Monthly Archives: December 2014

The Right of the Soil

James Bridle, as part of the Walker Art Center’s Artist’s Op-Eds series (perhaps the art scrooge has softened a little over the course of the project), writes in The Siege on Citizenship:

“If you’re born in the United States, no matter where your parents are from or what nationality they possess, you have the right to US citizenship. This principle is called jus soli, literally the ‘right of the soil,’ and it’s actually quite rare in the world: only the Americas implement it, mostly, without restrictions. In the rest of the world, the principle of jus sanguinis, the ‘right of blood,’ holds sway. What matters is where your parents are from and what rights they hold.”


Unrestricted jus soli in the United States, is further clarified by the 14th Amendment, “All persons born or naturalized in the United States, and subject to the jurisdiction thereof, are citizens of the United States and of the State wherein they reside.” However flawed the notion of the American Dream mixed with the Horatio Alger myth, isn’t the jus soli foundation for that dream something to be praised? That it doesn’t matter who your parents are, but only that you were born/naturalized on the same soil as everyone else.

The picture gets less rosy when citizenship clashes with a changing world. Bridle continues:

“As we accelerate into the 21st century and the third millennium, citizenship, or the lack thereof, is going to be one of the defining issues. Look at the increasing ethnic and religious fractures of post-Imperial and post-Soviet nation-states, the coming age of sea-level rises and inevitable climate-change refugee crises, the rise of pan-global financial elites, and the increasing individual identification not with the nation-state but with digital space and corporate cloud-services.”

The inevitable climate-change refugee crisis has already resulted in the reality of restricted citizenship. India abolished jus soli on 3 December 2004, as a response to illegal immigration from Bangladesh. India’s neighboring country ranks as the country most vulnerable to climate change, according to global risks analysis company Maplecroft (does anybody else think of Mycroft from the BBC Sherlock series?). In October 2010, 500,000 people evacuated their homes after extreme storms and rising sea levels combined with loss of crop productivity could contributed to even more refugees looking for another country’s soil to call home.

There is a legitimate, rational basis for why a developing nation faced with the challenges of its own burgeoning population would eliminate jus soli. In fact, there are some convincing arguments against birthright citizenship in the U.S. in the context of debates over illegal immigration. But before we fight over who gets what rights, perhaps we should give proper appreciation to the right of the soil in the first place. Bridle, citing Hannah Arendt’s conception of citizenship, claims recognition by any state – the arbiter of rights – is a precondition for the protection of all rights. Thus, citizenship can be considered “The Right to Have Rights.” So isn’t it beautiful that in the United States, before the right to speech, the right to a fair trial, the right to vote – before every other right – there is the right of the soil. Jus soli.

This is Jeffrey signing off from the CNP. It’s been an informative, enlightening, and hopefully action-galvanizing blast. Good luck to the new year’s fellows and keep the Friday morning meeting tradition alive (it builds Midwestern values)!

Climate Narrative Fellow Jenna Ladd: Immigrant Stories and Seeds

Climate Narrative Final from Erica Damman on Vimeo.

Here is Jenna Ladd’s “Immigrant Seeds and Stories” radio narrative, as presented on Dec. 11 for our Climate Narrative Project, “Semester in the Soil: Regenerative Agriculture, Urban Farms and Food.”

Iowa Enviro Focus: Climate Narrative fellows focus on soil

CGREG The UI Center for Global and Regional Environmental Research posted a nice blog review of last night’s event, “Climate Narrative Project fellows focus on soil.”

Here’s a clip:

Erica Damman – an artist and researcher in the Interdisciplinary PhD program focusing on Environmental Humanities – presented her project which was entitled “Soil Testimonies.” The project included sped up video of Damman creating a large charcoal drawing of a sow bug, a crustacean that lives beneath the soil. While the video played Damman also had an audio track of her conducting a fictional interview with a sow bug as it told her about life underground. The project integrated humor with lines like “everything down here is eating everything else” but also discussed the impacts of soil tilling for agriculture which destroys the homes of bugs, worms, and other parts of the soil ecosystem. Damman and the bug also discussed the effects of soil deep freezes which has been as deep as 15 nightcrawlers (or roughly 50 inches) during recent winters. The Ohio native concluded her presentation by stating that “[We need] to think of soil as our companion species.”

