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“The River Is Our Future” A Post from the Sawyer Symposium

May 29, 2015Patrick NunnallyEvents, Guest PostsComments Off on “The River Is Our Future” A Post from the Sawyer Symposium

Last month we convened a symposium, “The Once and Future River: Imagining the Mississippi in an Era of Climate Change.”  Video coverage of the sessions is available here  and additional material is on the web site of the Institute for Advanced Study  as well.

The chairs of the various sessions during the symposium have written blog posts about their session, posts which we will run for consecutive days this week. This post is written by Jane Mazack, one of the two Graduate Fellows of the Sawyer Seminar.

As an aquatic ecologist, my work is based in the physicality of rivers. My field-collected data  quantify invertebrate communities, trout populations, and thermal patterns. But my work as a 2014-15 John E. Sawyer Seminar Graduate Fellow at the University of Minnesota has encouraged me to think beyond the quantitative. My research, while ecologically important, finds much of its broader significance in its context of climate change, its dissemination to the community, and its inclusion in broader narratives. My work with the seminar has made me reconsider the ways in which scientific knowledge is disseminated to and discussed with the broader public.

As part of the recent symposium “The Once and Future River: Imagining the Mississippi in an Era of Climate Change,” I moderated the final panel discussion, “River as Future.” Much of scientific research looking to the future is contextualized in the fact that climate changes will change the physicality of the river itself. However, this concluding panel looked beyond the physicality of the river to the narratives we tell, the relationships we are a part of, and the decisions that we make. The work of the symposium, and that of the year-long Sawyer Seminar, has been rooted in the premise that our narratives of the river must change along with the changing climate.

The four speakers on this final panel provided diverse perspectives on how we consider the future of the river. John Anfinson, Superintendent of the Mississippi National River and Recreation Area, emphasized the key roles of triggers and rupture points in facilitating new thinking and management on the river. Kat Hayes, Associate Professor in Anthropology, considered plans for the future as necessarily drawing on a broad archive of knowledge. Pat Nunnally, director of RiverLife, proposed that “River as Future” would be better stated as “The River is Our Future.” Kate Brauman, scientist at the Institute on the Environment, looked at the river under the lenses of equilibrium, flux, and transience. But despite the diversity in backgrounds and discussions, one thread was common to the thoughts of each panelist: the future of the river depends on us. Collaboration, inclusivity, and a multi-faceted understanding of the river will be essential to its future.

If you weren’t able to attend the symposium, I hope you will take the time to watch the video of this panel and discussion and join in our ongoing conversations. The river is our future. What future do we want to see?

Video of the full session is available here.  Scroll down the page until you get to the session you are looking for.

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