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Are we missing the trees for the forest?

canopy of trees
February 19, 2014

Known as “the Queen of Forest Canopy research,” Nalini Nadkarni, director of the Center for Science and Mathematics Education at the University of Utah, has devoted her career to the study of the ecologies of rainforest tree canopies, working primarily at field sites in Costa Rica and Washington State.

As part of the Institute for Humanities Research Humanities for the Environment project – funded by the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation/Consortium of Humanities Centers and Institutes – Nadkarni will give a lecture on the need to create a movement embracing stewardship for trees through raising our collective mindfulness about our environment.

“Between Earth and Sky: Our Intimate Connection to Trees” is scheduled to take place at 4 p.m., Feb. 21, in Coor 170, on the Tempe campus.

Nadkarni points out that nature is too often negatively defined as that which has not been developed by humans. No longer does humanity consider itself as necessarily a part of nature, but rather imagines itself standing over and against the natural world, a paradigm shift which has intensified with the imperatives of development and a globalized economy.

Yet, despite this paradigm shift, humanity’s fascination with nature and all her splendor has failed to diminish; in fact, ecologically callous human development is beginning to be offset by an equal and opposite developmental trajectory in the environmental humanities and other eco-friendly disciplines. For Nadkarni, trees are strong ambassadors to nature because of their unsurpassed beauty and universal cultural relevance.

Nadkarni’s research and advocacy has appeared in media as diverse as Glamour Magazine and a National Geographic television documentary. She sees that the creation of a sustainable planet requires diverse voices that seek to elevate environmental mindfulness through transdisciplinary collaborative projects.

She has worked with numerous non-traditional advocacy groups, ranging from centers for urban youth to prison halls, as well as collaborative projects with visual artists, rappers and politicians in her efforts to find advocates to speak on behalf of the trees. She hopes that the eclectic nature of her collaborations will engage many people in the environmental conservation effort.

The international Humanities for the Environment project is concerned with various aspects of environmental humanities, and will be animated by questions about the role of the discipline in the Anthropocene. In accordance with the imperatives of the project, Nadkarni, along with acclaimed author Jon Mooallem, will be participating in the second of three workshops during their visit to ASU this week, titled "Imagining Communities in the Anthropocene: Multi-species Relationships."

To RSVP for Nadkarni’s lecture, visit: