Past Conversations Archive

People & Planet: Conversations that Make Connections

This conversation series was created during a time (2020) that brought both challenges and change, hurdles and momentum. Many of us were asking: How did we get here? What can we learn? And where will we go from here?

One thing was clear then and is still clear today: It’s all connected. This series of conversations explores the many intersections of our changing global climate and the human and natural systems that also shape our world. Past topics include the planetary health framework, resilient food systems, drinking water contamination – and the connection between biodiversity loss and emerging infectious disease.

We invite you to watch recordings of these conversations below.

Fall 2023 Conversations

Nov. 29
, 2023
12:00 p.m. CT

Minnesota boosts more than just the Land of 10,000 Lakes – it’s home to leading Fortune 500 companies, renowned research universities and institutions, a forward-thinking public sector, and more. All of these things position Minnesota with the momentum to be a global leader in clean technology where groundbreaking ideas can thrive and evolve.

To be successful, existing cleantech collaborators know this work cannot be done alone. Through intentional efforts and supportive ecosystems, a collective approach will further Minnesota as an incubator for cleantech innovations. 

Join Bill Weber, Director of Business Building, 3M Ventures; Mark Sanders, Gemini Chair in Engineering Entrepreneurship, Technological Leadership Institute, University of Minnesota; and Whitney Terrill, Minnesota Solar Energy Industries Project (MNSEIP), for a conversation with Nina Axelson, Founder of Grid Catalyst, as they share perspectives on: 

  • Minnesota’s potential to be a leader in sustainable technology, 
  • How diverse sectors in Minnesota are converging to create integrated solutions on the forefront of cleantech innovation, 
  • The importance of ambition to action,
  • And more!

The conversation will be held in-person.

Corn – a seemingly simple staple commodity – has a versatility range unfamiliar to some consumers. From fields to foods, fuels, fibers and more, this grain is deeply woven into the fabric of human history, sustenance, and innovation.

Corn farming is a complex system of intersections between sustainability, nutrition, and the national and global agricultural landscape. This conversation will delve into the world of corn – exploring its past, present and future potential alongside its journey and historical roots through time.

Join Joanne Slavin, UMN Food Science and Nutrition Professor, Pedro Urriola, UMN Animal Science Assistant Professor, and Rebecca Webster, UMD American Indian Studies Director of Graduate Studies and Associate Professor, for a conversation with Jennifer Schmitt, IonE Senior Research Scientist in Sustainable Food Systems and Fellow, on:

  • Its multifaceted roles in history and contemporary society
  • The various corn strains tailored for specific purposes
  • And more!

The conversation will be streamed virtually with an in-person reception to follow with a couple of our panelists.

Check out our speakers’ favorite corn recipes!

Spring 2023 Conversations

May 25, 2023
12:00 p.m. CT

Join Lakota Ironboy*, Environmental Justice Liaison, Leech Lake Band of Ojibwe, Nfamara Dampha, Research Scientist in Natural Capital & Ecosystem Services, UMN Institute on the Environment, and Sam Grant, Executive Director, Rainbow Research, as they deconstruct the principle of “Common But Differentiated Responsibilities and Respective Capabilities” – part of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change, which was ratified by 198 nations in 1994.

*Lakota Ironboy, Environmental Justice Liaison of the Leech Lake Band of Ojibwe, will no longer be able to join this event conversation on May 25.

Our speakers will connect the global and the local in a candid conversation that ranges from climate and environmental justice issues in Minnesota to national and international differentiated responsibilities in the work to redress climate vulnerabilities, inequalities, and injustice – from intra- and intergenerational perspectives. They’ll dig into a range of policy-relevant questions, including:

  • What obligations do we owe to those overburdened by climate change impacts, including indigenous, marginalized, and underrepresented groups, and the poorest of society? 
  • Who should pay for climate loss and damage, to whom should it be paid, and when?
  • Is climate financing a moral obligation or a form of charity or development assistance?
  • How much and how fast can climate investments reduce inter- and intragenerational inequity?
  • Is climate justice perceived as a human rights matter?
  • Who speaks and who listens to the voiceless, the marginalized, the underserved, and disadvantaged communities?
  • And – how can universities support climate justice for a just transition for all?

These questions are relevant in both academic and public affairs – and yet are often undermined by micro-politics of so-called nationalism and patriotism. We hope this conversation on how to mainstream climate/environmental justice in both research and policy will inspire researchers, advocates, practitioners, and policymakers to deeply reflect on the equity and justice issues at stake due to the global nature of climate change. Expect this conversation to be honest and perhaps difficult for some to assimilate; global and local equity issues require tough, but respectful discussion.

April 18, 2023
11:00 a.m. CT

Meeting our climate goals requires all hands on deck – and public research universities are critical partners in this work, with their capacity for research and discovery, their approach to education, and their commitment to public engagement. This Earth Week, join Shane Stennes, systemwide chief sustainability officer at the University of Minnesota, and Jessica Hellmann, executive director of the Institute on the Environment and university director of the Midwest Carbon Adaptation Science Center, in a conversation digging into:

  • How academic leaders can guide the university’s engagement in a sustainable future
  • Big ideas – what’s on the horizon in sustainability, climate action, and more!

