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Exploring our right to a better planet

Loyola College for Diversity and Sustainability symposium will examine the strong ties between sustainability and human rights
November 20, 2013
By Tom Peacock

Protestors during the 2011 uprising in Egypt. The Loyola College for Diversity and Sustainability symposium will deal with issues related to human rights and social justice, among other topics. | Photo courtesy of Carol Gray

It might seem like a stretch to call the devastation caused by Typhoon Haiyan in the Philippines earlier this month a violation of human rights. But what if its ferocity is scientifically linked to climate change — in other words, what if we at least partially caused it?

“Climate change is creating more refugees,” says Rosemarie Schade, principal of the Loyola College for Diversity and Sustainability (LCDS). “The weather is continuing to get worse, which leads to many people — the most recent example being in the Philippines — being deprived of the basic human rights of water, food and shelter, and very often life itself.”

On Thursday, November 21, and Friday, November 22, the college will host the Symposium on Sustainability & Human Rights, which will examine the myriad connections between the two hot-button issues. The program will include panel discussions on food security and sustainability, women’s issues in human rights and development, oral history promoting human rights, social justice and human rights, and climate change and resource management.

“Traditionally, sustainability has been thought of as mainly environmental,” says LCDS Fulbright Visiting Research Chair Carol Gray, one of the symposium’s principle organizers. “But we’re trying to broaden the definition and explore what the relationship is between human rights and sustainability.”

Gray was able to attract five other Fulbright scholars from Canadian universities, including David Holben from the University of Prince Edward Island, to talk at the symposium. He will present his paper “The State of Food Insecurity in Canada” during the panel on food security and sustainability.

Faculty members, graduate and undergraduate students, and community members will also participate in the panels. “The idea is to bring together different voices,” Schade says. “We didn’t want to have just academic voices, but also voices of people who are activists, who actually work on issues around sustainability, and also students. I think it’s a stronger conference if it’s more open.”

Carol Gray and Rosemarie Schade Carol Gray (left) and Rosemarie Schade. | Photo courtesy of the Loyola College for Sustainability and Diversity

Among the invited speakers for the panel on climate change and resource management is Schade’s assistant Adan Suazo, who is also coordinator at the Loyola Sustainability Research Centre (LSRC) and a research fellow at the Concordia-based Montreal Institute for Genocide and Human Rights Studies (MIGS).

“What I’ll be talking about on Friday is the effects that environmental degradation has on the ability of third parties to mediate in conflict zones,” he says. “What I’ve seen is that there is a very strong trend between areas most affected by land degradation and the amount of failed peace agreements arising from these areas.”

Suazo will be joined on his panel by LSRC Director Peter Stoett, Fulbright Scholar Victoria Herrmann, and David Secko, an associate professor in Concordia’s Department of Journalism.

Professor Frank Chalk, director of MIGS, will deliver the conference’s keynote. “Frank is a major expert on human rights with an international profile,” Schade says. “He’s going to use that expertise in order to bring the links between human rights and sustainability into sharper focus.”

The Symposium on Sustainability & Human Rights is free of charge and open to the public, but guests are strongly encouraged to register.

When: Thursday, November 21, 2013, from 9 a.m. to 6 p.m.
Where: Room H-1220, Henry F. Hall Building (1455 De Maisonneuve Blvd. W.), Sir George Williams Campus

When: Friday, November 22, 2013, from 9 a.m. to 6 p.m.
Where: Room AD-210, Administration Building (7141 Sherbrooke St. W.), Loyola Campus.

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