Actress Rosario Dawson to keynote Nelson Institute conference in April

Feb. 28, 2014

by Steve Pomplun

Actress and activist Rosario Dawson, cofounder and chair of the voting rights organization Voto Latino and an international advocate for women's rights and environmental quality, will keynote the eighth annual Nelson Institute Earth Day Conference on Tuesday, April 22 in Madison.

Photo: Rosario Dawson

Rosario Dawson

Dawson, whose film credits include "Sin City," "Trance," "Rent" and "Men in Black II," has been a leader in urging young Latinos to become involved in voting and political participation. She has also been active with One Billion Rising, an international organization seeking to end violence against women, and is a spokesperson for the Environmental Media Association. Dawson will speak about America's changing demographics and the future of the environmental movement.

The conference, titled "Earth: To Be Determined," will explore ideas and issues related to the Anthropocene — the age of humans — a term many scientists are using to describe the profound impact people are having on the global environment by adding greenhouse gases to the atmosphere, converting land to human uses and consuming natural resources.

From the rapid melting of Arctic ice to record deforestation in the tropics, the world is riding an unprecedented trajectory of change. A recent review of scientific literature suggests that the rate of climate change over the next century will likely be at least ten times faster than any climate shift recorded in the past 65 million years. And by 2050, Earth's human population is expected to reach 9.6 billion, with global food demand predicted to double.

"Today has to be about going forward in a profoundly changed environment," says Nelson Institute Director Paul Robbins. "We're looking forward to a day of conference discussions focused on new strategies and partnerships both for conservation and for envisioning new futures for citizens, businesses and the environment."

Photo: Gaylord Nelson

Gaylord Nelson

The event will also feature remarks by award-winning British science fiction author China Miéville, whose novels include "The City & the City," "Embassytown" and "Railsea." Miéville will speak on "The Limits of Utopia," exploring links between environmentalism and social justice in a rapidly changing world.

Ecologist Erle Ellis of the Breakthrough Institute and Kevin Noone, director of the Swedish Secretariat for Environmental Earth System Sciences, will offer differing perspectives on ecological and natural resource challenges and opportunities posed by the Anthropocene.

In addition, nine concurrent panel sessions will focus on topics such as climate change in the Great Lakes region, future energy sources, sustainable food systems, global health, green business and other topics. The daylong event also includes exhibits, awards and other activities.

The annual Earth Day conference is one way the Nelson Institute carries forward the environmental legacy of its namesake, Gaylord Nelson. The former Wisconsin governor and U.S. senator helped make environmental protection and education top national priorities in the latter half of the 20th century. In 1970, Nelson founded Earth Day as a nationwide "teach-in" about environmental issues.

The Nelson Institute Earth Day conference will take place at the Monona Terrace Community and Convention Center in downtown Madison and is open to the public, though registration is required. Early registration is strongly recommended.