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Editorial: Going green involves more than tax credits

BY DI EDITORIAL BOARD | JUNE 24, 2014 5:00 AM

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This past weekend, while touring a solar array in Davenport, Sen. Rob Hogg, D-Cedar Rapids, noted that tax credits passed by the Iowa Legislature resulted in increased economic activity for the state, $28.8 million in investments and around 600 new jobs being attributed to the industry, according to the Quad City Times.

The tax credits provide up to $5,000 and $20,000 rebates for homeowners and businesses, respectively, who use solar panels.

We on the Editorial Board believe that the prevailing public-policy need that these tax credits rightly address does not lie in economics but rather in much simpler math. Without clean, sustainable energy such as solar power, the civilization we have so diligently constructed will eventually collapse.

Delving into the world of climate-change news these days seems more like a recipe for severe anxiety than an exercise in brushing up on the latest policy problem. Recent research by NASA geoscientists has concluded that the West Antarctic Ice Sheet is now collapsing at an “unstoppable and irreversible” rate that, once complete, could raise sea levels somewhere in the vicinity of 15 feet. According to prominent environmentalist Bill McKibben, most climate scientists estimate that we can only heat the Earth an another 2 degrees Celsius and still survive as a civilization. We’re already at 0.8.

Greenland and Arctic sea ice are already well on their way to significant hemorrhaging. A report issued by the Obama administration has concluded that all these ice collapses, all this heating from carbon emissions, will have catastrophic effect on the United States and the world at large, ranging from drought in the Midwest and Southwest, sea-level rises that will sink such cities as Miami and New York, and more extreme and consequently more deadly tornados, hurricanes, and forest fires.

To put it mildly, our species is in the process of self-immolation.

A more local example of this can be found in West Branch, where a local farmer attempted to construct a large hog-confinement complex that would have contributed significantly to Iowa’s air and water pollution — a 2007 comprehensive study by Forbes found Iowa to be ranked 38th in the nation when it came to environmental health. While hog farming is a key part of Iowa’s economy, regulation to maintain ecological and environmental health is important.

We’re not suggesting that by highlighting the economic benefits of an increased governmental push Hogg is ignoring the real issue of climate change. To the contrary, solar power is not only economically beneficial in the obvious sense — more jobs — but also in a more macro sense. If we continue to pump toxins into the environment, cleaning up the consequences — drought, extreme weather, water pollution — will be economically devastating. A retrospective example of this is Hurricane Sandy, a climate-change-fueled storm that devastated the East Coast and cost the country around $68 billion in damages in 2012.

However, the true focus of these efforts should be on combating climate change, if for no other reason than that the survival of an Iowa — or a world, for that matter — that is safe to live in depends on it. 

This doesn’t just apply to the public-relations side of the battle demonstrated by Hogg but also in terms of actual policy. Tax credits must also be combined with efforts to regulate industries that are potentially deleterious to the state’s economic health such as the proposed West Branch hog-confinement facility.

If we’re going to confront the great menace of our time, climate change, with any sort of seriousness or effectiveness, we must do so as honestly and comprehensively as possible. Yes, solar panels are a plus for the Iowa economy, but if we don’t say that they are necessary for the health of our civilization, we might as well not even bother.


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