Letter to the editor: The point of no return

The Iowa City Student Climate Strike, Friday, Oct 4, 2019. — Zak Neumann/Little Village

By Massimo Paciotto-Biggers and Alex Howe, Iowa City

As global leaders meet at the COP25 UN climate summit in Madrid this week, we plan to continue our year-long strike and walkouts in Iowa City on Friday, 3:30 p.m. at Old Brick. Since the Iowa City school district and Iowa City Council have passed updated climate plans in line with the IPCC, and Swedish climate activist Greta Thunberg brought global attention to Iowa City, we’ve been asked why we continue to strike. Here’s why:

We have no choice. As U.N. Secretary-General António Guterres warned world leaders on Monday, “the point of no return is no longer over the horizon. It is in sight and hurtling toward us.”

And yet, as it burns coal for six more years in the middle of our town, the University of Iowa still refuses to even respond to or meet IC climate advocates or join the Iowa City climate plan in a Town-Gown Climate Accord. In the process, UI plans to recklessly burn coal for six more years — the single biggest contributor of CO2 in Iowa City — and then rely on another fossil fuel, methane-emitting natural gas, for 60 percent of its power plant needs for the next half century.

If you believe in science and the reams of studies on climate chaos that have concluded “we might already have crossed the threshold for a cascade of inter-related tipping points,” such a reliance on fossil fuels at UI is almost delusional.

We strike because the adults in the room still hide behind excuses for their silence and inaction and delays, when global CO2 emissions have increased by 4 percent since the Paris Climate Summit in 2015, at a time when we need to drastically cut emissions in half over the next decade — just to stave off the worst disasters.

We strike because world-class universities like the University of Illinois declared climate emergency plans this week with 200 other American universities, joining 7,000 universities who committed to carbon neutral plans by 2030 earlier this summer — like the University of California. We deserve a world-class university climate emergency plan in Iowa City.

In short: UI’s outdated fossil fuel-generated power plant plans and sustainability goals fall far behind schools across the country, including Iowa State University, which was recently ranked 40th in the Top Green Colleges by Princeton Review.

We strike because 11,000 scientists warned last month of “untold suffering” if we fail to act quickly on our climate crisis. That means we must act now, not when it’s convenient.

We strike because our planet’s salvation requires courage, not fear.

We strike for climate refugees, including those displaced by flooding, drought and fires in Iowa, across the U.S. and around the world. Every two seconds, according to a recent Oxfam study, someone in the world is turned into a refugee by climate chaos.

In six years of UI burning coal, that totals 94,608,000 refugees from our climate crisis. Just do the math for 50 more years of fossil fuels like natural gas to understand our own responsibility.


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So, we will strike until adults in the room, including the University of Iowa administration, recognize we have reached a “point of no return” and urgently move forward with a Town-Gown Climate Accord in line with the IPCC goals, declare a climate emergency like other world-class universities, and end toxic and CO2-spewing coal in the heart of our town.

We hope you join us on Friday.

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