March 29, 2023
4:00 p.m. CT

Various ecosystems are dependent upon fire to create and maintain their landscapes. Indigenous peoples around the world, including those of the Great Lakes region, have regularly worked with fire both culturally and ecologically as a means to managing these ecosystems for thousands of years until federal laws halting this practice emerged to “protect” lands. This was under the falsehood that by “maintaining” an “untouched and pristine” wilderness, unintentional and uncontrolled wildfires could be prevented. Fire exclusion policies criminalized Indigenous burnings – suppressing and damaging cultural relationships with the land and vital knowledge of fire’s necessary presence in many forested ecosystems. 

While many of us associate fire – wild and prescribed – with the western United States, it has an important history here in the Great Lakes region as well. Research at the University of Minnesota’s Cloquet Forestry Center (CFC) (and elsewhere in the region), in collaboration with Anishinaabe knowledge holders, has highlighted the western viewpoint’s preference for dehumanized and fire-excluded forested ecosystems. This has prompted work to collaboratively restore ecoculturally significant fire back to the CFC landbase. In an article covering the effort, Clare Boerigter notes that cultural burning in Minnesota “prompted an abundance of blueberries, historically a staple food source for the Fond du Lac Band and other Ojibwe, and cleared understories of dense brush, giving a competitive edge to fire-adapted red pines while creating a welcoming environment for villages and camps.”

It is evident that criminalization of Indigenous burnings was counterintuitive, allowing non-local beings, both plant and animal, to thrive in a landscape – snuffing out other ecologically and culturally important ecosystems/species. How can we continue to build Indigenous relationships with the land and fire and what benefits can Indigenous burning practices have as a climate change adaptation strategy in our region and beyond?

Join Ferin Davis Anderson, Supervisor of Environmental Sciences, Shakopee Mdewakanton Sioux Community; Lane Johnson, UMN Cloquet Forestry Center (CFC) Research Forester; Melonee Montano, UMN-TC Natural Resources Science and Management (NRSM) Grad Student; and moderator Mike Dockry, IonE Fellow, Midwest Climate Adaptation Science Center (CASC) Program Lead for Tribal Relations and UMN Assistant Professor, Forest Resources, for a conversation on Indigenous fire in the Great Lakes region.
Specific questions will delve into:

  • What is the fire history of our Midwest region? 
  • What are managers doing today with fire use?
  • What is Indigenous fire use, especially in relation to prescribed (Rx) fire?
  • What is the overarching role of climate change in these topics?

2022 Conversations

Sept. 30, 2022
2:30 p.m. CT

Jessica Hellmann opened the conversation talking about the transition of society’s mindset to understand climate change. Climate change- a phenomenon many of us were once unsure of, and some doubted, has become accepted as fact, and worthy of immediate action. From this shift of mindset, IonE asks the question: What is the role of national and multinational corporations and academia in collective sustainability, social responsibility, and community-building efforts?

The simple answer, both are needed to create innovative solutions that reduce waste, carbon footprints, and benefit our community. 

Starbucks hopes to be a leader in this change, innovation, and collaboration. With an ambitious goal to cut their emissions in half, how does Starbucks hope to achieve this goal? What would it look like to create a more sustainable company reflected in the cup, the coffee, the creamer, and the customer experience?

Join Michael Kobori, Chief Sustainability Officer at Starbucks Coffee Company, along with Susanna Gibbons, IonE Fellow and Managing Director for the Carlson Funds Enterprise, and Beth Mercer-Taylor, IonE’s Co-Program Director of Sustainability Education, as they answer moderated questions from UMN students Madonna Morris Meilad Ebied, Bailey Webster, and other participants. The panel consists of questions around the topics of: 

  • Innovative solutions to increase sustainability
  • How to create a career in sustainability
  • And much more

June 21, 2022
12:00 p.m. CT

Both in response to climate change and challenges to fuel supply chains, the energy system is undergoing a radical transformation from fossil fuel to clean energy technologies. That makes now a critical time to ask: How can we, starting in our own communities, leverage the opportunities created by this transition to effectively build a just and equitable clean energy future?

A key component of this work is ensuring equitable access to emerging careers in renewable energy. Much focus already has been paid to the value of building programs supporting green energy education and job training in the Twin Cities. However, realizing strategies that authentically connect with communities about these programs remains a growth opportunity.

Join Jamez Staples, President & CEO, Renewable Energy Partners; Julia Nerbonne, Executive Director, Minnesota Interfaith Power & Light; Joel Haskard, Co-Director, Clean Energy Resource Teams (CERTs), University of Minnesota Extension’s Regional Sustainable Development Partnerships (RSDP); and moderator Akisha Everett, Project and Engagement Coordinator, IonE Energy Transitions, who will discuss how training our communities for clean energy job opportunities has multiple long term benefits and how different communication strategies can improve awareness of them.

The conversation will tackle questions such as:

  • How can we build an equitable clean energy workforce in Minnesota?
  • How does a clean energy workforce support a resilient energy system?
  • How can organizations successfully connect with underrepresented communities about these opportunities?

