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Living well. Living together.

Winter 2019 | By Paul Robbins

Paul Robbins, Director Nelson Institute for Environmental Studies


Standing on a winding path, leading into the magnificent Kickapoo Valley Reserve, I am reminded that we can’t live with the Earth unless we can first learn to live together. This remarkable conservation space was created, after all, by working to heal the wounds not only among local people (displaced by a dam years earlier), but also between local residents and the Ho Chunk nation, whose people had been removed from the land more than a century earlier. To protect the land, these communities first had to come together as people. My friends in the field of degrowth have a word for this: “conviviality”; the quest for a joyful community.

This new issue of In Common magazine provides me an opportunity to reflect anew on how the Nelson Institute has remained steadfast in our focus of living well and living together. That, in large part, begins with listening. We have listened to students, faculty, staff, alumni, Board of Visitors, and friends of the Institute. We learned about what our efforts have in common, how we share a commitment to work that matters, and the ways we are linked on campus and off.

In the process, we’ve reflected on how we might engage new partners, enhance existing pledges, and better support a convivial atmosphere that is synonymous with our mission. Whether advancing community resilience through agriculture (Monica White, p. 3), helping establish an Elder-in-Residence program to support Native American students (Native Nations, p. 4), capturing the stories of the Kickapoo Valley Reserve (p. 5), or using our expertise on climate change to assess the impact of rising seas or to bring climate research to classrooms across the state (p. 6), our mission is to meet people where they are.

Our fall events (p. 10) included lectures that raised awareness about water. Russ Feingold discussed the common concerns of the Great Lakes Regions of North America and Africa, Tim Palmer presented at the Jordahl Public Lands Lecture on the history of the Wild and Scenic Rivers Act, and Eddy Harris explored outdoor equity and environmental issues along the Mississippi River (p. 10).

Our Professional Programs—Environmental Conservation (EC) and Environmental Observation and Informatics (EOI), welcomed new staff and we doubled the size of the incoming cohorts, while still providing extraordinary academic experiences (page 8) and placements (p. 7). Our students continue to be our global ambassadors of what is yet to be accomplished (Envisioning, p. 8). Our Distinguished and Rising Star alumni award recipients (p. 9) continue the Nelson legacy through their far-reaching, impactful work. 

And in a continued dedication to people’s lived experience, we’ve dedicated Earth Day 2019 to the challenges of adapting to a changing world. I invite you to join me on April 22 at The 2019 Earth Day Conference “Imagine and Adapt: Possibilities in a Changing World” featuring keynote speaker and climate-fiction author, Kim Stanley Robinson, and climate change adaptation leader Yolanda Joab.

We continue to seek ways to live well and live together as we innovate new programs and reach new constituencies for the Environment. I’ll keep listening.

 Paul Robbins Signiture

Paul Robbins

Director, Nelson Institute

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