Monthly Archives: May 2015

These composers put climate change across the globe to music

cnpHere’s a cool story from Grist about the intersection between the arts (music specifically) and climate change:

These composers put climate change across the globe to music

By Liz Core

Back in ’13, we wrote about a little diddy called “A Song of Our Warming Planet.” The composition put the Earth’s warming from 1880 to 2012 to music — every note corresponded to a year, with the pitch representing a temperature. Now, the composers from the University of Minnesota are back with a new song. This piece, called “Planetary Bands, Warming World,” translates global warming data from different regions of the world to music. And it’s pretty damn amazing.

The co-composers, undergraduate Daniel Crawford and geography professor Scott St. George, set out to represent climate data with a string quartet rather than with the maps and spreadsheets we usually see. The music is written based on surface temperature data from NASA’s Goddard Institute for Space Studies. Here’s Crawford with the details:

The cello matches the temperature of the equatorial zone. The viola tracks the mid-latitudes. The two violins separately match the temperatures of the high altitudes and the arctic.

The pitch of each note is tuned to the average annual temperature of that region. A really low note on the cello means the equatorial zone was cold that year, and a really high note on the violin means warm weather stretching across the arctic.

When we blend the four instruments together, the four regions, together, you’re able to hear quite clearly how temperatures fluctuate across the globe, from the equator to the North Pole.

And if we start the performance in 1880 and end at the present, you can hear how much temperatures have increased and what regions have warmed the most.

If you don’t get emotional from listening to string quartet music already (what? gets me every time), you’ll definitely be getting major goosebumps when you hear the cadence — and eventual crescendo — of climate change across the globe.

Shout out to our friends (and rivals) up at the University of Minnesota.

CGRER: Climate Narrative Project – Spring 2015

Screen Shot 2015-05-11 at 9.24.44 AM Climate Narrative Project fellow Nick Fetty reviewed the spring 2015 Climate Narrative Project final event for the University of Iowa Center for Global and Regional Environmental Research blog.

Here’s a clip:

Nick Fetty | May 9, 2015

Fellows with the spring 2015 Climate Narrative Project presented their works on Thursday night at Art Building West on the University of Iowa campus.

The Climate Narrative Project is “a special media arts initiative in the Office of Sustainability at the University of Iowa, designed to reach across academic disciplines and chronicle regenerative approaches to energy, food, agriculture, water and waste management, community planning and transportation.” Fellows participate in a semester-long graduate-level workshop where they developed ideas ranging from documentary films to dance performances. This semester the fellows focused on “regenerative agriculture, urban farming and food policy, with a special focus on schools.”

During Thursday night’s event – Urban Farms, Real Food, Edible Campus: An Evening of Film, Art, Dance and Storytelling – I was the first one to present with a documentary entitled “Soil Mate: It Takes A Teacher.” The film focused on Iowa City soil educator Scott Koepke and the influence he has had on children in the area. Koepke stresses with his students the importance of organic gardening techniques, composting, and healthy eating.

Anna Kilzer presented next with her project “Edible Campus: Beyond a Public Health Building” in which she laid out ideas for planting vegetables and other plants near the UI’s new College of Public Health building with the hope that the rest of the campus would eventual embrace this concept. Kilzer presented her project in the form of a monologue, describing what the UI’s campus would look like if it emulated edible campus models such as the University of Massachusetts-Amherst.

“I can see Pawpaw trees and raspberry bushes outside McBride Hall stretching down the sidewalk like a corridor to Clinton street. The wind carries the aroma of basil, thyme and rosemary, as leafy greens reached out of raised beds with the gentle pokes of kale, spinach, and arugula. . Students swing in the Hammocks studying and napping between classes. And those famous writers at their workshop – they were meeting in the middle of rooted vegetables and walnut trees, bookended by pages of lettuce. Engineering students argue over the water irrigation system, as the math assistants measured the perfect amount of water to each vegetation. The PE students lounged on the chairs and benches designed by the 3D design students on display for the general public to enjoy. And down below, the Iowa River teems with life and as the boats cart the boxes of fresh veggies, and food carts and truck lined up with the fervency of filling sand bags–though this time, filling bags of real food from the Edible Campus to feed students, faculty and community members of Iowa City.”

