Addressing the Climate Crisis through the UN Sustainable Development Goals

June 11, 2021

Contributed by Sydney Cheung, Shinnyo Fellow, Chapman University

In May 2020, I graduated from Chapman University with a major in Environmental Science and Policy, and was awarded the Shinnyo Fellowship. Although I was unsure what career I wanted to pursue then, I knew that the mission of Shinnyo-en Foundation aligned well with my values. I wanted to gain experience working with community organizations and spaces. In the past 10 months of being a Shinnyo Fellow, I’ve been exploring the intersection of environmental and social justice issues which help advance some of the Sustainable Development Goals by the United Nations.

In the first six months, I worked with the Chapman Office of Sustainability to engage the community with environmentalism with a focus on improving food insecurity efforts in the Chapman community. Both sustainable development goal 2 and 3 advocate for ending hunger and ensuring the wellbeing of others. With no extensive background in food systems, I have learned more about food insecurity and how this is interconnected to a multitude of issues. Food insecurity, defined by the USDA as a “lack of consistent access to enough food for an active, healthy life” is a widespread issue that affects one in nine Americans, which is about 37 million people.

Not having one’s basic needs met can have detrimental effects not only to one’s physical well-being but also mental health. According to a study conducted by BMC Public Health, those experiencing food insecurity have a 257% higher risk of anxiety and a 253% higher risk of depression.

Pop-Up Pantry at Orange Homegrown Farmer’s Market

During this time, I worked with Chapman community via a socio-economic stratification advisory group, in which we wanted to provide more resources to the campus community and change the stigma on being food insecure. In the past year, food insecurity rates have increased due to the economic toll of the pandemic – many individuals have lost their jobs, which in turns has added a financial burden. In November, I launched a food insecurity survey to gather information on existing Chapman campus community needs. About 20% of respondents had experienced food insecurity in the past six months, and 80% did not know about the food pantry located in one of Chapman’s residential halls. In the next few months, we were able to set up a pop-up food pantry every Saturday to divert food waste from the local farmer’s market to those in need. In addition, the survey was a basis for setting up another food pantry on Chapman’s Rinker campus.

Starting January, I transitioned to work with Intersectional Environmentalist (IE), an environmental media and resources hub, founded by Chapman Alumna, Leah Thomas. Through IE, I focused on promoting intersectional environmentalism, a more inclusive form of environmentalism that centers the voices of marginalized communities – advocating for both people and the planet. This goes hand in hand with the UN Sustainable Development Goals, which emphasize how poverty, world hunger, climate change, conservation, education, gender, infrastructure, and more are interconnected. Thomas started IE after observing that the environmental movement did not center environmental justice and diverse voices to address the current climate crisis. This speaks directly to the Sustainable Development UN Goals 4 and 13 which are to “ensure inclusive and equitable quality education and promote lifelong learning opportunities for all” and “take urgent action to combat climate change and its impacts,” respectively.

A screencap of IE’s first ever summit event featuring BIPOC environmentalists, activists, and more.

IE has a network of over 350,000 community members who are striving to be intersectional environmentalists in order to address climate change and systemic inequities. IE amplifies the unique experiences and voices of BIPOC and other marginalized groups by sharing stories and educational materials. As a Chinese-American environmentalist, I spoke out about the harms of cultural appropriation. Aside from the resources listed on the website, IE also holds accessible community events to create space and spark dialogue. In April, I helped plan IE’s first ever summit event which featured different speakers and opportunities for community engagement ranging from different topics, such as ocean conservation, black ecology, intergenerational environmentalism, and more.

Through the Shinnyo Fellowship, I’ve been able to implement the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals which have aligned with my path to peace. I’m so grateful for the opportunities I’ve gained through this experience and how this solidifies my vision for the future. I envision a world rooted in compassion that would be in community with one another, prioritizing people over profit, and where no power hierarchies would exist. Above all, I dream that both the planet and people will no longer have to fight for a livable future due to the alarming effects of climate change.