In my last post for ImprovingLives.org in 2016, I detailed an expedition I led in the Canadian Arctic as part of a larger adventure learning initiative called The Changing Earth. Despite the often-exhausting daily grind of our trip, we were fortunate to have an incredible expedition.
In the year since, I’ve continued to travel the world and spread our message about climate change through adventure learning. In addition to our continuing work on The Changing Earth, we’ve launched two new projects: AgCultures where we explore the science and future of agriculture, and EarthXplorers, a new development in the adventure learning concept.
The Changing Earth Moves Forward
Since the early 2000s, our research team has traveled nearly all the northern arctic by either dogsled or ski, which led me to ask the question: where haven’t we been in this region? The answer was Iceland. Last spring, we completed a successful expedition there and gained some valuable perspective on the effects of global warming in Iceland and the country’s innovative approach to renewable energy.
Iceland is known for its thriving tourism industry, with natural attractions like the Blue Lagoon, and is a frequent stopover for Americans traveling to Europe. What many people don’t know is that Iceland has done amazing work in environmental sustainability. The roughly 300 glaciers that cover more than 10 percent of the country are losing 11 billion tons of ice per year – they’re seeing the impacts of climate change firsthand. That’s why they have gone from complete dependence on fossil fuels in the 1980s to getting 100 percent of their energy from renewable resources. Seventy-five percent comes from hydroelectric power while 25 percent comes from geothermal activity. Iceland has become the textbook example for how a country can convert to completely renewable energy.
In the coming year, our work will continue. We have an expedition to Peru that will let us compare and contrast the climates of the northern and southern hemispheres. I’m particularly excited for this expedition because Peru has four climate zones, allowing us to see how climate change impacts each one.
AgCultures: Inspiring Youth in Agriculture
As educators, we must provide a mirror for learners so that they can see what they have the potential to become. That’s why I jumped at the chance when CHS, the largest farmer-owned agriculture cooperative in the world, approached me in May to help them inspire youth to become interested in agriculture. Many organizations like CHS are facing a common problem: despite there being many jobs in agriculture today, many kids are unaware of these opportunities.
To help increase awareness of agriculture among kids, I created AgCultures, a four-year adventure learning program funded by CHS that I’ll be able to take around the world. We’ll be going on four domestic and four international expeditions. Before each expedition, we’ll develop a curriculum focusing on content and agricultural issues that we want to bring to the students’ attention. This project is particularly exciting for me because I’m originally a farm boy from southern Minnesota. My brother and father still farm, so it’s rewarding for me to get kids excited about agriculture.
Our first expedition, Mighty Mississippi, is a good example of this. We followed the production and flow of major grains (i.e. corn, soybeans, wheat) from the Upper Midwest down the Mississippi River to New Orleans. The AgCultures team visited farms, tugboats and barges, capturing a wide range of stories tied to the agriculture business. For example, we captured interviews with people in charge of loading the barges and grain bins as well as the folks responsible for running the lock-and-dam systems. We shoot and edit the video all in one day, so teachers and students can look forward to daily updates in their classrooms. These videos also help show students what people are doing with their degrees in agriculture. In fact, one of the first interviews is with my nephew, an agronomist in southern Minnesota. It’s a great way to highlight the opportunities and careers available to students in agriculture.
We’ll continue this work with our next AgCultures expeditions to South America – this time Argentina and Chile.
EarthXplorers: Getting GIS Technology into Every Classroom
Geographic information system (GIS) technology is one of the fastest growing platforms and a great way to use adventure learning in schools. One of the Environmental System Resources Institute (ESRI)’s main goals is to get GIS into every classroom throughout the United States – a goal I share. I began having conversations with people here at the University of Minnesota and we agreed on one thing: like with any technology, you can’t simply put GIS into a school and expect it to change the way people learn and teachers teach. It must be paired with strong content or it’s just another gimmick. So, I met with Jack Dangermond, the owner and president of ESRI, to discuss a project I wanted to put together to inspire youth through GIS technology. The result of this partnership is EarthXplorers.
We paired with the National Trust for Historic Preservation in Washington D.C., which protects historic places throughout the country for future generations, to develop the content for our program. The learning environment created by EarthXplorers educates both learners and teachers on how they can use GIS content to enhance their learning about topics like the Manhattan Project or the James River.
As a former K-12 teacher, I want to help teachers figure out how to properly use GIS in the classroom, and that’s what EarthXplorers does. We’ve been working with several schools and it’s been a huge success – both students and teachers love it. Personally, I think it’s one of the best learning environments to come out of the LT Media Lab because it inspires the students to use GIS technology not only in geography but across all disciplines.
A Word on Climate Change
In light of the recent climate change denial movement, I’d like to leave you with a message of hope. The last several months have made me feel that there are actually more people rising up and making their voices heard about the environment. In past years, there was certainly talk about climate change, but I don’t think there’s ever been more discussion about it than there is today. When I was on the trail in Iceland, it was clear that the people we encountered wanted to hear about what is happening with climate change around the world.
Those that are against taking action to combat climate change tend to think that, if we focus on breaking our reliance on fossil fuels, the outcome will be lost jobs. But my travels have shown me that focusing on renewable energy and sustainability will drive the creation of thousands of new jobs in the U.S. More importantly, we’ll be making sure that we leave future generations a secure and stable planet.
Subscribe via Email
Subscribe to receive weekly blog updates from CEHD Vision 2020 blog via email.