World Changers

Jon Foley

Jonathan Foley is the director of the Institute on the Environment at the University of the Minnesota, where he is a professor and McKnight Presidential Chair in the Department of Ecology, Evolution and Behavior. He also leads the IonE’s Global Landscapes Initiative.

All along the 2008 campaign trail, the candidates have been vying for the title of Ultimate Change Maker. Yet, while talking about change can be a good way to wake up jaded voters, it’s just that: Talk.

Today’s world needs real change. We need the sort of massive change that one party, one president or one institution working alone simply cannot make.

Over the past five decades, the world’s population has doubled, while global food and water consumption has more than tripled. In the next 50 years, the human population is on a trajectory to increase by 50 percent, and per capita consumption by 140 percent, leading to further, potentially catastrophic stresses on the environment. 

For decades, we’ve pushed Earth to the limits. Now, everything’s hitting the fan at once: climate change, biodiversity loss, land and water degradation, emerging diseases, and so on. Society is facing problems that can’t be solved with business-as-usual thinking. It’s time for something different.

That’s why the Institute on the Environment is thinking about today’s challenges in a new way. We need to be a place where creative conversations take place and where unexpected collaborations unfold. We need to serve as a network builder, inspiring and mobilizing experts from across academia, business and industry, government and nonprofits, and the environmental community at large.

Our goal with Momentum magazine is to create a venue for innovative ideas. In each print and Web feature, we’ve tried to dig below the surface of the buzzwords. We hope readers will walk away with a solid grasp of environmental issues, including the complexities, the policy implications and the need for an interdisciplinary problem-solving approach.

When I took the helm as director in August, the production of Momentum was well underway. I want to express my sincere gratitude for the leadership of Interim Director Deborah Swackhamer, who played a central part in planning the magazine, among countless other efforts. Her role in creating the Institute’s initial structure and mission and in building it to its current strength has been exemplary.

It is a great honor and privilege to be named director of the Institute. The more I learn about the University of Minnesota’s breadth and depth of expertise, the more I realize this is the opportunity of a lifetime. Through progressive leadership, public engagement and bold innovation, I’m certain that the Institute on the Environment will serve as a true world-changer.

Jonathan Foley
Director, Institute on the Environment