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How Iowa Caucus Could Place Urgency of Climate Action to Forefront of National Debate

Climate

The road to my caucus location in Iowa on Monday will wind along an Iowa River valley littered with the reminders of record flooding and drought since the last election—and a sea change on voters' priorities on climate action since 2008.

Climate change, like the candidates' climate action plans, may have received scant attention in the presidential debates and media.

But in Iowa, a state that leads in wind energy production and faces severe economic and agricultural risks from extreme weather, Bernie Sanders' bold climate action plan and long-time track record to take on the fossil fuel lobby is uniting a new generation of Iowa farmers and clean energy entrepreneurs, inspiring a groundswell of student activism, and tapping into the real and urgent climate leadership emerging in cities like Des Moines, Dubuque and Iowa City.

As the only candidate standing up to the Bakken pipeline, fracking and the fossil fuel lobby, and laying out a plan for farmers and displaced workers to be part of a clean energy revolution, Sanders is not just Iowa's climate champion.

A Sanders victory in Iowa next Monday could place the urgency of climate action back to the forefront of national debate—and electrify a new coalition of clean energy voters across the country.

All Democrats, of course, have touted their clean energy and climate action bona fides. But there is a huge divide between Hillary Clinton's and Martin O'Malley's notable renewable energy plans, and Sanders' long-time track record of standing up to the fossil fuel lobby and calling for an end to huge fossil fuel subsidies, as well as extraction on public lands.

The controversy of the Bakken pipeline for Iowans, as seen in this ad, highlights Sanders' leadership:

As part of his plans to cut carbon pollution by 40 percent by 2030, Sanders—unlike Clinton—calls for a carbon tax on polluters, in order to "return billions of dollars to working families to ensure the fossil fuel companies don't subject Americans to unfair rate hikes" and "protect low-income and minority communities that are most impacted by the transformation of our energy system and protect the most vulnerable communities in the country suffering the ravages of climate change."

As rural Iowans hold off devastating frac sand mining operations in the northern part of the state, Sanders is the only candidate to campaign against hydraulic fracking and liquefied natural gas exports.

The challenge, Sanders writes, remains the fossil fuel lobby:

"The fossil fuel industry spends billions and billions of dollars lobbying and buying candidates to block virtually all progress on climate change. At the national level where companies have to report what they spend on lobbying and campaign contributions, the oil companies, coal companies and electric utilities spent a staggering $2.26 billion in federal lobbying since 2009 and another $330 million in federal campaign contributions."

Sanders stands alone in defiance of the stranglehold of the fossil fuel lobby in Washington, and in the Democratic Party.

In this respect, an Iowa victory for Sanders will determine any real debate and progress on climate action and a clean energy revolution in the future.

Follow Jeff Biggers on Twitter.

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"Based on the information we have, we do not believe there are any survivors on the island," the police said in their official statement. "Police is working urgently to confirm the exact number of those who have died, further to the five confirmed deceased already."

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At the time of the eruption on Monday, about 50 passengers from the Ovation of Seas were on the island, including more than 30 who were part of a Royal Caribbean cruise trip, according to CNN. Twenty-three people, including the five dead, were evacuated from the island.

The eruption occurred at 2:11 pm local time on Monday, as footage from a crater camera owned and operated by GeoNet, New Zealand's geological hazards agency, shows. The camera also shows dozens of people walking near the rim as white smoke billows just before the eruption, according to Reuters.

Police were unable to reach the island because searing white ash posed imminent danger to rescue workers, said John Tims, New Zealand's deputy police commissioner, as he stood next to Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern in a press conference, as The New York Times reported. Tims said rescue workers would assess the safety of approaching the island on Tuesday morning. "We know the urgency to go back to the island," he told reporters.

"The physical environment is unsafe for us to return to the island," Tims added, as CNN reported. "It's important that we consider the health and safety of rescuers, so we're taking advice from experts going forward."

Authorities have had no communication with anyone on the island. They are frantically working to identify how many people remain and who they are, according to CNN.

Geologists said the eruption is not unexpected and some questioned why the island is open to tourism.

"The volcano has been restless for a few weeks, resulting in the raising of the alert level, so that this eruption is not really a surprise," said Bill McGuire, emeritus professor of geophysical and climate hazards at University College London, as The Guardian reported.

"White Island has been a disaster waiting to happen for many years," said Raymond Cas, emeritus professor at Monash University's school of earth, atmosphere and environment, as The Guardian reported. "Having visited it twice, I have always felt that it was too dangerous to allow the daily tour groups that visit the uninhabited island volcano by boat and helicopter."

The prime minister arrived Monday night in Whakatane, the town closest to the eruption, where day boats visiting the island are docked. Whakatane has a large Maori population.

Ardern met with local council leaders on Monday. She is scheduled to meet with search and rescue teams and will speak to the media at 7 a.m. local time (1 p.m. EST), after drones survey the island, as CNN reported.