Paul Robbins is the director of the Nelson Institute for Environmental Studies at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, where he guides the institute in serving as a world leader in addressing rapid global environmental change. He is spearheading several new initiatives in educational innovation, including the establishment of a professional master’s degree in Environmental Conservation. He also oversees a rapidly growing undergraduate environmental studies program.
Robbins is also strengthening the Nelson Institute’s commitment to the Wisconsin Idea through the expansion of its innovative service-learning and internship programs, partnerships across campus and with outside agencies and organizations, and community programs and public events.
Robbins has years of experience as a researcher and educator, specializing in human interactions with nature and the politics of natural resource management. He has taught topics ranging from environmental studies and natural resource policy to social theory. His research addresses questions spanning conservation conflicts, urban ecology, and environment and health interactions. He has done extensive fieldwork in rural India, where he has focused his work on the politics surrounding forestry and wildlife conservation in Rajasthan, India, as well as recent research examining the wealth of biodiversity (frogs, birds and mammals) in commercial coffee and rubber plantations throughout south India.
Robbins has also led national studies of consumer chemical risk behaviors in America, including research on the abiding passion of Americans for their lawns and mosquito management policies in the Southwest. In addition, he has studied the complexities of elk management policy on the settled fringes of Yellowstone Park.
With writing focused on diverse interdisciplinary audiences and the broader public, he is the author of the foundational textbook Political Ecology: A Critical Introduction and numerous research articles in publications that address conservation science, social science, and the humanities. His award-winning book Lawn People: How Grasses, Weeds, and Chemicals Make Us Who We Are is widely recognized as one of the most accessible books on the environmental politics of daily life.
Robbins previously led the School of Geography and Development at the University of Arizona, which he helped establish and served for two years as director. A UW-Madison alumnus with a bachelor’s degree in anthropology, Paul Robbins also holds a master’s degree and a doctorate in geography, both from Clark University. He was raised in Denver, Colorado.