Science journalist Erica Gies to deliver Metcalf’s Leeson Lecture on ‘Listening to Water’

KINGSTON, R.I. – May 23, 2024 – Celebrating its 26th anniversary, URI’s Metcalf Institute will host its free weekly public lecture series this spring showcasing climate and environmental scientists, journalists, and other experts discussing real-world problems such as climate change and water issues. 

Headlining Metcalf’s Annual Public Lecture Series will be science journalist Erica Gies, who will present the 2024 Leeson Lecture on Thursday, June 6, at 3:30 p.m. in the Corless Auditorium at the University of Rhode Island Graduate School of Oceanography. Her topic will be “Listening to Water: How We Can Thrive in a Time of Drought and Deluge.” The Leeson Lecture is available in-person and virtually. Registration is required.

“Erica’s focus on the ‘slow water’ movement reveals novel responses to the effects of climate change and its impact on our water systems,” said Fara Warner, Metcalf Institute’s executive director. “Historically, we have often harnessed our natural water systems–rivers, streams, oceans–through dams, sea walls, and embankments to control water. In her book, ‘Water Always Wins,’ Gies shows us that working with water instead of against it can help communities be more resilient to floods, droughts and extreme weather.” 

An award-winning independent journalist, Gies is a National Geographic Explorer whose work has appeared in The New York Times, Nature, The Atlantic, Scientific American, The Economist, and many other publications. She has also co-founded two environmental news startups, Climate Confidential and This Week in Earth. 

Her 2023 book, “Water Always Wins: Thriving in an age of drought and deluge,” which won the Rachel Carson Award for Excellence in Environmental Journalism, illustrates better ways society can live with water. Gies introduces the reader to innovators–hydrologists, restoration ecologists, engineers and urban planners–who are already changing the way we deal with water around the world. Members of what she calls the “slow water movement,” they started by asking the simple question: what does water want?

The free series, which runs Thursdays from May 30 to June 20, will include three virtual lectures, along with the annual Leeson Lecture, which is part of the Annual Science Immersion Workshop for Journalists. The Leeson lecture will be livestreamed for virtual audiences. 

This spring lecture series opens May 30 with a virtual discussion on “Environmental racism and climate impacts: How frontline communities are creating their own adaptations,” which will be moderated by Metcalf’s executive director, Fara Warner, and feature Justin Cook and Marquetta Dickens. The lecture starts at 1 p.m. Registration is required.

Dickens, a former professional basketball player and career coach, is the co-founder of Freedom Org, a community development corporation in Princeville, North Carolina, the first town in the United States chartered by formerly enslaved Africans after the Civil War. Dickens will share strategies that her nonprofit uses to empower the community with ancestral wisdom and research-based approaches as they deal with flooding from the Tar River worsened by climate change. 

Cook, a climate journalist and photographer from Durham, North Carolina, will discuss the intersection of climate change and colonialism. Cook, whose long-form photo essays and narrative journalism cover stories about resilience in communities on the edges of America, will share stories of hope and climate solutions.

On June 13, Regina Rodrigues will discuss “Implications of under-researching the South Atlantic for Water Scarcity in South America.” The virtual lecture starts at 1 p.m. Registration is required.  

Rodrigues Ph.D. ’04, associate professor of physical oceanography and climate at the Federal University of Santa Catarina, Brazil, will discuss the link between climate dynamics and water availability in South America, including how temperatures of the tropical South Atlantic influence climate patterns in northern South America and the factors that lead to extreme weather events in the region. Rodrigues is co-chair of the World Climate Research Program’s Atlantic Region Panel and the WCRP Lighthouse Activity “My Climate Risk,” and is a member of the editorial board of Nature’s journal Communication Earth & Environment.

The lecture series closes June 20 with a roundtable discussion on “Restoring the Great Salt Lake,” featuring a panel of experts from different sides of the issue. The roundtable starts at 1 p.m. Registration is required.

Utah’s Great Salt Lake plunged to a historic low in 2022 due to water diversions, drought and climate change. Impacts on public health, wildlife and the economy are being felt by the vast majority of residents around the lake. The discussion will focus on the science of restoring the lake to safe levels by 2034. 

The panelists are: Bonnie K. Baxter, director of the Great Salt Lake Institute at Westminster University and author of dozens of scientific articles and the first academic book on the lake’s extreme biology; she is a “spoke scientist” who explains the water crisis at the lake to officials, media and the community. Brad Perry, who grew up near the lake, is vice chairman for the Northwestern Band of the Shoshone Nation and is employed by the Tribe as a natural resource officer. Brian Steed is the executive director of Utah State University’s Janet Quinney Lawson Institute for Land, Water, and Air and is the inaugural Great Salt Lake commissioner. And Ben Abbott, associate professor at Brigham Young University and director of Grow the Flow.

The panel will be moderated by Ben Winslow, an award-winning journalist who has covered news in Utah for over 20 years, including issues around the Great Salt Lake.

The annual Leeson Lecture was established in 2019 in honor of Metcalf Institute’s longest-serving advisory board member, Robert Leeson Jr., in recognition of his outstanding service and dedication to many environmental causes.