Sophia Finster then took the stage for a dance performance entitled “The Dinner Party: Processed vs. Unprocessed Food.” The performance consisted of four dancers and their struggles to eat healthy unprocessed food when faced with the monetary constraints and the busy lifestyle of being a college student. The story was told through the medium of dance but also used statistics and facts about the environmental impact of processed foods.

“Forty percent of food grown, processed, and transported in the U.S. will never be consumed. Every year 60 million tons of food waste is generated in the U.S. and nearly 40 million tons of that goes to the landfill. Unprocessed food often has much less packaging than processed food and around 45% of our food system’s carbon emissions arises from the production of food that is never eaten. But that’s another conversation for another time. What’s really in our food, safely sealed up in crinkly bags and flashy boxes?”

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Audience members to the stage at the end of Sophia Finster’s performance to enjoy some locally- and -organically-grown produce. (Photo by Sarah Nagengast)

The night concluded with Bridget Fonseca and her project “Don’t Let Your Children Grow Up to Be Farmers: Women Farmers Respond,” a question and answer session between herself (an aspiring farmer) and four characters who played the role of real-life female farmers in the Iowa City area. Fonseca asked the farmers about monetary and other struggles they face to maintain a sustainable operation. At the end, she reflected on her project and reevaluated whether or not she wanted to pursue a career in farming.

“Over this journey, I’ve gained a new perspective on the realities of owning a far. It’s not as flexible [or] glamorous as I initially though. Farming is hard work and the answer is hot that we all have to become farmers to save the food system. What we need is more support for out farmers, for our environment, and for our health.”

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Climate Narrative Project fellow Bridget Fonseca presented her project “Don’t Let Your Children Grow Up To Be Farmers: Women Farmers Respond.” (Photo by Nick Fetty)

The Climate Narrative Project is currently accepting applications for six fellows for the fall semester. Those interested in applying should contact UI writer-in-residence and workshop leader Jeff Biggers (jrbiggers[at]

My Reflection as a Climate Narrative Project Fellow

The last 15 weeks have just flown by and I can’t believe I’ve finally completed my documentary about Scott Koepke for my Climate Narrative Project. Not only have I learned a lot about Scott and his impact throughout the semester but I’ve also developed so more tangible skills that will likely benefit me later in my professional career.

Just like any good coach or teacher, workshop leader Jeff Biggers pushed me out of my comfort zone at times. Instead of fearing it, I embraced it and learned from it. My time with the Climate Narrative Project helped me to exercise my creative side which admittedly was fairly weak four months ago. I was also able to further develop skills that I already had coming into the project, such as my proficiency with the video editing software Adobe Premier as well as time management, particularly with a large-scale project such as this.

While I was the one of developed the idea of doing a documentary about Scott, it wouldn’t have been possible without a lot of help from a lot of people. Perhaps first and foremost, I want to thank Jeff Biggers. As I mentioned I appreciate that he was able to push me out of my comfort zone and allowed me to try something new. I was able to combine my journalistic writing skills with his creative writing skills (as well as his thorough editing) to come up with what I think is an engaging and informative script. Next I have to thank UI undergraduate student Allison Bump who agreed to provide the voice over for my project. Considering how busy I know she was with final projects and other assignments this week, I really appreciate that she kept her word and provided a strong voice to tell the story. Another big thanks goes out to Tim and Angela Looney who provided me with high-quality video equipment to shoot my interviews.

I also want to thank the other three fellows (Sophia Finster, Bridget Fonseca, and Anna Kilzer) as well as everyone who agreed to be interviewed for the documentary. I, of course, listed all of these folks in the credits of my documentary so please check that out once I post it after the presentation tonight. I met a lot of new people throughout the project and had a lot of fun along the way. To the administrators at the UI, I hope that the Climate Narrative Project continues to receive funding so that future students can share this unique experience.

Dancer Introductions


Dot grew up surrounded by backyard gardens and farmers markets. She was nourished by home-cooked family meals that hadn’t traveled far from farm to plate. Since her arrival in Iowa, she has cultivated a collection of cookbooks and continues to invest in local in-season produce. Dot comes from a primarily Scottish heritage and has enjoyed expanding her palate. She likes trying and learning to cook new cuisines.

Roll1_00000009Valeria grew up with homemade, store-bought, and restaurant meals. Coming from a latino heritage, most meals contained red meat, rice or pasta, and potatoes or vegetables. Although she prefers homemade food, Valeria’s busy lifestyle has kept her from learning in-depth cooking skills or their origins. After moving to Iowa, her life is even busier and often fueled by fast and easy food.

