I love Iowa. It made my family, and it’s made me who I am. It’s an honor to stand up and fight for her.
As a sixth-generation Iowan, I’ve spent a lot of time thinking about my relationship with my home. While many people have lost their connection to the land, I still feel strongly about my own connection with the traditionally rural landscapes. Spending my childhood in the Des Moines suburbs meant that I didn’t grow up camping or hunting like many Midwest conservationists, but I did find my way to summer camp and still find solace in the outdoors. Since teaching my fourth-grade class how to properly recycle, I’ve been passionate about caring for the environment. Activism and advocacy became my job, eventually leading me to do statewide river advocacy and restoration as the Executive Director of Iowa Rivers Revival. Today, I work at an environmentally-oriented architecture and engineering firm asking the same question: how do we get people excited about caring for the environment?
If we want everyday people to act on climate change, we must make it easy, fun and relatable. We need to cultivate engagement, passion and enthusiasm, so that people wake up caring about the environment every single day. To maximize our impact on climate change, we should try to see the world through a lens of conservation and restoration. Having worked with landowners with a wide array of perspectives, I feel optimistic about cultivating this shift in thinking, especially in our state.
Iowa is ranked 47th in the country in percentage of public lands. Only 2.8% of the land isn’t privately owned. We are the only state along the Mississippi River that has increased nitrate output (contributing to the Gulf Hypoxia Zone), despite having a nutrient reduction strategy in place. Our current monoculture agricultural system encourages extensive chemical use and needs to change. The ratio of pigs to people in Iowa is approximately 7 to 1. While most farmers I know take pride in what they do and care for the land, the system itself makes change difficult. Absentee landowners, underfunding the Department of Natural Resources and lack of regulation on non-point source pollution (which drainage tiles are classified as) are just some of the issues driving climate degradation and topsoil loss here at home.
Issue-based advocacy and thinking locally keeps me from feeling overwhelmed with climate change. Growing food in community gardens or urban farms and setting up rain gardens on an individual level--those are shifts that we have control over. This localized approach empowers our neighborhoods and inspires us to learn and grow together. At the city council level, Des Moines is rethinking energy consumption and distribution. We’re poised to make headway in resilience and climate planning, and we need leaders who are willing to step up, speak up and do the hard work.
Anyone who considers themselves a leader must recognize the necessary call to action regarding climate change. They need to bring people together and help us stand up for each other. Now is the time to be bold if we want to save ourselves and support future generations.
I love Iowa. It made my family, and it’s made me who I am. It’s an honor to stand up and fight for her. I hope you’ll join me.