Jenna Ladd – an undergraduate majoring in sociology and minoring in Spanish – presented “Immigrant Seeds and Stories” which examined the availability of garden plots for immigrants in Iowa. She began her presentation by stating that “access to local and healthful food is a right not a privilege.” She then showed a photo slideshow with an audio narrative telling the story of immigrants from Mexico and Africa who came to Iowa as climate refugees because the effects of climate change have hampered their ability to farm and garden in their homelands. She cited data from the American Red Cross which shows that the number of climate refugees in the United States is greater than the number of political refugees. Some of the immigrants lack resources to consume “expensive good food” when coming to Iowa and this has led to an increase in obesity rates for some immigrants.

Jeffrey Ding – an undergraduate triple majoring in political science, economics, and Chinese – presented “Dispatches from the Land” which looked at farmers and the future of agriculture in Iowa. He also weaved some humor into his interactive presentation by reminiscing about the days when Hawkeye football was one of the passions in his life instead of “an exercise in mediocrity tolerance.” However most of the presentation was focused on serious issues facing Iowa farmers. He discussed the UI’s Biomass Fuel Project with specific focus on miscanthus – an Asian perennial tallgrass – which is being grown on plots in Iowa and which he referred to as “the field of the future.” Ding also discussed the importance of soil conservation, citing that farmers should “leave the land better than you got it.” He looked at the future of agriculture in Iowa citing that a quarter of farmland is owned by people over the age of 75 and that with Johnson County being the second-fastest growing county in the state it has created a rift between rural interests and urban development. He concluded his presentation by stating “before regenerative agriculture can save us, we have to save us.”

Sarah Nagengast – an undergraduate majoring in environmental policy and planning with a minor in geography and a certificate in sustainability – presented a video documentary entitled “Recipes in an Age of Climate Change.” She focused on the importance of food availability as well as proper food disposal. Approximately 40 percent of food is wasted and when this food is dumped in conventional landfills as opposed to being composted it creates environmentally-damaging greenhouse gases. Not only do consumers contribute to the high amount of food wasted in the United States but often times farmers and producers will dispose of crops that they feel doesn’t meet their standard for selling.

Daily Iowan: Students share stories about the soil

dailyiowa A student reporter with the Daily Iowan takes a look at last night’s event with the Climate Narrative Project fellows, “An Evening in the Soil: Regenerative Agriculture, Urban Farms and Food.”

Here’s a clip:

““This semester we decided to climb out of the river and step onto the shore, step onto soil … not dirt, not sand … but the soil,” Biggers said.

Biggers said he wanted the multimedia art project to inspire people to take action to slow the effect of climate change.

“We have science coming out of our ears, and yet effectively we’re doing very little to move in the direction of the climate action we need,” he said.

The students involved in this semester’s project included Erica Damman, Jenna Ladd, Jeffrey Ding, and Sarah Nagengast.

Using film, music, short stories, and art, the students told stories about the soil connecting to everyone, how important it is, and what everyone can do to ensure its health.

Damman, a Ph.D. student, used time-lapse footage of her drawing an insect as she played a recording of an “interview” with the insect.

As her story went on, she spoke of the soil as not something we simply plant our food in, or walk on, but as a fellow species.

She said when looking at the complexities and interdependence of the life in soil, “it compels us to look at soil as our companion species.”

Tonight! Climate Narrative Project Presents: An Evening in the Soil

dec11poster2 Don’t miss tonight’s special program, “An Evening in the Soil: Regenerative Agriculture, Urban Farms and Food,” featuring multi-media stories by Climate Narrative Project fellows. The event takes place on Thursday, Dec. 11, 7pm, in Room 2520D in the Old Capitol Mall.

Drawing on a semester of research, discussions and interviews, the Climate Narrative fellows use film, radio, visual arts and creative writing strategies to explore the stories of soil, regenerative agriculture and urban farm and food movements in an age of climate destabilization.

Climate Narrative fellows include:

Erica Damman – Soil Testimonies

Jeffrey Ding – Dispatches from the Land

Jenna Ladd – Immigrant Seeds and Stories

Sarah Nagengast – Recipes in an Age of Climate Change

West Louisville Food Hub

hub Is it possible to turn a former industrial National Tobacco Company site into a thriving urban farm and food hub? West Louisville thinks so.

Where could such a food hub be based in Iowa City?

