Director’s Message

Susan Ustin
A letter from Susan Ustin, Interim Director of the John Muir Institute of the Environment

In August of 2020, I was named Interim Director of the John Muir Institute. I inherited a successful and thriving institute that includes two keystone centers: Center for Watershed Sciences and the Center for Health and the Environment, three ongoing Programs, the UC Davis Natural Reserve System, the Western Center for Agricultural Health and Safety, and the Center for Spatial Technologies and Remote Sensing. Not least of these significant research programs, our One Climate Big Idea Initiative and the multiple projects within its umbrella, including the Working Lands Innovation Center,Environmental Justice, Wild Energy, and Health and the Environment. These and other multidisciplinary projects use creative solutions that turn complex problems into opportunities, and illustrate our strength to produce positive impacts on future generations. Our core and framework centers around health, environment, and climate.  We facilitate and conduct research, education and outreach that is policy relevant, solutions focused, with guiding principles of inclusivity, access, and equity.

The Mission of the John Muir Institute is to discover, research and solve the pressing environmental and societal challenges of today and for our future.  The John Muir Institute contributes our unique, inter-disciplinary approach to help solve these critical challenges.  We are motivated by the common belief that all people deserve access to clear air, safe drinking water, healthy food, and a robust natural environment – the foundations of a prosperous economy and secure and sustainable society.

The events of 2020 have turned everyone’s lives upside down and our shared futures depend on reimagining our lives, our societies, and our environment. How we make fundamental changes in society. We are living through a period of exceptional changes, an unprecedented epidemic, catastrophic closing of many businesses, high unemployment and a major political and economic crisis. California itself, has had a hot dry summer with the worst fire season in its history, experiencing four of the five largest fires in the State’s history. Management and climate change share responsibility for the state of our ecosystems. The solutions of the past no longer work but the evolution of changes needed are not yet fully realized.

We might think to give up in despair but that is not the model we, as an institute have always followed. Instead the Muir Institute searches out practical solutions to solve these complex entanglements through our interdisciplinary approaches that turn problems into opportunities. The conditions our society faces requires that we reimagine the outcomes that will lead to the best futures and then and then find solutions that bring us toward these 21st century goals.  Since its founding in 1997, the Muir Institute, through its pioneering interdisciplinary focus, has always sought to define win-win solutions to environmental challenges, that have led to today’s visions for sustainable living, from homes to environments.

We are uniquely placed to create out-of-the-box solutions, because as part of the UC System, in addition to Davis’ renowned expertise in the broad sweep of environmental sciences, we have collaborative faculty on 10 campuses and the three National Labs UC supports, including Lawrence Berkeley, Lawrence Livermore, and Los Alamos whom we can call upon for their expertise. The JMIE consortium benefits from participation of more than 400 faculty, staff and students that represent all UC Davis’ colleges and professional schools, from experts in law, health, science, engineering, environmental sciences, and the humanities, who demonstrate through their work that a clean and safe environment produces job creation and economic growth – this is a fundamental John Muir Institute value, established by past Directors and continues in our current approach.

To share a brighter future with you, Sincerely,

Susan L. Ustin, PhD

Interim Director, UC Davis Muir Institute

Distinguished Professor Emeritus, Department of Land, Air, and Water Resources