Bringing together nearly 500 researchers from around the world, Michigan Technological University will be hosting this year's International Symposium on Society and Resource Management (ISSRM). The conference focuses on the intersection of human and natural systems.
Think Global, Act Local
Embracing the complexity of those intersections is a key part of the ISSRM research community, says conference co-organizer Richelle Winkler, a Michigan Tech sociologist specializing in environment, population and rural community development. The conference—an initiative of the International Association for Society and Natural Resources (IASNR)—occurs once a year and changes location each time.
Winkler says she's excited to share a Copper Country experience with researchers from around the world. In particular, she thinks the conference's theme of Transitioning: Toward Sustainable Relationships in a Different World reflects the challenges and opportunities Keweenaw communities face.
"The traditional natural resource base that drove the economies of these regions for a century is now long gone," she says. "Our communities have adapted and are continuing to find new pathways for how to live sustainable, happy and healthy lives in close relationships with the natural world."
Through public keynote speakers, field trips, more than 300 research presentations, and local business sponsorships, Winkler and the ISSRM organizers hope to share insight from the Keweenaw microcosm for global thinkers.
"The water, forests, rocks, and even the snow, are part of who we are and what makes us unique in the Copper Country."Richelle Winkler
Environmental Social Science
In addition to the locale, Michigan Tech's academic community is another draw for conference goers. Given the university's nimble size and emphasis on applied research, interdisciplinary research flourishes here.
Co-organizer Kathleen Halvorsen, who has a joint appointment in social sciences as well as forestry and environmental sciences, says Michigan Tech has cultivated a community that encourages collaboration between natural science, social science and engineering. In those partnerships, she says environmental social scientists are key to solving so-called "wicked problems" like pollution and climate change.
“As society tries to solve environmental problems, we have to recognize that they’re often caused by people and affect people, so it’s important to have scientists involved who understand people,” Halvorsen says.
Many of the discussions to be held at ISSRM will hold people at their core. The emphasis is not on identifying issues—rather it is about building up researchers' problem-solving capacity. In particular, the keynote speakers seek to catalyze communities to come together to solve problems with local and global impacts.
Nancy Langston, an environmental historian at Michigan Tech, will speak Friday morning on how an environmental history of Lake Superior provides lessons from the past that can inform a sustainable future. Riley Dunlap, a sociologist from Oklahoma State University, addresses on Saturday morning how climate change research can use sociological perspectives to inform current debates and potential solutions.
"The theme of transitioning in the conference really focuses on bringing people together from across the world to tackle environmental challenges together." Kathleen Halvorsen
Chad Pregracke Keynote
On Thursday morning, starting at 8:30 a.m. in the Rozsa Center at Michigan Tech, Pregracke will talk about "industrial strength" river clean-ups. This is the only conference event open to the public
Named the 2013 CNN Hero of the Year, Pregracke founded Living Lands and Waters—a national river clean-up nonprofit that since 1998 has helped pull 8.4 million pounds of debris out of the Mississippi, Illinois and Ohio Rivers. He is also the author of From the Bottom Up: One Man’s Crusade to Clean America’s Rivers.
In his talks, Pregracke tells a compelling story about growing up on the river and how his river experiences led to his unique vision to clean up the Mississippi River, which led him to start an internationally recognized not-for-profit. He takes the audience out on one of the world’s greatest rivers—a journey filled with endless challenges and gripping adventures.