'Candidates talk a green game, but what have they done about the issue?'
As climate change becomes an area of major concern throughout the world, the Iowa United Nations Association is hoping that Iowans will put some heat on political candidates to discuss foreign policy relating to global warming.
The IUNA hosted a series of forums on global issues across the state this season, including Davenport, Muscatine, Pella and Decorah. Storm Lake was the last stop on the five forum tour, where local activists had selected climate change as the topic du jour.
"We want to hear what people think on the issue and to get them to consider what the candidates are promoting on foreign policy," said Katy Hansen, Co-Director of the IUNA. "We will also have parts of the discussion online so that people are able to contribute to the discussion afterwards as well."
The forum hosted short lectures from experts, and then examined the positions of the 16 candidates who are currently running for 2008 presidential campaign.
"I think a lot of people are surprised by the wide difference between candidates," Hansen said. "You can find candidates from both parties on either side of the spectrum."
About 25 people, from college students to senior citizens, expressed their concerns over the climate change during the event Wednesday at Buena Vista University.
Dr. Carrie La Seur from Plaines Justice envionmental law organization, Dr. David Osterberg, environmental activist and University of Iowa science professor, and Nicole Sawran from the Better World Campaign, an organization that works to improve U.S. and UN ties, were speakers.
The moderator for this event was Kate Karacay from Iowa United Nations Association.
"There is one thing that I know and this is that things can change in science," Osterberg told the gathering. "My freshman year in 1961 in my geology class, it was hard to talk about continents moving because it was heavily criticized. By 1967 continents moving was a very believable theory and classes were devoted to the study. It's the same thing with global warming today, people used to have ideas about it - but only now it is truly believed to be a serious issue."
No one present dipsuted the scientific reality of global warming, but a point of discussion was whether or not human behavior and fossil fuel emissions is a direct cause - as opposed to other factors at work like continental shifts or changes in the magnetic polls.
"Nothing is absolute - that is why scientists may only say that they are 99.9 percent positive," Osterberg said of human causes. "But if you look at the evidence, nothing else adds up properly."
La Suer spoke about how Alaska is seeing immediate impact of the rise in the earth's temperature.
"As the ice melts and the permafrost (a layer of soil frozen year round) thaws, animals are losing feeding areas and villages are losing land they have lived on for centuries," La Suer said. "So what is the cost?"
Sawaran stated that people need to get involved and hold leaders responsible and push to become greener communities.
The forum took a look at the different candidates who are running and posted the responses to questioning on global warming.
"I have no doubt that global warming exists," Republican Tom Tancredo said. "I just question the cause and what we can do to ameliorate it. But I wonder why the Sierra Club isn't going crazy about the environmental aspect of massive immigration into the U.S. The fact is, Americans consume more energy than anyone else, so if a person moves here from another country, they automatically become bigger polluters."
Popular Democrat Hillary Clinton stated, "I propose a Strategic Energy Fund that would inject $50 billion into research, development and deployment of renewable energy. Instead of sending billions of dollars to the Middle East for their oil, my proposal will create a new clean energy industry in American and create tens of thousands of jobs here."
Other candidates responding included Sam Brownback, Bill Richardson, Fred Thompson, Barak Obama, Ron Paul, Chris Dodd, Mitt Romney, John Edwards, Joe Biden, Rudy Giuliani and Mike Huckabee were also examined.
Buena Vista University Science Professor Carolyn Ashbaugh stated that she strongly opposed Republican Candidate Mitt Romney.
"I use to live on Cape Cod and he worked very hard against placing an offshore wind farm," Ashbaugh said. "I don't think I could support a candidate who could go against that type of project. I know I can't. A lot of these candidates didn't even really talk about the issue."
Korey Cantrell agreed, but said that she couldn't support a candidate that didn't support clean energy projects.
"How do we find a candidate that has done something?" Cantrell said. "So many of the candidates sound good, but what have they done?"
La Suer also added that local candidates should be considered in supporting the fight against global warming.
"Governor (Chet) Culver has been very supportive but yet there are plans to build a huge coal burning facility in Iowa," La Suer said. "We can't be saying we are going to be green and yet still be building coal burning electricity plants."
The issue would be different if the coal facilities were being replaced with more efficient facilities, but currently they aren't, she said.
A member of the forum asked about going back to nuclear energy.
Dr. Osterberg said that there are numerous reasons why people don't want nuclear energy.
"There are a lot of people that are very concerned with the potential effects," Osterberg said. "Yes it is one of the most efficient energy sources, but then there is a question of proper storage of the spent rods. This is too much concern for nuclear energy to be a great alternative."
Discussion also moved into media coverage of global warming issues.
"The media is no longer going out and finding every sceptic out there and now there are very few and most of them don't want to talk," Osterberg said.
Jim Eliason agreed. "I know the media tries to show they are not biased, but giving equal coverage to some off the wall theories isn't right either," he said. With the evidence now on hand, it in impratical to give equal weight to any theories that ignore it, he added.
One concern about becoming greener was about the cost of affording Energy Star-level appliances and other items that are more efficient.
"You can push that candidates create a program so that people can afford those products and to finance them," Sawran said. "One program that has been discussed is for landlords to be able to be on a program that will allow them to be able to place those products into the apartments and pay for them over the life of the apartment."
Katy Hansen was pleased with the turnout. She stated that there have a wide variety of attendance going from as low as 20 to as high as 70 people.
"We didn't hit the 70 mark tonight but I think it went really well," Hansen said. "We had solid discussion at the other forum on the same subject as we did here. The best thing is that it's over and people aren't leaving, they are still talking."
The information gathered will be posted online at www.unaiowa.org and people will be able to see some video clips from the discussion as well as talk about what they think about the issues. The input will be made available to the United Nations and may be made into a portfolio to show what people are thinking.
"Sometimes it's like only the large communities get a voice, and we wanted to go out to some of the smaller communities and get their side as well," Hansen said.