In Flood-Hit Midwest, Mayors See Climate Change as a Subject Best Avoided
By Mitch Smith and John Schwartz
The Mississippi River, which gushed into downtown Davenport at record levels two weeks ago, has finally retreated toward its banks. Left behind: A truck-size hole in the temporary flood barrier, dead fish on mud-caked Pershing Avenue, and an urgent conversation about how to shield the city from the next flood.
As Mayor Frank Klipsch of Davenport starts that conversation — a wide-ranging discussion of upstream levee heights, riverfront development and whether the city should install permanent flood protection — there is one topic he sees little benefit in raising: human-caused climate change.
“We know there’s something going on, so how do we come together and deal with that?” said Mr. Klipsch, a two-term mayor who said taking a stance on climate change could be “divisive.” “Let’s not try to label it. Let’s not try to politicize it. It’s just a matter of something is changing.”
Across the Midwest this spring, floods have submerged farms and stores, split open levees and, in some places, left people stranded for days or weeks. The disasters have renewed national attention on how climate change can exacerbate flooding and how cities can prepare for a future with more extreme weather. But in some of the hardest-hit areas, where bolstering flood protection and helping the displaced are popular bipartisan causes, there is little appetite for bringing climate change — and the political baggage it carries — into the discussion.