Monthly Archives: April 2014

“Once We Were a River Town”

After a wonderful premiere last night, we finally have a live youtube link!  “Once We Were a River Town” is the final product of my semester’s worth of research on student involvement with the river and the understanding of climate change in the age of social media.


Iowa Now Features Climate Narrative Fellow Kelsey Zlevor!


Check out this wonderful profile on Climate Narrative Project fellow Kelsey Zlevor: High-energy students pursues low-energy solutions.

Zlevor, a UI senior environmental sciences major from La Grange Park, Illinois, is doing what she can to make the biggest impact on campus by leaving behind the smallest footprint. In the past four years, she has spearheaded many sustainable campus initiatives, including tray-less dining, water-bottle filling stations, the replacement of trash cans with recycling bins, and energy conservation.

“I’d like to think I’ve left the campus a greener place than when I found it, and I think these projects have helped students get involved with their university and understand their impact on it,” she says. “I’ve had the great opportunity to engage a lot of students who were unengaged previously, and that’s what I’m most happy about.”

Kelsey Zlevor is one of 38 students graduating this year with a sustainability certificate from the UI and one of 129 students in the program.

Initially an English major, Zlevor didn’t expect to spearhead such large initiatives when she entered the UI. But after taking professor Art Bettis’ Introduction to Environmental Science course her freshman year, for which she helped to remove invasive species from Hickory Hill Park, she switched majors and enrolled in the Sustainability Certificate program.

Saving Iowa’s Soil


Farm News reviews a lecture at the Iowa Academy of Sciences annual meeting in Ft. Dodge on farming techniques and their impacts on soil, runoff and water quality.

With more tile lines installed, more land opened for row crops and a 130 percent increase in rainfall over the past 130 years, Schilling said, Iowa’s soils no longer act as the sponge they once did before the steel plow arrived.

Iowa soils’ water-holding ability has been broken down so far, he said, the best Iowa can improve is getting back to its 1940s capability.

“With a 4-inch rain,” Schilling said, “you can expect 3 inches to run off” without any type of conservation practices.

And if corn demand continues to grow, he said, and more acres are converted to meet the demand, there will be even more discharges into the Mississippi River Basin.

Conservation practices are holding more soil in place, said Mary Skopec, a senior researcher with IDNR, but most erosion is occurring in streambeds, and nitrate leaching occurring through tile lines.

Skopec said Iowa needs more grasses planted to hold water back.

“That’s important,” she said, “because water carries the pollutants.”

From 1995 to 2008, Skopec said, nitrate flows in Iowa’s surface waters have multiplied six times. This is from more tile lines, but also more than a million acres returned to row cropping after coming out of conservation reserve.

“Only 10 percent of Iowa’s streams would test for safe levels of nitrates today,” Skopec said.

Schilling said urban areas also carry blame for the increased water contents in streams and erosion that occurs.

With more concrete and impervious surfaces from urban developments shedding rain and snow melt into streams, the water flows faster through the watersheds, although the flows don’t last as long, Schilling said.

Tonight! An Evening on the Iowa River


What does climate change mean to University of Iowa students, and how can we tell its story better on our campus and in our own communities?

Over the course of the semester, Rachel, Liz, and Kelsey have explored the Iowa River and its historical and contemporary connections to environmental, agricultural, sustainability and climate topics relevant to the UI community, Iowa City and beyond.

The three Climate Narrative fellows will give multi-media presentations on their projects and experience tonight, Tuesday, April 29th, at 7pm, at the Iowa Theatre (former Bijou) in the Iowa Memorial Union.

We would love for you to join us for an evening of narrative along the banks of the place we call home!

