric, plug-in hybrid electric, or fuel cell electric vehicles.” Biden also addressed tightening emissions standards, improving fuel economy, and fuel efficiency and emissions reductions for heavy duty trucks. If acted on, this executive order is a substantial government effort to reduce the number of polluting vehicles on American roads, a major source of greenhouse gas emissions. The folks at The Climate Reality Project reflect my view, “Now we are moving in the right direction.”

Not so fast, said Iowa Governor Kim Reynolds, whose state devotes significant corn acreage to producing ethanol for automotive use. She apparently heard this executive order was coming and had the following statement ready to go the same afternoon.

President Biden’s short-sighted stance on electric vehicles is undermining Iowa’s renewable fuel industry while simultaneously jeopardizing America’s energy independence. This announcement follows the Biden Administration’s failure to support renewable fuels in the infrastructure package currently being negotiated in Congress. It’s a harmful pattern that must be reversed.

With the policies we see coming out of Washington, it’s never been more important that Iowa fights for renewable fuels like ethanol and biodiesel while looking for new ways to invest in the high-quality products we produce right here, right now in our state.

Press release from the Office of the Iowa Governor via email, Aug. 5, 2021.

I couldn’t disagree more with Governor Reynolds. 53 percent of Iowa’s corn crop goes to ethanol production, according to Iowa Corn. A third of that makes a livestock feed co-product and the rest into ethanol fuel. One did not need to be a psychic to predict farmers were not going to like it when passenger cars, SUVs and light trucks all go electric, likely in my lifetime. The better action for the governor–than propping up the internal combustion engine in automobiles and light trucks–is determining the future use of those corn acres once ethanol is no longer needed as a fuel.

Either we have the political will to address the climate crisis or we don’t. It seems clear President Biden is willing to take bold action to address global warming, as evidenced by his direction on electrifying cars and light trucks. While some in the environmental movement say he is not bold enough, last week’s executive order would never have been signed by a Republican president. Governor Reynolds’ pushback was predictable and an argument for maintaining a status quo that has not been good for Iowa in terms of soil depletion, air quality, water quality, crop diversity, and economic and environmental sustainability.

As this plays out in coming weeks and months, the dynamic between the White House and Iowa’s Republican governor will be important to watch. What shall we do to address the climate crisis? According to President Biden we can and must do something. Moving toward electric transportation vehicles is a positive step, even though farmers will have to adjust. We have to do more to address the climate crisis.

Despite the debate and inevitable conflict, the country has to adjust to our future needs. The debate between government and farmers is not new. It has never been more important as the future livability of our planet is at stake. It’s now or never on climate.