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David Thoreson

What we're doing on the land affects what's happening in the water. From the Gulf of Mexico, where nitrates from Iowan farms cause dead zones, to disappearing glaciers in the Arctic Ocean, we can protect our waters starting literally from the ground up.


As long as I can remember, I’ve loved the water. Countless hours of my childhood were spent sailing on Lake Okoboji with my family, and I dreamt of one day seeing the world by sailboat. My dreams became a reality when I began sailing to remote places like Antarctica in the 1990s. I’ve since completed a 28,000 mile voyage around the Americas, and in 2007 was one of the first Americans to successfully navigate the treacherous Northwest Passage from East to West. Sailing and photographing the world’s oceans gave me a firsthand account of the beauty of marine environments, as well as the frighteningly rapid melting of sea ice caused by a warming climate. These experiences made me commit myself to fighting climate change.

Photography is one of the ways I contribute my voice to fighting climate change. My images bring attention to beautiful, remote places and introduce eyewitness accounts about animals and people affected by climate change. The glossy photographs in nature magazines, in fact, sparked my initial interest in outdoor photography and presented me with my first foray into climate activism. During my junior year of high school, I read National Geographic’s article about indigenous populations and wildlife endangered by oil and gas development in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge. Though I had never visited Alaska before, I was compelled to write to my congressman Berkeley Bedell, asking him to protect the Refuge. The power of photography convinced me of the importance of protecting public lands and public waters. Iowa needs to step up and invest in our lands and parks. If we simultaneously restored wetlands, trails and introduced prairie stripping (a practice that protects soil, water and biodiversity, and captures carbon), we could mitigate climate change while giving future generations healthy outdoor spaces to enjoy, just as I have.


Ultimately, what we’re doing on the land affects what’s happening in the water. From the Gulf of Mexico, where nitrates from Iowan farms cause dead zones, to disappearing glaciers in the Arctic Ocean, we can protect our waters starting literally from the ground up. Immense floods that used to occur every 100 years now devastate Iowa’s agricultural yields closer to every 5 years. They’re costly, too: the 2019 flooding of both the Missouri and Mississippi rivers resulted in $2.9 billion in damage. Rather than wasting taxpayer money to rebuild over and over after flooding, Iowa should realize its potential as a leader in sustainable agriculture, which will help the climate and build resilience against flooding while supporting farmers and creating jobs. Implementing natural and native vegetation in farm fields can sequester carbon from the atmosphere, and a healthier climate in turn will keep soil on fields, improve water quality and keep ecosystems intact. 


Iowa also has the potential to become 100% renewable energy, considering that 40% of Iowa’s net electricity already comes from wind. This makes sense financially because energy is wasted through large scale utility projects, and a new smart grid would funnel energy as well as jobs straight into the community. Creating a new clean energy economy is vital since we will soon exceed our carbon budget and reach a point of no return. Hopefully, we can learn from the COVID-19 pandemic that in times of emergency, we as a society can pause and reset--a clean energy regime for future generations has an enormous payoff that is certainly worth the cost of acting now.



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