Presentations include:


Kelsey Zlevor
Once We Were A River Town: Exploring Our Sense of Place In the Age of Social Media

Liz Behlke
Water is Wide: Women and the Iowa River

Rachel Serslev
Nitrate Monologues: Stories from the Farm and Water Frontlines

Climate of Change: KTIV on Weather Impacts and Iowa City

KTIV News 4 Sioux City IA: News, Weather and Sports

During this week of rain, KTIV examined the impacts of climate change and weather disruptions in Iowa City and around the state:

“We’re seeing intense rainfalls that we didn’t see 100 years ago,” said Jerry Schnoor, University of Iowa Professor and Co-Director of the Center for Global and Regional Environmental Research. “It’s very unusual 100 years ago to have a 4 inch rainfall in a single day. Now it’s not so uncommon.”

The center was founded at the University of Iowa in 1990 to study the impact of climate change here in Iowa and throughout the world.

“Iowa will be warmer and wetter, with the increase of precipitation occurring in more intense events,” said Schnoor.

According to Schnoor, that means we’ll all need to adapt. Farmers are using more drainage techniques and planting cover crops and cities are working on flood protection.

“Our experience and the lessons learned from the 2008 floods really put us ahead of the curve on this subject,” said Rick Fosse, Iowa City Public Works Director.

Living Downstream Discussion: What about our Iowa River?


As part of Earth Month events, the Climate Narrative Project fellows led a discussion of the film, “Living Downstream,” and its implications for the Iowa River and University of Iowa campus. From the OnEarth review:

As she explains in the film, despite a wealth of studies linking her type of cancer to chemical exposures, her doctors never once mentioned this correlation when she was being diagnosed. Exposure simply didn’t enter the discussion. So after earning her doctorate, Steingraber decided that rather than don the white coat and chain herself to the lab, she would instead take the research her colleagues had been conducting and act as a sort of translator to the public.

“Everyone was running around with their pieces of the puzzle,” Steingraber said in a phone interview with OnEarth, “but no one was putting the pieces together.”

In a discussion after the screening, some of the Climate Narrative fellow questions included:

How did the film make you feel?

Are there any moments that stood out in your mind? What did these moments make you think about or realize?

The film features many different communities in North America. Which one do you think most closely resembles our community and the Iowa River? Why?

Are there health and environmental problems in Iowa City, and with the Iowa River, that we should be addressing?

Are there groups already working on these issues on our campus and in our community? If yes, describe their work for us.

What have been your challenges and successes? What can the larger community do to support your work?

What can we, as students, faculty and community members, do?

Moving for Monarchs: Milkweed in Iowa

How can we go beyond the image of polar bears to bring home the discussion about the impacts of climate change, especially on our local habitats?

Butterflies, says David Osterberg, with the Iowa Policy Project, in a new oped in the Gazette this week. Osterberg features the artistic dance work of a former student in a special University of Iowa summer program, and her own project to raise awareness about climate change:

You’re in Iowa. Think of monarch butterflies. You used to see a lot of them, right in your backyard, feeding on plants then flitting off to the south.

Not anymore. Habitat loss, pesticides and loss of milkweed plants are the main cause but our changing climate, disrupted by the pollutants that we have put into the atmosphere, will be the long-term killer of this beautiful migration.

A speaker from Monarch Watch came to Cornell College in Mount Vernon last week to urge Iowans to plant more milkweed plants to try to restore the great monarch migration to Mexico. Let’s do that.

We all can bring our talents to solve our various environmental problems. Consider Gwynned Vetter-Drusch, a student in a high school summer program I taught at the University of Iowa. After high school in Manson, she chose not to attend college, but went instead to New York City to become a dancer.

She formed “Moving for Monarchs” and brought fellow dancers to a prairie in Kansas to dance with the monarch butterflies. She made a film (check YouTube) and on the strength of that film has found the funds to do another following the monarchs to the state of Michoacan in Mexico. (

A few years ago, so many butterflies made the long trek to Mexico that they covered over 45 acres in forests of Michaocan. Last year they took over less than two acres because so few now can make it.

Dancing raises awareness. We all can do something — and some of it is easy, such as turning off the water when brushing teeth and sharing rides to work. But we also must get involved in local policy.

