HomeNewsPeople & Planet Conversation Series: Reflection and Relaunch

People & Planet Conversation Series: Reflection and Relaunch

The People & Planet Series, launched in 2020, focuses on taking a closer look at how the environment is interconnected with our social, political, and cultural systems. At its core are science-based conversations exploring the many intersections of our changing global climate and the human and natural systems that shape our world and how we experience it. 

We are excited to relaunch the series with the same focus and a few enriched initiatives that both expand and deepen our understanding of the impact people have on the planet and vice versa. We hope to make deeper connections with you, our audience, and your diverse array of expertise from academia, NGOs, businesses, and local communities. In addition to the conversation series, People & Planet may expand to other formats to foster even more collaborative opportunities to create meaningful connections.

To show you where we’ve been, we invited our past People & Planet speakers to reflect on what’s changed or stayed the same on the topics they presented, which included the planetary health framework, resilient food systems, drinking water contamination, and the connection between biodiversity loss and emerging infectious disease.

Enjoy these current reflections from past speakers and stay tuned for the next iteration of People & Planet this summer.

Planetary Health: Framing the Future

Teddie Potter, Director of Planetary Health for the University of Minnesota School of Nursing

In April 2020, Teddie Potter participated in the conversation “Planetary Health: Framing the Future.” During that conversation, when asked about whether or not COVID-19 would be a catalyst for environmental change, Potter said she was hopeful that it held transformative possibility. Today, Potter is “more hopeful than ever,” answering that she has “seen a massive awakening to the threats posed by environmental collapse.” 

“Many people are no longer saying that climate change and other threats are false, or ‘natural patterns,’ or crises that they won’t see in their lifetime,” she explains. The challenge is to “combat despair and a sense that we are too small and powerless to create the change that is necessary. To those people, I say, ‘Find others.’ Alone we are too small but working together, the ‘Great Transition’ that planetary health calls for is possible.” 

The 2020 conversation also included a rich discussion on the role of empathy and emotions in a planetary health worldview. For some people, this may feel counter to the practice of health or environmental sciences, which traditionally rely on objectivity as a cornerstone of validity. Potter disagrees: “The story we tell ourselves that scientists do not feel is a very old and, dare I say, inaccurate story,” she says. “It gives the illusion that we can be separate from nature, when we are in fact nature, or that we can objectively turn off the part of ourselves that seeks connections. I believe in science and I think that the scientific method is one of our greatest accomplishments as a species. But so too are art, music, love, and passion… One field is not more important than another – all are necessary and we are called to show up as full human beings.”

Resilient Food Systems

Kathy Draeger, Statewide Director of University of Minnesota Extension Regional Sustainable Development Partnerships

In September 2020, Kathy Draeger participated in the conversation “Resilient Food Systems.” That conversation highlighted how truly efficient our food system is, especially when not interrupted by major shocks like COVID-19, and how this efficiency helps keep food prices low. At the time, Draeger also shared that farmers/producers are receiving a shrinking percentage of what we pay for food at the grocery store.

We recently reached out to ask about her current thoughts on how to create a food system that encourages, creates, and maintains economic justice for all, so that food prices stay reasonable but farmers and producers can make a livelihood. First and foremost, Draeger says, with the war in Ukraine, we must now “bear in mind that there may be a global food shortage in the coming months due to a decrease in farming and exportation of food, especially wheat, from [Ukraine and Russia].”

While a shortage of grains from one of the world’s breadbaskets could lead to increased global food prices, Draeger stresses the importance of “continu[ing] to consider how to encourage the production of a wide range of food locally and regionally at this time.” She cites helpful initiatives such as the Emerging Farmers Working Group, “which seeks to create access to farm ownership for underrepresented communities,” she says, to actions such as encouraging consumers to “buy and prepare whole foods… starting with whole grains, bean, and meats to provide cost-effective meals and increase the portion of food dollars going back to farmers.”

When asked about the importance of improving our system from both ends of the spectrum – namely individual consumer behavior and policy change – and their influences on each other, Draeger shares how her disappointment in the failed farm bill has inspired her to look for more localized solutions. She hopes that “consumers will continue to support buying from farmers, whether that is from a grocery store, CSA, Farmers Market, or restaurant,” instead of waiting for federal policies to go into effect. “Minnesota is a good place to focus on how we can build robust and resilient food production and distribution, both because we have good soils with sufficient rainfall (in most years) and our state has a supportive Department of Agriculture and political leadership,” she says.

You can watch all of the previous People & Planet conversations online at: https://environment.umn.edu/people-planet-conversation-series/spring-2020-archive/. Watch our events announcements and social media for information on upcoming People & Planet conversations starting this summer!


Rupsa Raychaudhuri is a junior at the University of Minnesota, majoring in Political Science and Economics, with a minor in Psychology.

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