Roll1_00000002Raud grew up lucky to have a mother who is a fabulous Iranian cook, and who encouraged him to be open to trying a variety of foods. Traditional Iranian food is healthy, because it often contains much more unprocessed food than the typical midwest diet.  He began to learn more about the environment and focus on his fitness when he came to college. Now he has completely cut red meat out of his diet and rarely eats white meat. He’s not a full vegetarian yet because the BURGE meal plan has such poor vegetarian options.

Roll1_00000005Lindsey grew up in A family that bought directly from farmers market or farmers. Now that she is in college, she relies on her dining hall meal plan. This does not provide as much unprocessed food as farmers markets and farms. She is excited to have a kitchen next year so she can have more food options.


Dot and Valeria are now planted in their apartment, busy studying for classes as they await for Raud and Lindsey’s arrival to their upcoming dinner party. Naturally, they must decide what to eat.

***Lights come up and dance begins to Youth Lagoon’s 17***

I am super happy with how these photos turned out! I am currently working on an intro to the bio’s as Jeff has suggested to me.

Processed Vs. Unprocessed Commercial Script

Screen Shot 2015-05-05 at 1.38.47 AM Here’s a few shots from my rehearsal last Friday. And here’s my latest draft of the “Spotify commercial” script touting for extreme processed, and then unprocessed food.

“Busy, stressed, and have no time to cook? Why does this make your life so hard? BIG BOX is here to help make your life easier and healthier. Type II Diabetes is the  fastest growing health problem in the country and it is now “the norm” to be fat. But don’t worry; try our new and improved BIG BOX microwavable instant meals packed with healthy and natural unknown ingredients from unknown countries. They’re instant, quick, easy, and can even help you lose weight. Sugar-free, fat-free, carb-free, and full of delicious nutrients, fit for someone on the paleo diet, south beach diet, Mediterranean diet, or whatever diet is the next new fad. You’re psychologically licensed to eat it. Subscribe to your first 30 second instant BIG BOX meal today for only $9.99 (plus shipping and handling). We’ll even deliver right to your doorstep.”

—transition music—

Screen Shot 2015-05-05 at 1.36.49 AM“Processed food will make you fat. Processed food will shorten your life. Processed food will kill you. Processed and packaged food, a 1.25 trillion dollar industry, has sneaky chemicals and artificial flavorings. But it supposedly tastes good. Confused on what is the healthy, nutritious thing to eat? Come to your local farm and pick whole fresh food straight from the soil. It’s better for your health and is much more nutritious than packaged food. It’s better for the economy, because it keeps money in the state. Iowa imports almost 90% of it’s food. It’s also better for the community, because it brings people together and makes them more connected to and aware of their food. It’s lastly better for the environment because 20% of our carbon emissions are related to food, a large part of which is transportation.”

Still working on the second script a bit more.

Gary Nabhan: Will superweeds, regulation create a perfect storm in Iowa farmlands?

Screen Shot 2015-05-04 at 12.17.53 PM Renowned biologist Gary Nabhan looked at the issue of superweeds in an important Des Moines Register oped last week, and how “farmers, USDA agencies, segments of the ag industry and Wall Street now agree that environmental and farmer health are now vital economic concerns.” Nabhan identifies five emerging drivers of change that will affect agricultural policies in Iowa: “Slipping sales of herbicide-tolerant corn seed and associated agrichemicals; new Environmental Protection Agency restrictions on using glyphosates because of difficulties controlling superweeds; a World Health Organization report allegedly linking glyphosate exposure to higher risks of non-Hodgkins lymphoma; and the tripling of the Fish and Wildlife Service target numbers for recovery of imperiled monarch butterflies in Midwestern farmscapes.”

Here’s a clip:

“Let’s unpack what has happened. Farmers’ dissatisfaction with rising costs of herbicide-resistant weeds has been evident since 2008. But another superweed, Palmer amaranth, has now arrived in five Iowa counties. By 2004, this weed was already costing Southern farmers $35-40 an acre to control. Now even more tolerant to herbicides, this amaranth costs as much as $150 per acre to control in some states. But EPA’s decision to constrain glyphosate use is not just focused on Palmer amaranth, because a dozen other superweeds also plague 60 million acres of U.S. croplands. As Iowa State University’s Mike Owen conceded, “Simple and convenient tactics are failing rapidly and farmers must diversify, not just the herbicides they use, but everything.”

