Celebrating the UN’s 78th birthday: Claremont students, faculty and community join together to build resilience to climate change

On Thursday, Pomona Valley’s United Nations of America celebrated the United Nation’s 78th birthday at Pomona College in an event highlighting the issue of climate change. (Crystal Widado • The Student Life)

On Oct. 26, the Pomona Valley United Nations Association (UNA) hosted a banquet to celebrate the United Nation’s 78th birthday at Pomona College. With around 300 attendees, the full house banquet included a seven-course meal, live performances, exhibits and speakers.

Guest speaker Branwen Williams — professor of Environmental Biology and director of Claremont McKenna College’s Roberts Environmental Center — delivered a speech encouraging action in response to climate issues. Attendees included faculty, over 100 students from the Claremont Colleges and residents from Pilgrim Place, a senior community in Southern California.

Williams delivered the keynote address titled “Building Resilience in the Face of Climate Change.” Aided by graphs of rising carbon emissions and trajectories of the future, Williams’ speech covered the history of climate change and its nationwide, state and local effects.

She also spoke on the inequities of climate change’s effects on every level of society, including on a local level in Claremont. Williams explained that these inequities become clear when comparing the southern and northern parts of Claremont.

“If you’re ever bored, try driving from south Claremont to north Claremont,” Williams said. “People who live in southern Claremont have fewer trees, there’s more urbanization, it’s lower elevation, and it gets hotter. When you go further up, there’s more trees, houses are more spread out, there’s more vegetation and you’re at higher elevation.” 

While Williams placed an emphasis on the severity of the impending threat of climate change, she also stressed hope in new technologies, such as carbon capturing technology, to combat the effects.

She likened the issue to the first moon landing, comparing the seemingly-impossible challenge of both events. Moreover, she emphasized society’s potential to solve climate change.

“I hope that people see optimism that there’s a pathway forward to mitigate and adopt,” she said.

Following Williams’ speech, student speakers Laura Somoza Valez CM ’24, Miller McCraw CM ’24 and Claremont Graduate University student MaryAnn Obidike spoke on the UN’s sustainable development goals (SDG). Obidike focused on the importance of one of SDG’s goals regarding health and wellbeing while Valez and McCraw talked about another one of their goals on climate action.

Valez and McCraw both hold leadership roles in Model UN at Claremont McKenna College (CMC). As they strived for more community outreach within the club, Valez and McCraw managed to reconnect with the UNA. They explained that the club joined halfway during the banquet’s planning process.

To encourage student turnout at the event, Valez and McCraw assigned a student representative from each college to raise awareness of the banquet within their school communities. They also sent out posters with QR codes with help from the Keck Center. With 154 signups and 107 show-ups, McCraw said the turnout exceeded his expectations.

The UNA was also able to offer opportunities to freshman students like Alana Nahabedian CM ’27, who founded and ran a UNA chapter in her hometown in Nevada. After getting connected with the UNA of Pomona Valley, Nahabedian was able to help run the event.

“I do hope to continue on with the UNA,” Nahabedian said. “I think it’s a really great organization and it makes contributing to a large organization like the UN very accessible, especially to students.”

Nahabedian praised Williams for having an optimistic view on the future of climate change, and various 7C students expressed similar sentiments on the event and its endeavors to address climate issues.

Sadie Scott PZ ’24 shared her lasting impressions on Williams’ speech, specifically noting the speaker’s concept of “sponge cities.”

“I had never heard of sponge cities before and the idea of it really being important to absorb water was fascinating because I’ve always thought about conservation,” Scott said. “I grew up in San Francisco where we grew up trying to conserve water in a state of perpetual drought and the idea of being a city that can be resilient and trap water when it is actually accessible felt very practical.”

Tim Cech PZ ’24, an exchange student from Switzerland, also praised the event’s age range of attendees.

“It’s so nice to see so many different people from different ages — a lot of students were here, but also all people from the community,” Cech said.

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