Sea to Seed Film: Storytelling Journey of Artists and Farmers

Sea To Seed Tour : A Journey Of Farming, Community And Music from Over Grow The System on Vimeo.

Imagine this happening on the Iowa River?

This spring, a group of musicians, farmers, filmmakers, writers and photographers will set off on the Sea to Seed Tour, a month long sailing trip up through the Islands of British Columbia. We are on an experimental mission to collect and share the stories of the farming communities sown along the coast. While exploring the importance of localizing food systems, homesteading, organic farming, community building and permaculture we will also be engaging the role that art and culture can play in supporting these ways, evolving educational forums and creating positive change.

Daily Iowan: Climate as Narrative


The Daily Iowan features the Climate Narrative Project today: The climate as narrative. Here’s a clip:

“UI Office of Sustainability Director Liz Christiansen said the department hopes to give students the opportunity to learn how to communicate issues associated with global climate disruption in a new way.

“The impact of global climate disruption is already being felt in Iowa,” Christiansen said. “It will have an impact on our lives.”

Christiansen said she, along with Biggers, ended up collaborating to develop the Climate Narrative Project last spring after NASA announced the global concentration of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere had reached 400 parts per million for the first time in recorded history.

The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change released a report last week that concluded global emissions of greenhouse gases have risen to unprecedented levels and are a growing threat to food, water, and national security. The report included the issue of climate change “requires immediate action.”

“While many observers called [the panel’s] recent climate report a wake-up call, the great Iowa River flood of 2008 was arguably one of the most historic wake-up calls for our campus and town,” Biggers said.

Kelsey Zlevor, a Climate Narrative fellow, is exploring relationships UI students have with the river through a series of interviews in her project called “Once We Were a River Town: Exploring Our Sense of Place in the Age of Social Media.”

“We think our physical environment is a secondary concern as students when we’re trying to pursue good grades, competitive internships, and prestigious jobs,” Zlevor said. “Just because we may eventually leave doesn’t mean the problems disappear.”

Earth Day: Regenerative Organic Agriculture and Climate Change


Can farmers turn the tide of climate change?

Ecowatch features a story today on the Rodale Institute’s launch of a new global campaign to generate public awareness of soil’s ability to reverse climate change, “but only when the health of the soil is maintained through organic regenerative agriculture. The campaign calls for the restructuring of our global food system with the goal of reversing climate change through photosynthesis and biology.”

Says the Rodale Institute: “We are at the most critical moment in the history of our species, as man-made changes to the climate threaten humanity’s security on Earth. But there is a technology for massive planetary geo-engineering that is tried and tested and available for widespread dissemination right now. It costs little and is adaptable to local contexts the world over. It can be rolled out tomorrow providing multiple benefits beyond climate stabilization. The solution is farming.”

Here’s a direct link to the Rodale white paper.

Ecowatch summarizes:

“The media campaign brings the broader vision to the public much faster. The idea is to stoke the public outcry that already exists and to validate those who demand these changes be made now. By engaging the public now, they build the pressure necessary to prevent this call to action from sitting on the desks of scientists and policy-makers, or worse yet, being buried by businesspeople from the chemical industry. We don’t have time to be polite about it.”

Below are three excerpts exemplifying the call to action set forth in the white paper:

Organically managed soils can convert carbon from a greenhouse gas into a food-producing asset. It’s nothing new, and it’s already happening, but it’s not enough. This is the way we have to farm, period.

There’s a technology for massive planetary geo-engineering that’s tried and tested and available for widespread dissemination right now. It costs little and is adaptable to localities the world over. It can be rolled out tomorrow providing multiple benefits beyond climate stabilization. It’s photosynthesis.

The solution is farming like life on Earth matters; farming in a way that restores and even improves on the natural ability of the microbiology present in healthy soil to hold carbon. This kind of farming is called regenerative organic agriculture and it is the solution to climate change we need to implement today.