'Paris to Pittsburgh': HC residents inspired to take action on Earth Day

National Geographic documentary features Kalona resident as leader in solar energy

GTNS photo by Grace King

Iowa Wesleyan University students Shomari Wilson, right, and Hannah Geer, introduce the National Geographic documentary “Paris to Pittsburgh” at a free screening on Monday, April 22, for Earth Day.
GTNS photo by Grace King Iowa Wesleyan University students Shomari Wilson, right, and Hannah Geer, introduce the National Geographic documentary “Paris to Pittsburgh” at a free screening on Monday, April 22, for Earth Day.

Henry County residents walked away from the screening of the National Geographic documentary Paris to Pittsburgh compelled to take action on Earth Day on Monday, April 22.

The documentary viewing was hosted by students at Iowa Wesleyan University in the chapel, with a Kalona resident who was featured in the film for his work with solar energy available for a Q&A. Paris to Pittsburgh explores the social and economic impact of climate change-fueled disasters. Much of the film features Iowa as a leader in renewable energy.

The film is named after President Donald Trump’s comment in June 2017, when he announced the U.S. would be withdrawing from the Paris Agreement, which was signed in 2015.

“I was elected to represent the people of Pittsburgh, not Paris,” Trump said.

Warren McKenna, with Farmers Electric Cooperative in Kalona, was featured in the film as a provider of solar energy in Iowa. His coop serves 620 customers.

McKenna said being in a National Geographic documentary was “pretty cool.” While other documentaries about climate change are “very political,” McKenna said Paris to Pittsburgh is solutions oriented.

“Climate change is real. There’s no question the climate is changing,” McKenna said.

McKenna said that the U.S. is experiencing more extreme weather, which is the crux of the film. People who deny climate change is occurring need to go back to the science, he said. “The science is real,” McKenna said. “As our CO2 parts per million increases, so have major weather events.”

Iowa is a leader in renewable energy, from wind to solar, McKenna said. “We’re trying to grow solar through the Iowa Solar Energy Trade Association,” McKenna said. “We’re doing so much from coast to coast. But at the same time, solar has a ways to go.”

Sen. Rob Hogg was featured on the film saying that McKenna has worked with the community to lead the way in solar energy.

Hogg said that farms in Iowa must be safeguarded from environmental disasters in the future, asking what happens if Iowans can’t keep up with production because of drought or flood?

“No way would I have predicted wind energy would be so good for jobs in Iowa,” Sen. Chuck Grassley says in the film.

The documentary highlights trouble climate change is causing in Florida where perennial flooding along costal cities creates problems for infrastructure and the fresh water supply. One resident, Chris Castro, said that because of flooding, an octopus was found in a parking garage half a mile from the beach.

“We’re going to have to adapt very quickly to rising tides and seas,” Castro says in the film.

The documentary also explores how residents are embracing renewable energy in California, Puerto Rico, Pittsburgh, Penn.

Following the showing of the documentary, McKenna hosted a Q&A with the audience.

McKenna said that Mt. Pleasant needs to be thinking of ways they can promote the use of sustainable energy, such as creating an electric car charging station.

McKenna said that the youth of American will be leaders in renewable energy, and urged Iowa Wesleyan University students in attendance to take action.

“In my lifetime, we went from 300 parts per million to over 400,” McKenna said. “In my grandkids’ lifetime, if they go up to 500 parts per million it will be catastrophic.”

Roger Gard, general manager of Geode Energy, LLC. in Danville, is a leader in solar panel sales and installation to support renewable energy. Gard also spoke during the Q&A about what Henry County residents can do to champion renewable energy.

Gard was looking at retiring a few years ago when he was speaking with a utility manager who said if he didn’t like how much he was paying in utility bills now, it was going to double every seven years. He installed a solar hot water system, air heater and electric system in his house to control his utility costs and use sustainable energy.

“It’s an upfront cost, but it’s paid for over time,” Gard said. “One of the few things you can buy that returns your money.”

Gard said that residents need to stand up and start talking about renewable energy with the Mt. Pleasant Area Chamber Alliance, at city council meetings and at Henry County Supervisor meetings.

“There’s an attitude issue that (renewable energy) is not needed,” Gard said. “There’s a lack of activity and interest. It’s good to see young people here (at the showing of Paris to Pittsburgh) because you’re the ones who are going to drive renewable energy.”

Maria Mellado, of Mt. Pleasant, said that in her home country of Chile, they incorporate the use of solar energy when building new infrastructure. She would like to see more of that in Henry County.

“The documentary was truthful,” Mellado said. “I know weather is changing. I was in Chile in January where it was summer, and I don’t remember it ever being so hot. I never expected that.”

Mellado said she cuts down on her own carbon footprint, the amount of carbon dioxide emitted by a person because of consumption of fossil fuels, by composting and generally creating less garbage.

Ruth Ann Lapp, of Mt. Pleasant, said she can’t see what’s bad about renewable energy and that it’s time for action.

“I don’t understand why it’s a partisan issue,” Lapp said. “The stuff in Kalona is pretty inspiring.”

Clay Lathen, an IW student from Eddyville, said the documentary brought up a lot of issues he didn’t know about, such as sea rising, and that it’s time for action.