Check out this Civil Eats update on the proposal for the nation’s largest food hub: “A marketplace where farmers would be able to monetize their entire crop. Local produce will first to go to restaurant and market buyers within the hub. What doesn’t sell that way–-the “seconds”–will go to an industrial food processor located next door. What’s left–-the “thirds”–will go to a food bank in the hub. And whatever cannot be eaten will go to an anerobic biodigester producing methane and heat from organic waste.”

Here’s a clip:

“Food hubs, or networks that allow regional growers to collaborate on marketing and distribution, are growing in popularity around the nation, thanks in part to support from the U.S. Department of Agriculture. But this one takes the model further. The vision is to have a mix of tenants representing the entire food cycle. There will also be a two-acre demonstration farm operated by the county agriculture extension service.

The product of a partnership between city government and Seed Capital Kentucky, a non-profit investor, the West Louisville Food Hub is intended to bolster the local food economy by filling current gaps in distribution and aggregation. Those needs became all the more pressing with the closure of the previous local food distributor, Grasshoppers Distribution, last year.

Stephen Reily, Seed Capital KY’s founder, characterizes the planned hub as “an industrial site that works like a farm.” By co-locating a food processor, a juicery, a bio-digester, and a farm, he hopes to resolve bottlenecks in the supply chain, foster economies of scale, and create a one-stop-shop for both local food producers and buyers.

“There are too many one-to-one transactions today,” says Reily. “If a chef wants to order from Sysco that’s one transaction, versus calling up 18 different farmers.”

The impetus behind the hub came in part from Louisville Mayor Greg Fischer’s 2013 initiative, Vision Louisville, which identified both a food hub and an energy plant using waste as community priorities. But Reily himself saw “a lot of unconnected dots between local food and local people.” Connecting them meant not only fixing current problems, but transforming Louisville’s food economy. “The more we looked at it, the bigger it got,” adds Reily.

The project is ambitious in scope as well as size. The site itself, in West Louisville, is larger than the infield of the Churchill Downs racetrack. Yet the neighborhood is worlds away from the roses and mint juleps of the Kentucky Derby. Although it’s a single-family residential area where houses have yards, it is also the most economically depressed part of the city. Reily estimates that 90 percent of neighborhood children receive free or subsidized school lunches, and the unemployment rate is the highest in the county.”

University of Iowa Offers Climate Justice Course


Human Dimensions of Climate Change

Human Dimensions of Climate Change

In Spring 2015, The University of Iowa will offer a rare opportunity to learn about climate change and justice. The class is called “The Human Dimensions of Climate” [GEOG:2331] and if I’m not mistaken, it is one of the few courses offered on the topic. For those of you at the University who have been following this blog, you recognize that issues related to, and persons impacted by, climate change represents some of the most pressing and difficult questions facing us today and into the future. In a brief email, I got to talk to Professor Nicholas Brown about the course. I wanted to hear from him, why this course, why now? And with the  interdisciplinary nature of the course, how might this course be beneficial to students in the age of climate change? Here’s what he had to say:

 “A few years ago the geographer Joel Wainwright argued that ‘our understanding of the physical processes that are driving climate has run far ahead of our explanations of the social processes driving the physical processes.’ This class is fundamentally about social processes, including social relations structured by capitalism, colonialism, imperialism, etc. I’m particularly interested in the colonial dimensions of climate change. And I believe that colonization – as both a historical event and an enduring structure – is one of the primary social processes driving climate change. Therefore, in our efforts to address climate change, I believe we need to explicitly address colonial relations. I also believe that the environmental humanities provide a unique perspective and invaluable tools not only for understanding these social processes, but also for intervening, articulating new modes of coexistence, and constructing alternative worlds.”

The course promises to draw from the humanities, social sciences, and physical sciences, focusing on climate justice, indigenous peoples and climate change, and critical theories of the anthropocene. The course explores the origins of the climate justice movement and its relationship to both the environmental and environmental justice movements. It also examines strategies used by these social movements to envision and create a more egalitarian society framed on principles of social justice, including the emergence of new spatial scales of struggle and transnational coalitional politics that link the global north and south. Other topics include climate refugees and migration; “green grabbing,” or land appropriation for environmental purposes; climate change, militarization, and security; and new conservation geographies and forms of environmental governance.