In March, the WHO claimed a possible link between glyphosate exposure and non-Hodgkins lymphoma. Conclusive or not, this report will be hotly debated. But what is not debated is that non-Hodgkins rates in the U.S. have doubled since the 1980s. It has become the fifth-leading cause of cancer in the United States. Farmers’ and farmworkers’ exposure to a variety of stresses already affects their health. Since they are the people who feed America, our agricultural workforce must consider whether additional safeguards are needed to avoid potential health risks.

Farmer dissatisfaction with rising costs and liabilities may be one reason Midwestern farmers have planted 4 percent less corn this year. But such concerns now reach beyond farmers themselves. As declining first quarter corn and chemical sales and stock values came in, Wall Street analysts claimed that biotech and herbicide firms have been dealt “a major blow” because such issues have become “a big concern” that has created “image problems.”

Both Monsanto and Bayer CropScience have recently made significant contributions toward farmland habitat recovery of monarch butterflies and other pollinators. These companies no longer dismiss the need to protect bees or butterflies. They recognize that the numbers of monarch butterflies have declined by as much as 97 percent over the last 15 years. They now want to collaborate with farmers and agencies on forging solutions.

The speed with which new solutions are needed has been accelerating. Director Dan Ashe recently tripled the Fish and Wildlife Service’s goal for recovery of imperiled monarchs. Within five years, Ashe wishes to recruit 300 million butterflies by planting milkweeds for them.

Glyphosate decimation of milkweed in croplands has devastating effects on monarchs because it is the sole host plant for them. But new USDA studies also question whether exposure to the neonicotinoid insecticide, clothianidin, is an additional stressor. Ashe’s new target is so high that agencies and industry cannot simply pay to have new milkweeds propagated if chemicals then damage them once they are established on farmlands.

What’s new about the convergence of these issues is how farmers, USDA agencies, segments of the ag industry and Wall Street now agree that environmental and farmer health are now vital economic concerns. If superweeds fail to be controlled, it will hurt not only imperiled butterflies and bees but also farmers’ operation costs and land values.

We are at a critical moment. With rising risks and diminishing returns, farmers need to collaborate on effective solutions to these problems. Let’s avoid a “perfect storm” by fostering innovations that provide greater yield stability, lower production costs and more consistent, safer weed control.”

Edible Campus: Quotes

Public healthAs I was putting together the last parts to my climate narrative I had the chance to look back and reflect on some of the quotes I had gathered, this one stood out to me the most:


“I think its intriguing to think about an edible campus as proposing a tangible and visible idea in a setting based on education. That idea being that food is our essential connection to nature. We can watch the seasons change through a raspberry bush. We can see the effects of dry climates in apple trees. We can count the days until we can devour those tomatoes that we walk by everyday on our way to Chemistry lecture. And its especially cool because we are all here to learn and this takes the concept of learning outside the classroom. With an edible campus, it takes the idea of food production out of the intangible farmland image and puts it right into the daily lives of tens of thousands of people. It reestablishes our values of food in the truly impactful way. ”

-Jacob Kundert.

One of Six: Climate Study on Species Extinction

Screen Shot 2015-05-01 at 8.37.59 AM A harrowing new study–of other climate studies–estimates that one of six species could be affected by climate change. As noted in the HuffPo, the report, “Accelerating Extinction Risk From Climate Change,” analyzed 131 other studies that diverged widely in their estimates of the rate of extinction that will occur if climate change continues unabated. Some of the underlying studies found that very few, if any, species would disappear, while others placed the number close to 54 percent.”

Here’s a link to the study, authored by University of Connecticut professor Mark Urban, in the recent issue of Science magazine. From the abstract:

“Current predictions of extinction risks from climate change vary widely depending on the specific assumptions and geographic and taxonomic focus of each study. I synthesized published studies in order to estimate a global mean extinction rate and determine which factors contribute the greatest uncertainty to climate change–induced extinction risks. Results suggest that extinction risks will accelerate with future global temperatures, threatening up to one in six species under current policies. Extinction risks were highest in South America, Australia, and New Zealand, and risks did not vary by taxonomic group. Realistic assumptions about extinction debt and dispersal capacity substantially increased extinction risks. We urgently need to adopt strategies that limit further climate change if we are to avoid an acceleration of global extinctions.”