WWHAWD: What would Henry A. Wallace do?
Many Iowans might be astonished to learn that Henry A. Wallace was a Republican.
After all, didn’t he serve under Franklin D. Roosevelt throughout the entirety of his presidency, as secretary of agriculture, secretary of commerce and vice president?
The reality is that he grew up a Republican, the scion of an Iowa farm family so prominent that both his father and grandfather were offered the job of secretary of agriculture under Republican U.S. presidents. (His father accepted, but his grandfather declined.)
Henry A. was a Republican, too, when FDR offered him the same job, and it didn’t occur to him to change his party registration to Democratic for another four years, at the age of 48.
Frankly, it didn’t matter much to him, or to FDR.
What mattered was simply restoring the farm economy, so badly battered by the Depression and the Dust Bowl. His legislation to help farmers passed Congress with broad bipartisan support. In his sunset years, he endorsed Republican Dwight Eisenhower for the presidency.
Well, I can say with confidence that my grandfather would be appalled at his old party today — at their obstructionism on issues affecting American farming.
Next to soil, the most important factor in farming is climate, and there is overwhelming evidence that the rapidly accelerating pace of global warming will have disastrous consequences for agriculture in Iowa. And yet, the uniform position of Iowa Republican candidates these days is to flatly refuse to do anything about it.
According to the 300 experts who conducted the 2014 National Climate Assessment for the National Academy of Sciences, the unpredictable jumble of climate extremes — heat waves, too little rain, too much rain — will lead to declines in agricultural productivity and increased stresses from weeds, diseases and insect pests.
Steady increases in the average number of days without precipitation will lead to drought and suppressed crop yields, especially for corn.
Heavy downpours and flooding don’t simply balance out the dry spells; the sudden runoff overwhelms man-made defences (as in the Cedar Rapids floods, which caused $6 billion in damages, or more than $40,000 per resident) and accelerates soil erosion.
Wetter springs reduce yields and profits, as growers switch to late-planted, shorter-season varieties. Increasing heat waves are predicted specifically for Iowa, which particularly suppress yields if occurring during pollination.
And as the world’s population balloons from 7 billion to 9 billion over the next generation, increased instability of food supplies will inevitably fuel global problems of famine, migration, political turmoil and violent conflict.
Henry A. Wallace would simply not sit still and let this happen.
Regardless of what causes it, he would focus on what we can do to fix it, for future generations.
To be sure, as a scientist, he would find it absurd to casually dismiss the overwhelming scientific consensus that the increasing climate extremes are caused by humans burning carbon-based fuels for energy. He favored biofuels over oil, and liked to quote the warning of President Theodore Roosevelt (another Republican): “To skin and exhaust the Earth will undermine the days of our children.”
If 99 out of 100 experts tell you that something you are doing is harming your children, would you ignore them?
That’s what today’s Republicans are doing.
U.S. Sen. Joni Ernst says she doesn’t “know the science” of global warming and can’t say what the impact is, but is dead set against fixing it — even to the extent of killing the one agency that is doing anything about it, the Environmental Protection Agency.
Third District Congressman David Young insists there are “credible studies” on “both sides,” but thinks that global warming might be caused by volcanoes.
Rep. Steve King dismisses climate change as “more of a religion than a science,” and thinks it may actually be a “good” thing — because he personally prefers to be warm rather than cold.
And why is there any controversy about renewable fuels? Even if there’s a remote possibility that global warming is caused by volcanoes rather than burning carbon-based fuels, why not focus like a laser on carbon-free alternatives which will increase jobs?
To the suggestion that a strong renewable fuels standard could create 75,000 jobs in Iowa, Ernst simply opposes such a standard and says “in a perfect world it would not exist.”
Whose side is she on? Renewable fuels are putting money in farmers’ pockets and growing Iowa’s economy — all while replacing dirty carbon-based energy. No state in the nation gets more of its energy from wind (27.4 percent) than Iowa. Why not celebrate that leadership?
Blocking renewable energy standards and refusing to do anything about climate change would outrage my grandfather, whichever political party he belonged to.
As a politician and public servant, ordinary people always came first, and the party line dead last.
Henry Scott Wallace is an attorney and co-chair of the Wallace Global Fund, a foundation founded by his grandfather, Adair County native Henry A. Wallace.