Rising to the Challenge: The Year of the Environment

July 1, 2019

At fifty, Earth Day, is a hallowed tradition. But this current moment, with all its incredible urgency, makes it feel as fresh as it did in 1970, when millions of people came together to talk about our responsibility to the planet.

The bad news? Could we have imagined on that first Earth Day the scale of change we are witnessing today? Runaway climate change will inexorably transform the planet, with damage and loss visited most heavily on the world’s poorest people. At the same time, we stand on the brink of a biodiversity crisis so large that nearly one million species are poised for extinction. Is this the planet we want to leave for those who come after us? Can I look my son in the eyes and tell him I stood by while a huge part of the tapestry of life vanished from the face of the Earth?

The good news? At the Nelson Institute for Environmental Studies we have the knowledge, the science, the methods, and a whole new generation of energetic problem-solvers poised to rise to these challenges. For fifty years, we have trained cohorts of dedicated students from around the world to protect critical habitats, innovate new forms of energy, design new environments, and communi-cate the urgency of our calamitous moment. The Institute supports scientists who track forest conservation with satellites, protect human health on a changing planet, explore the genomes of endangered species, and interact with faith leaders on green solutions. Most urgently, Nelson does all of this by attending, first and foremost, to justice, equity, and basic human civility.

All of this stands on the great traditions of the University of Wisconsin-Madison, home to Aldo Leopold, John Muir, and Gaylord Nelson, founder of Earth Day. This campus is the birthplace of restoration ecology, wildlife conservation, water resource science, and so much more. These tools, from this remarkable cradle, will be critical for crafting our future.

During Nelson’s Year of the Environment, on the fiftieth anniversary of both Earth Day and of the Nelson Institute, we find ourselves facing the greatest challenges we have known. What we do in the next decades will have enormous impacts, for either good or ill, lasting centuries. We will need a broader tent, more diverse public involvement, and a new generation of leadership. We invite you to celebrate this remarkable occasion, by standing with us as we seek solutions, ideas, and inspiration to nurture our swiftly-changing planet. Join us!

Nelson Institute Dean, Paul Robbins