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Dr. Karen Bakker

$16,300.00 (raised so far)

About Dr. Karen Bakker

It is with profound sadness that we mourn the passing of our exceptional colleague and friend, Karen Bakker, on August 14, 2023. In recent years, Karen brought her geographical fascinations with environmental perception and scientific world-making to the realm of sound. In The Sounds of Life (Princeton 2021), Karen builds a prismatic portrait of planetary ecology through the medium of chirps, buzzes and low cetacean moans. The book garnered immediate critical acclaim, including from the very scientists it featured. It also reaches a broad public through her recent TED Talk. Karen’s next book, Gaia’s Web (upcoming with MIT Press), explores how interconnected digital and natural networks will impact biodiversity conservation and environmental governance, and cultivate greater empathy for other species. Both books drew from her Smart Earth Project, seeking to mobilize digital technologies to address some of the most pressing challenges of the Anthropocene.

Karen will also be remembered for her fierce public engagement. She founded the Program on Water Governance at UBC, where she produced insightful analysis about the environmental, social and economic impacts of large dams like Site C ,and on a range of critical issues including water security, water privatization,  Indigenous water sovereignty and the human right to water. Research results from these studies have circulated widely in the media, and connected diverse academic, policy and practitioner worlds.

At UBC, and in the community, Karen was an outspoken advocate for equity issues, leading the pay equity process as the Chair of the Faculty Association Status of Women committee. She also frequently engaged local politicians on social and environmental issues of concern to the community—hosting meet-the-candidate nights and engaging in debate on key issues.

Karen will be remembered as multi-faceted and superbly talented in all realms. Writing, speaking, researching or chatting about any topic imaginable, Karen always had interesting things to say and could offer incisive commentary and engaged banter—whether it be about cooking, gardening, stand up paddle boarding or the local food cart scene in Vancouver. Indeed, alongside her academic pursuits she authored award winning books about feeding children healthful food under her nom de plume, Karen Le Billon.

Karen was above all a committed mother, partner and friend, and will be sorely missed. She not only transformed fields of knowledge related to water governance, neoliberal natures and digital environmentalism, but also those who worked alongside her.  Her immense energy, passion and intellect will be dearly missed by her family, friends and all the communities of which she was a part.

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The impact of your support

Karen first joined the Department of Geography at UBC as an assistant professor in 2002, having earned her PhD at Oxford University, where she was a Rhodes Scholar. Twenty-one years later, she leaves an astonishing record of achievement: as Fellow of the Radcliffe Institute for Advanced Study 2022-3; as recipient of a John Simon Guggenheim Memorial Foundation Fellowship 2022, a SSHRC Connection Award and Trudeau Fellowship in 2017; and as Stanford University’s Annenberg Fellow in Communication, and Fellow of the Royal Society of Canada’s College of New Scholars. She is the author of more than 100 academic publications and 7 books.

In honour of Karen’s passion for geography and the environment, and her commitment to community engagement, her family, friends and colleagues have created the Dr. Karen Bakker Memorial Fund. Your gift will pay tribute to Karen’s life and career by supporting graduate students in the Department of Geography at UBC. Final decisions on the fund will be made in consultation with the family.

Messages of Remembrance

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  • I really got to know Karen when we moved back to Vancouver in 2014 though I knew her by reputation given her stellar achievements. We became friends and our families got to know each other. She was such a wonderful, versatile, brilliant, supportive person. She gave me so much of her time, energy and wisdom. We're still in shock about her passing. Most recently, she had asked me to read and review her wonderful new book, The Sounds of Life, which I thoroughly enjoyed reading. She is deeply missed. Nos sympathies à Philippe, Solenne et Pauline. Gisèle, Ishkandar et Marcel (Ottawa.

    Gisèle Yasmeen, Friend
  • Unassuming brilliance! I only learned of her book writing earlier this year through another neighbour. When I congratulated Karen she responded "well, I am a prof at UBC...it's what we do!". Thank you Karen, for your contributions to this planet during your short human life! With love. Rest in peace, Ann and Alex

    Ann Hansson, Neighbour
  • Karen was a profound inspiration for me. Certainly, her power to listen, synthesize, and communicate with razer-sharp clarity, there was all that. But I think something more. She always followed her curiosity, about life, the Earth, the people all around her who had dedicated their lives to science and conservation... I recall, in one of our most recent encounters - amazed as I always was by the daunting range of her knowledge and her command of so many diverse worlds of knowledge - I asked her what had brought her to "The Sounds of Life". Without missing a beat she looked at me and said: "I want to do work I love", like it was the most obvious damn thing... which, for many of us, sadly, it is not. And her constant reminder was always that. She could write about anything because her curiosity was so endless and her wisdom was such that she let it take her where it would. Pretty much anywhere. I recall listening to a charming and thoughtful interview on NPR one bright morning, about how to raise North American kids like the French do (she was using her pen name for that project), and I heard this wonderful voice on the radio, and I stopped, and I said to my partner: "Hey, that's Karen!" Because of course it was.

    Paul Robbins, friend and colleague
List of Donors
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  • Anonymous Donation

  • Kristine Elderkin

  • Anonymous Donation

  • Danielle Rodriguez

  • Matthew Evenden

  • Sonia Talwar

  • Elyse Watkins

  • Estate of Glen Hammond

  • Nevison Young family

  • Anonymous Donation

  • Dawn Wright

  • Gisèle Yasmeen

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