The University of Wisconsin-Madison’s Nelson Institute for Environmental Studies Presents Earth Day 2021: Nature at Work: Inspiring Just Responses for an Unruly World

While nature has always been an uncontrollable force of both beauty and devastation, human impact on the ecosystem has made nature increasingly unpredictable. An unruly climate marked by extreme weather events is leading to challenges such as biodiversity decline and water scarcity while also placing a significant and unjust burden on the most vulnerable populations.

During this year’s Earth Day learning event we will discuss environmental justice and the ways in which our climate challenges are impacting health, education, the economy, and the overall wellbeing of people around the world. We will explore nature’s incredible power and how increased efforts to respect it will lead to social justice and mitigate some of our greatest climate-related challenges.

Thursday, April 22 – Friday, April 23

Program at a Glance

Our 2021 Earth Day Virtual Learning Event will feature a range of live and prerecorded educational sessions throughout the day as well as opportunities for live engagement. Access to all content is free, but registration is required.

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These sessions will feature on-demand videos with accompanying live Q&A discussions. Watch the on-demand videos anytime during the event, then sign up to attend a live Q&A on Zoom. The Q&As will be recorded for viewing afterward.

Inspired By Nature: How Nature-Based Solutions Promote Resiliency

On Demand + Live Q&A, 3-3:45 p.m. (CDT) April 22

Join us for a discussion on nature-based solutions and the role they play in helping to restore and sustainably manage ecosystems that have been impacted by human forces. We will explore a few examples of nature-based solutions and discuss how implementing solutions that are inspired by nature can help to promote ecological resilience.


  • Nathan Henry, U.S. Project Manager, U.S. Nature4Climate
  • Karen Sands, Director of Planning Research and Sustainability, Milwaukee Metropolitan Sewerage District
  • Nathan Schulfer, Director of International and Professional MS Programs, Nelson Institute

Indigenous Knowledge, ‘Hope,’ and Climate Change

On Demand + Live Q&A, 3-3:45 p.m. (CDT) April 22

As the impacts of climate change are felt, Indigenous environmental knowledge is often turned to as a source of “hope” by non-Native people, organizations, and policy makers.  Join us as we discuss this potentially problematic and appropriative trend, the opportunities it may present, and its nuanced politics.


  • Mike Wiggins, Chairman, Bad River Band of Lake Superior Chippewa
  • Jen Rose Smith, Assistant Professor, UW-Madison
  • Cleo A. Woelfle-Erskine, Assistant Professor, School of Marine and Environmental Affairs, University of Washington, Seattle
  • Hi’ilei Hobart, Assistant Professor of Anthropology, University of Texas at Austin
  • Elizabeth Hennessy, Associate Professor, UW-Madison

Equitable Access to the Outdoors

On Demand + Live Q&A, 3-3:45 p.m. (CDT) April 22

Diversity, inclusion, and equity in outdoor spaces is an important aspect of environmental justice, but studies suggest that minority populations are much less likely to participate in outdoor adventures. Join a diverse panel of community leaders for a discussion of the “adventure gap” and the ways this can be addressed within a community.


Justice in the FEW Nexus

On Demand + Live Q&A, 4:15-5 p.m. (CDT) April 22

Explore the ways in which food, energy, and water, also known as the FEW Nexus, is tied to environmental justice and learn how interdependencies within the FEW Nexus will impact resource availability and equity.


Resilience in the Great Lakes Region

On Demand + Live Q&A, 4:15-5 p.m. (CDT) April 22

Recent studies indicate that pronounced impacts from climate change can be seen throughout Wisconsin and the Great Lakes region. Over the past two decades there have been increased intense weather extremes and fluctuations throughout the region. Join a panel of interdisciplinary experts as they explore this pattern and the ways in which the region can improve its resiliency to these extreme events.


  • Elena Irwin, Professor and Faculty Director, Sustainability Institute, Ohio State University
  • Adam Bechle, Coastal Engineering Outreach Specialist, Wisconsin Sea Grant
  • Anita Thompson, Professor and Chair, Nelson Institute Water Resources Management Program

Parallels Between the Pandemic and Climate Change

On Demand + Live Q&A, 4:15-5 p.m. (CDT) April 22

While the climate crisis and COVID-19 pandemic are distinct, the known systemic impacts are not. Like COVID-19, climate change is a global phenomenon requiring massive structural transformations of economic and social institutions. Explore these systemic issues and how we can prepare for, and perhaps mitigate, future challenges in this session featuring experts from both climate and medical sciences.


  • Dylan Jennings, Director of Public Information, Great Lakes Indian Fish & Wildlife Commission (GLIFWC)
  • Jonathan Patz, Professor and Director, Global Health Institute, UW-Madison
  • Kristofer Canto, Enterprise Risk Management Senior Analyst, ‎American Family Insurance
  • Beth Churchill, Community and Social Impact Consultant, American Family Insurance
  • Steve Vavrus, Senior Scientist, Nelson Institute Center for Climatic Research

This session will be live.

The Future of Work: How to Create a Just and Sustainable Workplace Culture

10-11:30 a.m. (CDT) April 23

How are current events and trends affecting the workplace today? What does the future of your workplace and workforce look like? This discussion will highlight emerging trends and data about the changing workforce landscape and dive into how businesses are adapting. From the lens of social sustainability, you will hear directly from businesses showcasing actions you can take to address these trends and how to be prepared for the future of work.

This session will provide an overview of the issues led by Dr. Patrick Hillberg of Oakland University. Dr. Hillberg will highlight changes happening in the workplace. The session will also include a discussion about the future of work and current trends with business leaders.

The discussion will be moderated by Jessy Servi Ortiz, Managing Director, Wisconsin Sustainable Business Council.

Featuring speakers:

Co-hosted by: