Aerial view of the UW-Madison Arboretum
Honor the planet with events and readings

Earth Day, every day

Thanks to such conservationists as Aldo Leopold and policymakers as Gaylord Nelson, Wisconsin has played a central role in the environmental movement. As the weather gets warmer, April is the perfect time to explore the natural world around us – for our health and the earth’s as well.

UW Arboretum

There’s no better place to celebrate Earth Day than the Arboretum. New tools and events make it easier than ever to experience the woods and prairies.

A new interactive map (I-map) allows hikers, bikers, birders, photographers, skiers, researchers, historians or anyone who uses and enjoys the Arboretum to measure the distance of a run, share Arboretum experiences and photos, learn about our watershed -- and more.

The Spring Sprint for the Arb is one of many fun runs in the area this month. This 5K road race takes place on Saturday, April 14, at 10 a.m.; strollers and wheelchairs are welcome. All proceeds go to support the Arboretum’s ecological mission; visit the website to learn more about race-day transportation and registration.

As always, the Arboretum’s volunteer work days, garden tours and walks during the daytime and evening offer many personalized ways to experience Wisconsin’s natural landscapes. Visit the Arboretum’s events page to learn more.

Special events

The Arboretum’s own Earth Day celebration takes place on Sunday, April 22, from 8 a.m.-4 p.m. Participants of all ages can hike the grounds and take part in special activities to learn how to help the earth.

Economic growth, consumption, sustainability and happiness will be explored during the Sixth Annual Nelson Institute Earth Day Conference on Monday, April 16, at the Monona Terrace Community and Convention Center. Lyonpo Yeshey Zimba, former prime minister of Bhutan and a UW-Madison alumnus, will deliver one of the keynote lectures on his country's “gross national happiness” initiative, a measure of quality of life that includes factors such as economic well-being, environmental quality, physical and mental health, and sense of community.

The conference will also include presentations of the final round of proposals in the Global Stewards Sustainability Prize competition for students, now in its fourth year. More than $50,000 in prize money is up for grabs in this year alone. Previous contests have inspired solutions such as a new way to produce energy from agricultural waste, a recycled device that can provide cheap and efficient electricity in developing countries, and a smart phone application that allows shoppers to check the carbon footprint of grocery items with the click of a button.

The Wisconsin Film Festival, taking place from April 18-22, offers several films dealing with people's relationship to the natural and unnatural worlds around them. (All descriptions from

  • The documentary Bestiaire, part of the festival’s section on New Quebecois Cinema, is a “staggeringly beautiful meditation on mankind's need to assert itself over the animal kingdom.”
  • The eerie indie narrative Green is set against the backdrop of the current vogue for sustainable farming.
  • Former UW-Madison professor Sabine Gruffat “questions the collective ideologies that shape the physical landscape and impact local communities” in I Have Always Been A Dreamer, a documentary about political and cultural change in Dubai and Detroit.
  • Documentary short Of a Feather “is a lyrical portrait of the vibrant force of life, filmed during the course of a year in a major North American wetland.”
  • According to director Ben Rivers, the documentary Two Years at Sea, about forest-dwelling outsider Jake, has “at its core the relationship between a person and the place they have chosen to live out their life, and the deep connection there is between them.”


Books and more

If you prefer some more cerebral celebrations, check out some noteworthy work on environmental themes by UW-Madison faculty members.

Rob Nixon, Rachel Carson Professor of English, has published Slow Violence and the Environmentalism of the Poor, asking how environmental writers can craft emotionally involving stories from disasters that are slow-moving and attritional, rather than explosive and spectacular. Nixon says that Rachel Carson and others who chose to expose forms of oblique, slow damage like biomagnification and toxic drift, resorted to a narrative vocabulary to “give shape to amorphous menace.”

Colleen Moore, professor of psychology, has published extensively on the impact of pollutants on child development, including Children and Pollution: Why Scientists Disagree.

William Cronon, Frederick Jackson Turner Professor of History, Geography and Environmental Studies, has written several notable books on environmental history, including Uncommon Ground: Rethinking the Human Place in Nature and Nature’s Metropolis: Chicago and the Great West.

Just before his death in 2010, Harold “Bud” Jordahl, emeritus professor of Urban and Regional Planning, completed Environmental Politics and the Creation of a Dream: Establishing the Apostle Islands National Lakeshore.

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