Amal_Clooney.jpg Emma McIntyre / Getty Images Entertainment
Amal Clooney — photgraphed here at the Film Institute's 46th Life Achievement Award Gala on June 7 — gave the opening keynote at Greenbuild 2018 in Chicago.

Amal Clooney Delivers Keynote at Opening of Greenbuild 2018

Human rights lawyer Amal Clooney gave the keynote address during the opening plenary for Greenbuild 2018 in Chicago.

CHICAGO, IL — Amal Clooney gave the opening keynote address to a large, enthusiastic crowd at Greenbuild 2018. In her speech and the brief Q&A that followed, Clooney talked about the international refugee crisis and the need for public-private partnerships in addressing it.

Clooney is a British lawyer practicing at Doughty Street Chambers in London where she specializes in international law and human rights. She is also a Visiting Professor at Columbia Law School where she teaches human rights.

Opening the plenary was USGBC President Mahesh Ramanujam who introduced the theme of Greenbuild 2018, "Human by Nature."

Ramanujam told the crowd of the need to up the ante in the fight for more sustainable buildings and practices. "If last year was about going all-in," he said, "this year is about going all-out."

To that end Ramanujam presented the Council's new five-year goal: 1.8 billion sq. ft. of buildings LEED-certified.

Returning to the theme of this year's Greenbuild, Ramanujam emphasized the human-centric nature of green buildings and cities; that sustainable living had to mean more than energy- and water-efficiency, it had to mean a built environment that was safer, healthier and less stressful for its human occupants.

"We started out making buildings better for the planet," Ramanujam said, "and we stumbled upon making buildings better for people."

Introducing Clooney was a young student studying at the University of Chicago, Hazim Avdal. Avdal grew up as part of the Yazidi religious minority in the Sinjar region of northern Iraq. When ISIS fighters swept the country he and his family became refugees. "I lie awake here in Chicago," he said, "thinking how strange it is to feel safe."

The Clooney Foundation allowed Avdal to pursue his dreams of higher education here in America.

Amal Clooney then took the stage to speak more about her personal relationship with "Haz." Clooney has worked with international human rights organizations to help with the plight of Yazidi refugees, including young women sold into sexual slavery by ISIS.

And Clooney had dire warnings that the crisis would only get worse in the coming years due to climate change. Flooding, unstable food supplies, drought, wildfires and hurricanes would all contribute to the increase in refugees around the world, and contribute to political instability that would only compound the problem. She used the recent hurricanes in Puerto Rico and the ongoing wildfires in California to illustrate her point.

She also deplored, "the absence of strong U.S. leadership on the world stage" in the fight against climate change, noting that the U.S. had recently withdrawn from the Paris Climate Accord.

But she stressed the difference that individuals and companies can make, even without the help of government. She cited the Clooney Foundation's recent partnership with Microsoft as an example.

Although the problems may seem immense, she said, enough individuals working together could make a real impact. Even if it meant saving only a single human being. As an example, she spoke of the people in both Iraq and Germany who worked and sacrificed to save the life of Nadia Murad, a young Yazidi woman who went on to win this year's Nobel Peace Prize.

She concluded her Q&A with Ramanujam by saying, "I think people should try to contribute in any way they can to the issues they are passionate about."

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