Climate change refugee expert Robert McLeman to speak at Gandhi Lecture and Peace Festival

A bust of Gandhi in the President's Hallway on McMaster's campus

A bust of Mahatma Gandhi inside McMaster's Gilmour Hall. The annual Mahatma Gandhi Lectures on Nonviolence series was named after Gandhi to honour his role in the revitalization and development of nonviolence. (Photo by Georgia Kirkos).

The theme for the 2023 Mahatma Gandhi Lecture Series and Gandhi Peace Festival, “Climate Change Refugee Migration,” is especially timely this year, says Chandrima Chakraborty, the director of McMaster’s Centre for Peace Studies and the Global Peace and Social Justice Program. 

“This summer, many Canadians across the country received air quality warnings and found their cities covered in an orange haze of wildfire smoke,” she says. “As we experience the impacts of a changing climate firsthand in Canada, will we develop more empathy for supporting migrants fleeing climate change from other, especially more vulnerable, regions of the world?” 

Each year, the Lecture Series — which runs in conjunction with the Gandhi Peace Festival held annually at Hamilton City Hall — aims to celebrate and promote peace and nonviolence, commemorate the life and legacy of Mahatma Gandhi and bring together local communities to engage in dialogue, reflection, and action around issues of peace and social justice.  

With community involvement at the core of these events, the theme for the Festival and Lecture Series is selected by a local community of peace activists and community organizations, with support from McMaster’s Centre for Peace Studies and the Global Peace and Social Justice Program. The Lecture Series is unique in that it is the only community-funded and community-led lecture series at McMaster. 

A headshot of Robert McLeman
Robert McLeman, Professor in the Department of Geography and Environmental Studies at Wilfrid Laurier University

This year’s speaker will be Robert McLeman, Professor in the Department of Geography and Environmental Studies at Wilfrid Laurier University whose research focuses on climate-related migration and displacements. McLeman’s unique blend of research and lived experience as a former Canadian diplomat makes him an ideal speaker for these lectures, which aim to inform and inspire members of the public including local peace activists, non-profit organizations, ethno-cultural associations and local residents.  

“When I was working as a diplomat in the 90s, the notion that climate change might displace large numbers of people around the world seemed very abstract, a problem that appeared to be very much ‘over the horizon,’ something we could worry about later,” says McLeman.  

“We still have conflicts today that continue to displace millions of people, but in addition, we now have growing streams of people displaced for environmental reasons.” 

According to the Internal Displacement Monitoring Centre, the number of people newly displaced by extreme weather events in 2022 actually exceeded the number of people newly displaced by violence or conflict — the scenarios once thought of as future problems, are happening now.   

In his lectures, McLeman will explore questions related to Canada’s role in the climate refugee crisis and inspire thinking around how we might collectively address this issue and mitigate the effects of climate change and its impact on vulnerable local and global communities.   

“Fortunately, we live in a nation with tremendous resources and capacity to assist people displaced by the impacts of climate change and to help them return to and rebuild their communities,” says McLeman.   

“But what will become of those who live in countries not so fortunate? How will they cope with a climate disrupted future? And what can we do to help?” 

Mahatma Gandhi Lecture Series
Climate Change Refugee Migration with Robert McLeman (Wilfrid Laurier University)
Thursday, October 5, 2023
7 p.m. to 8:30 p.m.
Location: Peter George Centre for Living and Learning (PGCLL M21)

Gandhi Peace Festival
Keynote Speaker Robert McLeman (Wilfrid Laurier University)
Saturday, October 7, 2023
Keynote speech 11:15am (festival runs 10:00 am – 2:00 pm)
Location: Hamilton City Hall

For more about the Lecture Series and Peace Festival, click here 

Check out last year’s Gandhi Lecture where Mustafa Santiago Ali delivered a lecture on climate justice:

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