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Climate change, local efforts highlight United Nations discussion at Woodbury University

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Students from Woodbury University’s United Nations Club hosted Anna Mahalak, youth engagement manager for the UN, on Wednesday for a discussion about global and local efforts aimed at accomplishing the UN’s sustainable development goals. Mahalak, second from right, talked with students, along with Eric Schockman, third from right, Woodbury’s director of the Center of Leadership in the College of Liberal Arts and Woodbury University president David M. Steele-Figueredo, on the right.
(Photo by Jamie Brown)

Whether cleaning local beaches or saving the rainforest, micro and macro efforts led a discussion by Anna Mahalak, youth engagement manager for the United Nations, held at Woodbury University on Wednesday.

Students, faculty and other observers may have been enticed by the promise of pizza provided by the school’s UN Club, but stayed to explore ideas regarding conservation, climate action, recycling and how goals set by the United Nations helped fuel global efforts.

“Youth voices can play a role, and youth voices are having special mechanisms being created as we speak to have more involvement at the UN,” Mahalak said.

She pointed to September’s UN Youth Climate Summit, with one highlight being a fiery speech by teen advocate Greta Thunberg — a moment when Generation Z took the lead against climate change.

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Mahalak said that while climate action goals can seem far off, results are attainable.

She pointed to objectives set around the turn of the millennium to fight global hunger.

“We actually cut extreme poverty in half,” she said. “So, we know that as a global community when we set our mind to something, we can achieve great results.”

Mahalak distributed fliers highlighting the 17 United Nations’ sustainable development goals, which range from projects to end poverty and gender inequality to focusing on life below the water and responsible consumption.

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It was then when the discussion turned local, and Mahalak invited audience members to describe their efforts regarding the sustainable development goals.

Woodbury sophomore Steven Taborda pointed to his work in helping sanitize the beaches as he helped a friend, UC Irvine student Tyler Nishikawa, found an off-campus club called “We Clean Beaches.”

“He and I started going out every weekend and, ever since, he’s been getting [social-media direct messages] about people wanting to do these cleanups,” Taborda said of Nishikawa.

“He said ‘I think we should start something’ and he did, and I helped clean up and do marketing,” he added.

What started as just two friends picking up trash near Torrance in June has morphed into groups of 20 to 50 roaming Venice, Dockweiler and Santa Monica beaches in pursuit of refuse.

The group’s next scheduled cleanup will be 4:30 to 7:30 p.m. Saturday at Zuma Beach. For more information, visit the We Clean Beaches Instagram page.

While some students vowed to ditch disposable “fast fashion,” which may be worn once or twice, and utilize more public transportation, the topic of climate change hit home for Woodbury president David M. Steele-Figueredo when Mahalak spoke of the devastation surrounding rainforest fires in Brazil.

“When you’re flying over Brazil, all you see is rainforest and that rainforest is being destroyed, and I think that’s one of the issues that we have not paid enough attention to,” said Steele-Figueredo, who was born in Venezuela and worked for years in South America.

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“It’s just a huge, huge rainforest and I can’t emphasize enough how important that is to global warming,” he added.

Steele-Figueredo acknowledged that he, a former senior strategic planner for oil giant Chevron, has changed and developed his views on topics such as climate change due, in part, to efforts by Gen Z family members.

“My eldest grandson turned 21 and he is very, very sensitive about his carbon footprint and, in particular, he’s not afraid to look me in the eyes and say, ‘Grandpa, you and your generation created this problem,’” Steele-Figueredo said.

He added, “It hurts to hear that, but I’ve taken that to heart and, if there is going to be global change, it’s going to be because of this generation with help from many others, including [myself].”

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