Des Moines Mayor Frank Cownie hopes local leaders like him will have a voice in a United Nations climate conference later this month in Paris.

Cownie will be traveling to France for the UN Climate Conference and though it is a major international meeting made up of leaders of countries large and small, he wants to show that fighting climate change is a local issue, too.

“I want to bring a local voice, local eyes, local ears that are listening to people like you who are as concerned or more concerned than I am about the future,” Cownie said. “Let’s hope they want to hear from local governments that we have issues and we’d like to partner with them and help find solutions.”

Cownie addressed a group of about 100 people Sunday, Nov. 15, at Plymouth Congregational United Church of Christ in Des Moines. The objective of the conference Cownie will attend in Paris is to achieve agreements to reduce carbon emissions to reduce the projected rise in worldwide temperatures and slow the rate of human-caused climate change.

Cownie mentioned that Des Moines has experienced the effects of climate change with increased flooding in recent years. And he countered critics who say taking steps to slow climate change will cost people their livelihoods and cost a lot of money.

“The argument that I keep hearing is that what you’re suggesting is going to hurt the Iowa economy,” Cownie said. “I’m telling you that if we don’t do something about it, we’re going to hurt the Iowa economy for the really long term. Not only the state of Iowa, but planet Earth.”

Local governments need to be concerned about the influx of people who may need to relocate because of climate change. Today’s Syrian refugee crisis would be dwarfed if the sea level rises as projected over the next 30 or 50 years due to climate change. This could make islands and low coastal areas, some of which are heavily populated, uninhabitable.

“We may need to try to figure out not how to handle 100,000 or a million people (as could happen in refugee crises today) but how we relocate those people from those areas whose populations number 200 to 600 million,” Cownie said. “Where do they go? Where do we put them? That’s got to be part of this discussion.”

At a previous international climate conference Cownie attended, one international delegate didn’t want participation from smaller groups, including local governments, because the delegate said, they were “disruptive.”

Cownie’s response: “Well, I would totally like to disrupt the whole thing if they don’t come up with a solution that gets us to where we need to go with a plan and commitments on the part of all the countries on the face of this planet.”

Cownie spoke to the group prior to the screening of the documentary “Merchants of Doubt,” which looks at pundits-for-hire who present themselves as scientific authorities as they speak about topics like toxic chemicals, pharmaceuticals and climate change.

Cownie’s talk and the documentary screening were presented and sponsored by Iowa Interfaith Power & Light, the Des Moines Interfaith Green Coalition, Citizens Climate Lobby and the Central Iowa Sierra Club. The event was hosted by the Plymouth Green Team.

(See video below of Mayor Frank Cownie speaking about his upcoming trip to the Paris climate conference.)

See The Des Moines Register story on Cownie’s talk at Plymouth church and his upcoming trip to Paris.