CEDAR RAPIDS — Climate change was an issue of “overriding importance” to Rob Hogg when he wrote an open letter to presidential candidates asking them about their plans to deal with global warming.
“I was all in,” Hogg said about his commitment to “elevate this issue in the presidential campaign — on both sides — to get bipartisan commitments to address climate.”
That full-page ad signed by about 75 Iowans urging Democrats and Republicans to “recognize the global warming threat and present a strategy for limiting greenhouse gases” appeared in The Gazette and three other Iowa daily newspapers two decades ago — Oct. 25, 1999.
It looked like the 2000 election might produce results. Democratic nominee Al Gore, like Hogg, was all in. And Hogg “remembers vividly” GOP nominee George W. Bush telling him about his “four pollutant strategy” that would regulate carbon dioxide under the Clean Air Act — what President Barack Obama did a decade later in the Clean Power Plan.
Bush won the election but pulled back from the regulation. Indeed, after the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks, many campaign promises took a back seat.
Since then, success on climate change policies have been measured in a glass half-full, half-empty way.
There’s been so much resistance to recognizing the problem and, especially in the political sphere, adopting solutions that Hogg admits to being less hopeful.
“We’ve lost 20 years to act on the issue,” he said, pointing out that since 1999, carbon dioxide levels have risen from 360 parts per million to more about 410 ppm. making the world “more irreversibly committed” to climate change than it was 20 years ago.
“In 1999, it was theoretical about losing arctic sea ice or the melting of the Greenland ice sheet. Well, today it’s measured and documented,” Hogg said.
On the other hand, in the past 20 years, awareness of the issue has made it a “defining issue of our time,” he said.
“The issue has moved up on the priority list for Americans and that means it’s more likely that the United States will act on climate change,” Hogg said. “It also makes it easier for the next president to lead the world to address the issue.”
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Plus, “we have solutions that work” because of the efforts of industry, academia and government, he said.
What hasn’t changed is Hogg’s charge to address climate change, which dates to his college days. In 1999, the recent law school graduate was raising awareness of climate change working for Ecumenical Ministries of Iowa. In 2001, it was a “motivating factor” in his decision to run for the Iowa House. In 2013, Hogg published “America’s Climate Century: What Climate Change Means for America in the 21st Century and What Americans Can Do About It.”
Now a state senator, Hogg said climate change was a “central reason” for him seeking the Democratic nomination for the U.S. Senate in 2016, which was unsuccessful.
This year, when he learned the Democratic National Committee was not going to have a presidential candidate debate focusing on climate change, Hogg took matters into his own hands with a series of “climate conversations” with the hopefuls. Initially, Hogg thought he might get only “long shot” candidates. However, over the summer and fall, he has hosted “climate conversations” with 15 of the 2020 Democratic presidential candidates, including what public opinion polls show as the leading candidates.
In July, he had four events in five days and held three more over the Labor Day weekend.
He’s had as few as 30 people show up at a bar for a conversation with Massachusetts Rep. Seth Moulton to more than 200 people at the Indian Creek Nature Center to hear former Vice President Joe Biden. Hogg hopes to get the remaining candidates before Thanksgiving.
In addition to giving candidates a platform to talk about climate change, Hogg used their appearances as opportunities to educate the presidential hopefuls about climate-related issues in Iowa, such as flooding, drought and severe weather events.
He took them to Pierson’s Flower Shop in the Time Check neighborhood, the Matthew 25 Urban Farm in southwest Cedar Rapids, Iowa Flood Center at the University of Iowa and Kirkwood Community College’s renewable energy job training program.
“And we got enough attention locally and nationally that it really helped elevate the issue nationally,” he said, speculating it might have influenced CNN and MSNBC to hold climate town halls.
Despite the challenges — headaches, at times — of trying to schedule candidate appearances, Hogg thinks the climate conversations have been well worth the effort.
“On the substance of the issue, we’re ready for action,” he said.