Fall 2020 Conversations

Dec. 9, 2020
12:00 p.m. CT

Earlier this fall, Ensia kicked off the Troubled Waters series, a nine-month investigation of drinking water contamination across the U.S. We generally consider our water to be safe — and for the most part it is — but as Seattle-based science journalist Lynne Peeples wrote in the lead story for the series, “Across the U.S., drinking water systems serving millions of people fail to meet state and federal safety standards. Millions more Americans may be drinking unsafe water without anyone knowing because limits set by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) are too high, the contaminants it contains are unregulated, or their drinking water source is too small to fit under EPA regulations.”

This People & Planet webinar will bring together Lynne along with two Minnesota-based experts: Mae Davenport, Professor, Department of Forest Resources, and Director, Center for Changing Landscapes, University of Minnesota, and Tannie Eshenaur, Water Policy Manager, Environmental Health Division, Minnesota Department of Health. The conversation will be moderated by Todd Reubold, Associate Director, IonE and Publisher, Ensia, to discuss the state of water in Minnesota and beyond. The discussion will tackle questions such as:

  • How concerned should we be with our drinking water in this country?
  • Where are the hotspots for contamination in Minnesota and beyond?
  • Who is most impacted by different drinking water contaminants?
  • How are different systems — including private well water — impacted?
  • What are the most pressing contaminants of emerging concern?
  • What’s being done to ensure everyone has access to clean, safe drinking water?

August 31, 2020
12:00 p.m. CT

Photographs of produce composting in fields, juxtaposed with images of sparsely stocked supermarket shelves and lengthy lines at food banks. Meatpacking plants declared essential businesses – and also hotspots of infection. The pandemic has made the vulnerabilities and inequities of our food systems impossible to ignore.

How might we build more resilient, equitable food systems? Join our guests for a conversation exploring this urgent and complicated question. We’ll dig into the continuum of global to local food systems, implications for sustainability in supply chains, and creating a system that serves us all.

This panel’s speakers:

  • Jennifer Schmitt, IonE Lead Scientist who specializes in agricultural supply chain sustainability across the U.S. meat and commodity crop sectors.
  • Kathy Draeger, Statewide Director U of M Extension Regional Sustainable Development Partnerships. Research includes rural food distribution, local and regional food distribution, and rural grocery store persistence.
  • Chris Fields, President, Fields Produce & Foods Inc *Unfortunately, Mr. Fields had to cancel his participation.
  • Moderated by Melissa Kenney, IonE Associate Director for Knowledge Initiatives and expert in sustainability decision support

Spring 2020 Conversations

May 18, 2020
12:00 p.m. CT

As journalist John Vidal wrote in a recent piece for Ensia, published in partnership with the Guardian, “Only a decade or two ago it was widely thought that tropical forests and intact natural environments teeming with exotic wildlife threatened humans by harboring the viruses and pathogens that lead to new diseases in humans like Ebola, HIV and dengue. But a number of researchers today think that it is actually humanity’s destruction of biodiversity that creates the conditions for new viruses and diseases like COVID-19.”

This People & Planet conversation brings together experts including Grace Ge Gabriel, Regional Director — Asia, International Fund for Animal Welfare (IFAW); Dominic Travis, of the Department of Veterinary Population Medicine, College of Veterinary Medicine, University of Minnesota; John Vidal, international journalist and former environment editor at the Guardian; and moderator Todd Reubold, Associate Director, IonE and Publisher, Ensia, to discuss the intersection of biodiversity loss, the global wildlife trade and the emergence of infectious diseases. The discussion will tackle questions such as:

  • What do we know about the origins of the COVID-19 pandemic?
  • Where are the global hot spots for future outbreaks?
  • What role does the wildlife trade — both legal and illegal — play in the spread of infectious diseases?
  • What can be done to prepare for or prevent the next COVID-19 crisis?
  • And much more!

April 29, 2020
12:00 p.m. CT

Right now, it is easier than ever to see evidence of the systems that tether us all together and, in turn, to the natural world – from our food supply chains to the visible environmental changes unfolding around the planet. As we grapple with a pandemic, how might we approach these connections as a source of strength – and not perceived vulnerability?

Planetary Health is a rising educational framework and field that can lead the way. Propelled to prominence in 2015 by the Rockefeller Foundation and the Lancet, Planetary Health emphasizes  the interdependence of human health and the health of natural systems. The 12 cross-cutting principles of planetary health range from systems thinking to global citizenship – and give us the tools and framework to promote a sustainable future for all.

Join Teddie Potter, Director of Planetary Health for the University of Minnesota School of Nursing, and Cathy Jordan, Associate Director for Leadership & Education at the UMN Institute on the Environment and Research Director for the Children & Nature Network, for a conversation with IonE Director of Communications Julie K. Hanus on:

  • How a planetary health perspective can serve us now
  • What leaders and organizers can learn from the framework
  • What children and young people can learn from the framework – and why they are an important audience
  • And why complexity can be a cause for hope