The climate as narrative


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The Iowa River is about to take center stage.

The University of Iowa Office of Sustainability is bringing together science, humanities, journalism, and the arts to use the Iowa River as a focus for its historical and contemporary connections to environmental, agricultural, and sustainability topics through a media arts initiative. Jeff Biggers, the UI sustainability writer in residence, along with three students, studied the Iowa River for one semester.

The initiative will include a movie screening, discussion, and presentation held today in the IMU Iowa Theater.

“I see the Iowa River as a great story itself, its banks lined by cycles of cultures, now afflicted with toxic runoff, drought, and flooding,” Biggers said. “And yet, it still flows with a message of resiliency.”

The Climate Narrative Project was established as a way to investigate how climate change affects everyone.

“The project has been launched in the belief that stories matter,” Biggers said. “And that stories can change our lives and ways of living.”

Biggers said the project seeks to investigate how the UI campus, state of Iowa, and global population can envision more regenerative approaches to energy, food, agriculture, and transportation.

UI Office of Sustainability Director Liz Christiansen said the department hopes to give students the opportunity to learn how to communicate issues associated with global climate disruption in a new way.

“The impact of global climate disruption is already being felt in Iowa,” Christiansen said. “It will have an impact on our lives.”

Christiansen said she, along with Biggers, ended up collaborating to develop the Climate Narrative Project last spring after NASA announced the global concentration of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere had reached 400 parts per million for the first time in recorded history.

The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change released a report last week that concluded global emissions of greenhouse gases have risen to unprecedented levels and are a growing threat to food, water, and national security. The report included the issue of climate change “requires immediate action.”

“While many observers called [the panel’s] recent climate report a wake-up call, the great Iowa River flood of 2008 was arguably one of the most historic wake-up calls for our campus and town,” Biggers said.

Kelsey Zlevor, a Climate Narrative fellow, is exploring relationships UI students have with the river through a series of interviews in her project called “Once We Were a River Town: Exploring Our Sense of Place in the Age of Social Media.”

“We think our physical environment is a secondary concern as students when we’re trying to pursue good grades, competitive internships, and prestigious jobs,” Zlevor said. “Just because we may eventually leave doesn’t mean the problems disappear.”

"Upcoming events for the Climate Narrative Project include a discussion of the movie Living Downstream hosted by Jeff Biggers and the Climate Narrative Fellows tomorrow at 11:30 a.m. and 6 p.m. in the College of Public Health and the Climate Narrative Presentation: An Evening on the River April 29 at 7 p.m. at the Iowa Theatre in the Iowa Memorial Union."

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