Nalini Nadkarni: 8 ways to bring the treetops to the world below

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As many forms as outreach can take, it seems that today’s new TEDTalk luminary, Nalini Nadkarni, has done them all and then invented several of her own. This tireless champion of the canopy has embarked on projects involving poets, dancers, rappers, prison inmates and even Barbie dolls to bring attention to the plight of our forests.

Giving a sense of the breadth of Nalini’s work, here’s a roundup of some of her most creative enterprises:

Nalini is president of the International Canopy Network, a non-profit built in 1994 to support interaction between all people with a vested interest in the state of the canopy. Clearly, scientists aren’t alone in the desire to preserve our environment and this project connects them with educators, activists and more.

After spending time exploring the treetops at Nalini’s invitation in Costa Rica, choreographers for the innovative modern dance group Capacitor created a live show and video performance about their experience. Nalini was credited as Scientific Advisor.

Treetop Barbie
Showing little girls that they can be scientists and canopy researchers too, Nalini and her graduate students collect secondhand Barbie dolls and outfit them for a day in the field before distributing them to eager young minds.

The Moss Project
At the Cedar Creek Corrections Facility in Little Rock, Washington, Nalini has employed a team of prisoners turned botanists to grow mosses that would otherwise be harvested from the wild for the horticultural trade. The project has also been great for the inmates, teaching them skills that can earn money after their release.

Canopy Walkway
At the Evergreen State College, Nalini has been exploring the possibility of building a system of canopy-level forest walkways, giving students and the public the opportunity to see the ecosystem at work. There’s also hope that it will initiate and inspire fresh ideas about conservation.

Trees and Spirituality
Nalini sees the spiritual value of trees as well as their practical value, and in this program she visits local churches and synagogues to speak about the relationship between trees and faith.

Canopy Rap
Critics have been calling for hip-hop with a positive message for some time, and now courtesy of Nalini and rapper Duke Brady, we can all enjoy the freestyle rap “Kindle your own fire.” Click to listen.

Canopy Camoflauge
This project aims to produce clothes that remind us of the beauty of the natural world, and Nalini worked with designers to produce prototypes that depict mosses and trees. They hope to market the concept to outdoor-oriented retailers, exposing us all to images that remind us of the fragile ecosystems we stand to lose.

Nalini’s efforts to bring the canopy to us all are an inspiration, and proof of how much one small voice can accomplish when it decides to shout its message from the treetops.