Iowa Lawmaker Combines Errands

Iowa State Senator Rob Hogg decided to combine errands this past week.  Along with dropping his son off at Harvard, he decided the timing was right for delivering an important message to New England - about climate change.  With son Robert and daughter Isabel in tow, he made his pitch across four states.  No venue was too small or too modest: a nature center here, an ice cream parlor there, small-town bookstores here and there.  And places of worship of various stripes.

I heard Rob speak this past Monday at a synagogue in Brookline MA.  Though only a dozen people gathered to meet him on that balmy summer evening, he delivered his message with passion and determination - qualities that run through the brief, persuasive book he has written: America's Climate Century.  Every person in the room was a climate change activist in the making, in his view.  This is not an issue that we can afford to be passively concerned about; it demands broad public engagement.  Nothing less, he feels, will stir a polarized Congress out of its short-sighted paralysis.

Rob Hogg's awakening to the urgency of climate change dates to June 2008, when his home turf - Cedar Rapids - was inundated by a record-breaking flood that devastated more than 5,000 homes, closed down hundreds of businesses, and destroyed the city library's book collection - the biggest library disaster in U.S. history, he told us.  Rob's geographical sweep extends far beyond Iowa, however, to the Russian drought of 2011 that decimated the country's grain crop and just may have precipitated Egypt's political chaos.  He tells of Russia, a major exporter of wheat to Egypt, turning the trains around to keep limited food staples at home.  Predictably, grain prices in Egypt shot up and popular outrage built to a crescendo.

This plainspoken Great Plains lawmaker may not be tilling new ground with his findings and prognoses, but he brings a direct and earnest message that we all should hear.  "Climate change is the defining challenge of our generation," he says.  "We need to make it our new national purpose."  He rattles off the names of groups that are working to bring climate change into the public sphere.  Along with well-known environmental groups like Sierra Club, NRDC, and the Union of Concerned Scientists, he highlights the organizing efforts of Climate Parents,, Grannies for a Livable Future, Energy Exodus, and  (On the latter, which is planning a transcontinental march in the Spring of 2014, I suggested that Tom Hanks should be recruited as an articulate messenger, bringing 21st-century currency to Forrest Gump's legendary Vietnam-era cross-country treks.)

Just one final word about how this concerned Iowan made his way to New England: in a Prius loaded with two kids plus college-bound luggage.  He gave up plane travel several years ago, knowing its giant carbon-generating impacts.  This isn't a move he insists others must take, however.  "You don't have to give up comfort," he says.  "You do have to speak up."