UN Millennium fellows start LMU Climate Refugee Initiative

The United Nations Millennium Fellowship was awarded to nine LMU students to advance environmental goals.

Nine LMU students are participants in the 2020 United Nations Millennium Fellowship, a highly competitive, semester-long fellowship that works with students across the world towards the United Nations' sustainable development goals.

With this fellowship, to add “legitimacy and a bit of seriousness,” as put by senior history and international relations double major Will Lighthart, the students have hopes of starting a movement at LMU that will elicit meaningful action through education and fundraising in response to the climate refugee crisis.

As a group, these students created the LMU Climate Refugee Initiative (LMUCRI) campaign. According to junior environmental studies major Kelsie Constable, their goals are to "first, spread awareness of the climate refugee crisis and second, to raise money and donate to organizations that are working to directly help those [affected]."

With their Instagram page @LMUCRI, the students provide educational resources on the climate refugee crisis. In one of their posts, they define a climate refugee as a “person or group of persons who, for compelling reasons of sudden or progressive changes in the environment that adversely affect their lives or living conditions, are obliged to leave their habitual homes.”

The page also cites some of the painful effects of the crisis such as economic, political, and social instability in the affected region and the increased vulnerability of marginalized populations due to terrorism, enslavement, health issues and more. A jarring statistic also shared on the LMUCRI Instagram is that by 2050, the impacts of climate change could displace up to 200 million people. This crisis is one that has far-reaching, devastating effects on the global population.

Lighthart referenced his passions for climate change, human rights and the intersectionality of the two as what initially led him to propose the LMU Climate Refugee Initiative. Senior environmental studies major Reilly Grzywacz cited her LMU interdisciplinary education as a source of encouragement for her to pursue how to apply her major to a “more social justice-oriented, real-life experience” with LMUCRI.

When asked why LMU students should care about the climate refugee crisis, junior psychology major Jessica Laar cited one of LMU’s own mission pillars: "I really think this is the perfect opportunity for students to learn about an issue that may not impact them yet and really fulfill LMU’s vision of being a global citizen and becoming passionate about international issues like this one."

Grzywacz tied the relevance of the crisis closer to home, acknowledging the international scale of the crisis but making a point of its presence also within the United States. In her own words, “The climate refugee crisis is in the U.S. It is here, it has been here for a long time. In the news, that is not what they call these issues, but that is what they are. All of the people made homeless by the wildfires in California, those are climate refugees."

Moving forward with this initiative, Lighthart said, "we have started to and will continue to challenge the LMU community to broaden their conceptualization of climate change."

Lighthart goes on to say, "We want to emphasize that climate change has very intersectional implications for people; within the LMU and Los Angeles community, it is going to affect people differently based on socio-economic status, geography, race, gender; there are a lot of different factors that come into play."

The students behind the LMU Climate Refugee Initiative are taking this opportunity to bring an issue they care about to the attention of the LMU community. Junior psychology and communications double major Cameo Brown said since starting this initiative, it "has given me something else to care about and really want to learn about" and that she hopes other LMU community members will become passionate about this climate justice and human rights issue as well.

Other LMU students involved in this initiative include senior communications and political science double major Bella Lucero, senior elementary education major Lucy Brandstrader, junior psychology major Maya Wazana and sophomore math and theology double major Raymond CangKimVo.

LMUCRI will be sending donations collected from the LMU community directly to the Environmental Justice Foundation’s Protect Climate Refugees Project. The Environmental Justice Foundation’s funding goes into “working in some of the world’s toughest and most remote countries to shine an international spotlight on the environmental and human rights abuses that too often go unnoticed,” according to their website.

LMUCRI is accepting donations to further the cause through their GoFundMe and Venmo @LMUCRI.

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