Want to know who you’ll be reading? It’s a list of all-star authors on the topics within the course – here’s a preview:

Naomi Klein, This Changes Everything: Capitalism vs. The Climate (New York: Simon & Schuster, 2014).

Elizabeth Kolbert, The Sixth Extinction: An Unnatural History (New York: Henry Holt and Co., 2014).

Naomi Oreskes, The Collapse of Western Civilization: A View from the Future (New York: Columbia University Press, 2014).

Christian Parenti, Tropic of Chaos: Climate Change and the New Geography of Violence(New York: Nation Books, 2012).

And so many more, like Callison’s How Climate Comes to Matter, Cruikshank’s  Do Glaciers Listen?, and Grossman and Parker’s Asserting Native Resilience: Pacific Rim Indigenous Nations Face the Climate Challenge….

Professor Brown’s course is bolstered by his own research, a recent example of that would be a project which focuses on environmental politics and settler colonialism in the Alberta/Montana borderlands. “Centered on Glacier National Park and the Blackfeet and Flathead Nations, the project explores the colonial dimensions of climate change, particularly as manifest in the continuity of the rhetoric of vanishing. It also considers how landscape-scale conservation projects, such as the Yellowstone to Yukon Conservation Initiative (Y2Y), function within settler colonial contexts. Among other things, I argue that the lack of a politics and ethics of connectivity in these new conservation geographies re-inscribes the logic of elimination.”

If you are looking for a course that will push you to think about climate change and prepare you as a student and citizen in a future forever shaped by climate change, then this is the course for you.



Grasping the Big Picture through Stories

07mag-07lede.t_CA0-superJumbo_1000I have been a fan of Rebecca Solnit’s work for some time. On Dec. 2, 2014 Solnit writes in the New York Times about the power of stories and what happens when fossil fuel supporters and climate deniers swap stories about ill-effects with renewable energy. For instance, the Ivanpah Solar Field in the Mojave Desert has caused hundreds, perhaps thousands of birds to perish. Solnit opens the piece with a moving description of a rough-winged swallow with scorched feathers, forever damaged. But, she points out, we humans have been particularly ill-adept at holding larger patterns in our minds. So when fossil fuel supporters latch on to the stories of birds killed by wind turbines and solar fields but ignore the millions of birds killed over the life-time of the fossil fuel industry, they are coaxing us to forget longer patterns of damage, deaths that are more difficult to see and certainly less photogenic. Here’s an excerpt (but the whole piece is so lovely,  I think you should read it!):

“For a while our eyes were on the photographs of oil-soaked pelicans, victims of the 2010 BP blowout in the Gulf of Mexico. The devastation of the region is no longer news, but scientists, who track data for long unnewsworthy swathes of time, have found that the spill has killed more than 600,000 birds. It is still killing sea turtles and bottlenose dolphins and contaminating the seafood in areas where human beings fish. You have to look past what can be photographed — individual cases, incidents in the past — at the broad patterns. A recent Audubon Society report on climate change concludes: “Of the 588 North American bird species Audubon studied, more than half are likely to be in trouble. Our models indicate that 314 species will lose more than 50 percent of their current climatic range by 2080. Of the 314 species at risk from global warming, 126 of them are classified as climate endangered. These birds are projected to lose more than 50 percent of their current range by 2050.”

That one death is a tragedy, a million deaths a statistic, is as true of animals as it is of human beings. It’s a lot harder to mourn a potential loss of an entire habitat — as is threatened now for birds like the chestnut-collared longspur — than it is to mourn a golden eagle struck down by a turbine blade, or a warbler scorched in a solar farm. The technology for wind and solar farms can still be improved, but they are among the few remedies we have to the biggest problem humanity has ever faced. All over the world, renewable energy is proliferating — even on the plains of West Texas, there are now wind turbines among the fracking wells. Wind and solar are not only problems but solutions to the deadliness of the fossil fuel industry, whether it’s through routine devastation, as with tar sands, or catastrophic accidents, as with the BP spill, or the sabotage of the whole planetary system by climate change.”

What is humus?

Humus, the layer of soil essential for healthy food production which is being gradually depleted by unsustainable farming practices. Graeme Sait a lifelong human and soil health educator explains how 467 billion tonnes of carbon has been released from the soil into the atmosphere, and that we urgently need to return that carbon to the soil, and start replenishing the humus in order to reverse the impact.