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Ballard resident fundraises for research on climate refugees

Posted by Meghan Walker on April 30th, 2012

By Almeera Anwar

Imagine if Ballard fell into the Puget Sound and we all became climate refugees. As a coastal city, we share connections with places around the world where this is the case and one Ballard resident was inspired to find out more.

Climate refugees are people who are forced to move because climate change has destroyed their homes. Rachel Aronson is a Ballard resident and a master’s student in the University of Washington’s School of Marine and Environmental Affairs, and is doing her thesis on climate refugees. She wants to focus on how people preserve their culture in absence of the place that nurtured their culture.

Aronson in Iceland

Aronson is fundraising for her research through Petridish.org, a crowd funding website similar to Kickstarter but dedicated to science-related projects. Her goal is to raise $3,400,and says she has received very positive feedback.

“Most of the backers so far are not people I know and that is really cool to me,” said Aronson. “It’s been a fabulous experience to hear from people all over the world who are interested in this project. They also see it and connect me with people that I should get in contact with as well.”

Aronson will use the money to go to the village of Shishmaref, Alaska and interview residents, and much of her research will be dictated by these interactions. “I knew that I wanted to travel to work on my project because I’d like to have a career after grad school where I go outside the country to do research. I see this as a trial run of what I would like to do professionally.”

She is the first person in her program to use Petridish.org as a funding source but sees it getting more popular in the future. “There’s less funding for graduate students and this model fits well with the open-science movement, which gets our research out from behind journal pay walls,” Aronson explained. “People can now follow along with it.”

Aronson sees the connection to her donors as a continuing process; she plans on sending them postcards or including them in her thesis and hopes that they will keep in touch with her through a research blog she’s planning to write while away.

Overall, Aronson says this experience has been a huge confidence booster for her but still sees her ultimate goal as creating a useful research project to this community. With more climate refugees to come in the future, she also hopes her research can be seen as a recipe for success and hopes it’s used again for people to preserve their culture as their homes disappear.

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