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UPEC Livestreams: Keeping you connected with the UP environment

Our series of livestreams, co-hosted by Board President Horst Schmidt and Vice President Evan Zimmermann, keeps you up-to-date with environmental issues facing the Upper Peninsula.

Please note: as of November 2021, you can view all archived recordings of the livestreams anytime on UPEC’s Facebook page. Earlier posts below link to UPEC’s YouTube channel, which is no longer being used for this purpose.


Palm oil is the most widely-used vegetable fat in the world, appearing in food, soaps and cosmetics, plastics, inks, and biodiesel. While some companies insist palm oil is a “golden gift to the world,” critics argue that it poses the single greatest threat to the world's tropical forests. In the next Upper Peninsula Environmental Coalition livestream, historian Jonathan Robins explores the 500-year history of palm oil as a global commodity, tracing its role in the slave trade, the Industrial Revolution, colonial exploitation, and the beginnings of today’s palm oil boom in the era of decolonization and the Cold War. Robins will highlight the roots of today's controversies over palm oil and show how history can help us envision more sustainable futures for palm oil and the people who produce and consume it.

Jonathan Robins is associate professor of history at Michigan Tech and author of Oil Palm: a Global History (2021).

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“Making Their Problem Our Problem: How the Public Relations Industry Manipulated the American Public for the Benefit of the Fossil Fuel Industry”

Melissa Aronczyk, Associate Professor, School of Communication & Information, Rutgers University

Maria I. Espinoza, Ph.D. candidate, Sociology Department, Rutgers University

In their new book A Strategic Nature,* Melissa Aronczyk and Maria I. Espinoza examine public relations as a social and political force that shapes both our understanding of the environmental crises we now face and our responses to them. On the next Upper Peninsula Environmental Coalition livestream, Aronczyk and Espinoza will share insights from the book. Drawing on in-depth interviews, ethnography, and archival research, Aronczyk and Espinoza document the evolution of PR techniques to control public perception of the environment since the beginning of the twentieth century. A Strategic Nature shows how public relations restricts alternative paths to a sustainable climate future.

Melissa Aronczyk is Associate Professor in the School of Communication & Information at Rutgers University. Her writing on media, publicity and environment has been published in Environmental Sociology, New Media & Society, Enterprise & Society, Public Relations Inquiry, and featured in The Washington Post and the podcast Drilled.

Maria I. Espinoza is a Ph.D. candidate in the Sociology department at Rutgers University. Her research centers on risk communication, environmental politics, and the climate-health nexus. Her work has been published in Social Science & Medicine, Big Data & Society, Environmental Sociology, and Climatic Change. She holds a B.A. from the Pontifical Catholic University of Peru and an M.A. in Sociology from Syracuse University. She has worked both in the social sector as a venture coordinator for Ashoka in the Andean Region and in the private sector as a consultant conducting social and environmental impact assessment studies.

*Melissa Aronczyk and Maria I. Espinoza, A Strategic Nature: Public Relations and the Politics of American Environmentalism (Oxford University Press, 2022).

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“Lake Michigan may be coming to Idaho.” That's what an Idaho radio commentator said in June 2021, referring to the idea that Great Lakes water could be sold and shipped out. Holding approximately 20% of the world’s surface freshwater, the Great Lakes are once again a target for the drought-ridden West. And in a potentially far bigger threat, Wall Street is creating markets that could lead to the trading of freshwaters as a commodity like corn or oil. The Great Lakes are in danger of becoming privately exploited on a large scale by those who have priorities other than stewardship.

In the next Upper Peninsula Environmental Coalition livestream, Dave Dempsey, author of the book Great Lakes for Sale, offers ideas on how to prevent the fulfillment of this nightmare scenario. They include an attack on water commercialization, curbing abuse of the Great Lakes Compact, and devising plans for limited sharing of the Great Lakes to forestall humanitarian disasters.

Dave Dempsey has been working on environmental issues since 1982, when he joined the Michigan Environmental Council. He has also served as an environmental advisor to former Michigan governor James Blanchard, as Michigan policy director for Clean Water Action, as a member of the Great Lakes Fishery Commission, and as a policy advisor on the staff of the International Joint Commission. He is currently a policy advisor for FLOW (For the Love of Water), a law and policy center dedicated to protection of fresh water through use of the public trust doctrine. Dave has authored eight books, two of which were Michigan Notable Books. A resident of Traverse City, Dave was born in Detroit and has degrees from Western Michigan University and Michigan State University.

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