We need to communicate more effectively about climate change to bring it out of the abstract and overcome indifference. Building a functional literacy around our changing climate is essential in harnessing the power of people.
I am a fifth-generation Iowan and Curator of Conservation Programming at the National Mississippi River Museum and Aquarium, where I take a human-centric approach to conservation. I am a strong believer that although people have certainly caused climate change, we are also the solution. We’ve proven it time and time again. People are awesome, and that’s why I work in education.
While most of us believe in climate change, that doesn’t mean we fully understand it--I don’t--or that we are going to act to combat it. Furthermore, the impacts of climate change are often out of sight and mind. We need to communicate more effectively about climate change to bring it out of the abstract and overcome indifference. Building a functional literacy around our changing climate is essential in harnessing the power of people.
Having spent most of my career working on freshwater systems and rivers in the Midwest, I have witnessed firsthand the consequences of climate change through extreme floods and flash flooding. While my hometown of Dubuque has updated its infrastructure to create resiliency against prolonged extreme floods and flash flooding, I worry about other communities along the Mississippi River that are more vulnerable.
Luckily, Iowans are uniquely positioned to address climate change. As a heavily agricultural state, our potential to sequester carbon in the ground is astronomical. When I imagine how we are going to create communities that are highly resilient to climate change, my mind turns to carbon capture, water quality improvements, healthy soils, native prairies, and private lands. About ninety-seven percent of Iowa’s land is privately owned, most of which is agricultural. Therefore, agricultural communities can make huge contributions to carbon drawdown and conservation. Private lands, including our backyards, must be a top priority in building resilient communities and tackling climate change.
Contrary to the negative framing frequently used to discuss climate change, I see things from a more hopeful, solutions point of view. Of course, many things need to change. We need policy shifts at the state, local and federal level that go beyond economic incentives. We need investment in new techniques in agricultural production and faster adoption rates of best practices already in use.
At the River Museum, we are building a hopeful, solutions-based identity that we call “Take CAARE”. This means we endeavor to take conservation action through advocacy, research, and engagement. At the core of this initiative are teens, and a new volunteer program to engage communities in conservation. This initiative is founded on the belief that people and partnerships must be at the heart of conservation design and that these processes will lead to conservation successes.
I am a hopeful, idealistic, beer’s-half-full kind of guy. I am also a dad, and I couldn’t be more excited that my little boy will grow up in what I see as a time of massive, progressive change. A time where green infrastructure, innovative strategies in regenerative agriculture, renewable energy, community resiliency, and protections for water, wildlife, and wild spaces are at the core of who we are and what we stand for as a state and as a nation. This is a period of progress where people are recognizing that economic well-being, mental and physical well-being, and our environmental well-being are not mutually exclusive but rather interconnected.
Iowans are gritty and adaptable people. People are the driving force behind all tremendous, meaningful actions in society. We will overcome climatic challenges. I know that Iowa and Iowans are well-positioned to lead in adapting to and reversing the impacts of global climate change. Remain hopeful and drive action, my friends.