The Highs, Lows, and Woahs of Earth Fest 2024

Including a viral tweet, a coincidence that we’ll pretend was planned, and some really creepy feet.

If you were on the UW–Madison campus April 19–26, you probably noticed that every person you passed was on their way to an Earth Fest event. All hyperbole aside, nearly 7,000  Badgers — from current students and faculty to alumni and Badger State citizens — took part in the weeklong celebration of the environment and sustainability, attending lectures, hands-on workshops, networking events, and more. In case you missed the complete barrage of live Instagram coverage from the Nelson Institute and the Office of Sustainability, we’ve compiled our favorite highs, lows, and woahs of the week.

UW–Madison Chancellor Jennifer Mnookin speaks to attendees at the Earth Fest Kickoff Celebration. Photo by Bryce Richter, University Communications
UW–Madison Chancellor Jennifer Mnookin speaks to attendees at the Earth Fest Kickoff Celebration. Photo by Bryce Richter, University Communications

HIGH: Chancellor Jennifer Mnookin announces 80 new environment- and sustainability-focused hires. Talk about starting on a high note! Just two months after announcing UW–Madison’s environmental sustainability goals, Chancellor Mnookin used the Earth Fest Kickoff as a cosmodrome to launch RISE-EARTH. Short for Environment: Adaptation, Resilience, Technology, Humanity, RISE-EARTH will put further rocket boosters (“I mean sustainable rocket boosters, of course,” she said) under UW’s sustainability initiative by hiring 80 new environment- and sustainability-focused faculty members.

Paul Robbins posting on X (formerly Twitter): "Hold on to your Muesli. We have 80 upcoming faculty hires in Sustainability and Environment coming our way @UWMadison. 40 from RISE-EARTH and 40 matches, here @NelsonInstitute and all across campus." Posting from: April 22, 2024 with over 21.4K views.WOAH: Nelson Institute Dean Paul Robbin’s corresponding Muesli post gave X a momentary revival. In an era where many have faded from the platform formerly known as Twitter, Paul’s personality gives us at least one reason not to “X” the app from our phones.

LOW: A failed freebie. Late, but still great: our Earth Fest programs, originally intended for the kickoff, arrived unfashionably late. Despite the delay, they were a hit at subsequent events, serving as a helpful resource for attendees and showcasing the impressive collaboration of campus partners that made Earth Fest’s 50-plus events possible. 

Photo by Lauren Graves, Office of Sustainability
Photo by Nathan Jandl, Office of Sustainability

HIGH THAT’S ALSO A LOW: The wind speed on Saturday. But not even 33 mile-per-hour gusts could stop staff from the Green Office Certification Program from bundling up to lend a hand to the land at the Lakeshore Nature Preserve! This was just one of four clean-ups that happened across campus during Earth Fest.

HIGH: A “yes we totally planned that” moment. Speaking of green, the Green Fund had a serendipitously standout week, celebrating major milestones in two student-led projects during Earth Fest: the second wave of installations for the solar bus shelter project and the delivery of the UW Arboretum’s new electric mower. Though the timing was coincidental, we’re choosing to think of it as a cosmic pat on the back, reminding us of the tangible impacts of our year-round sustainability efforts.

LOW: Learning the grim reality of overheating. In a talk at Memorial Union on Monday, April 22, Jeff Goodell — author of the New York Times bestseller The Heat Will Kill You First — kindly informed us that when you die from overheating your insides literally melt (a factoid that reinforced how critical it is that we all do our part to reduce emissions).

Photo by Lauren Graves, Office of Sustainability
Photo by Lauren Graves, Office of Sustainability

WOAH: A big Big Splash. So many people turned up for The Big Splash: Aquaponics Open House and Hydroponics Workshop that organizers had to improvise, adding a “build your own terrarium” craft so everyone could take something home. Also, did D.C. Smith Greenhouse just become our favorite place to work “off-site?”

LOW: D.C. Smith Greenhouse: 1, our social media team: 0. Though it felt like Earth Fest events took place across every corner of campus, we did find that some of those corners are, apparently, harder to find than others. If any other Badgers have ever Apple Mapped D.C. Smith Greenhouse and found themselves outside the Hector F. DeLuca Biochemical Sciences Complex, you are not alone.

HIGH: Breaking bread and attendance caps. On Wednesday, April 24, seven campus orgs brought more than 100 students to the table (literally) to share ideas and a meal at the food sustainability roundtable dinner.

LOW: Someone’s cell phone ringing during the first panel at kickoff. Come on now, folks.

WOAH: Some things are better left below the surface. During a sunset outing with the BIPOC Birding Club of Wisconsin, we learned two shocking things: one, that coots aren’t ducks, and two, that their feet look like — allow us to ruin your day — this.

WOAH: Campus sustainability goals in action, in person. Experts in insurance, German language, and medical history walked into a room … resulting in not a punchline, but an impressive show of cross-campus collaboration. On Wednesday, April 24, the Sustainability Research Hub hosted a networking and brainstorming session, which saw dozens of campus community members representing six schools and colleges and 24 departments and units.

Did you attend Earth Fest? Share your highs and lows on this survey.

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