The topic of climate change is an ongoing source of uncertainty, negativity and division, and wrapping one’s head around it all can prove to be intimidating. To address this on a college level, a conversation was hosted in Westlake Hall to define practical places to start.
This past Wednesday, several dozen students and faculty took part in an event sponsored by the newly-established Office of Global Studies & Initiatives (OGSI). Kim Smith, professor of sociology at Portland Community College, held a workshop on the subject of facilitating change in regards to global sustainability. Smith previously held a similar workshop at Bradley this past Tuesday, speaking more about the United Nations’ sustainable development goals.
Smith iterated that the workshop was a private space for attendees to share and feel, and the workshop also provided pre-packaged meals. The evening centered around a four-part presentation inspired by environmental activist Joanna Macy, which included interactive discussion-based sections to further bring participants together.
The presentation’s first part, “Gratitude,” revolved around practices of thankfulness as Smith engaged her audience in finding things they were grateful for and creating practices of everyday gratitude that can lift their mood such as journaling, letters and social media posts.
The second part, “Honoring Our Pain,” dealt with how one can work through the pain of themselves and others as a result of the climate situation. Smith began by showing evidence of climate-related stress and turmoil in people, which has been classified as “climate anxiety.”
That anxiety from young people was highlighted through a video from the Action for the Climate Emergency organization showing a series of youths explaining their investment in the climate situation. Also included were statistics from a study published two weeks ago stating that nearly half of 10,000 young people surveyed globally found climate-related anxiety to hinder their daily lives.
“We know youth are struggling, as are many, many others,” Smith said.
Furthermore, Smith shared a website hosting the letters of climate scientists, which voiced similar unrest with the climate situation and gave insight to their concerns not as scholars, but as human beings.
Smith stated that while climate-related emotions such as fear, anger and sadness can exist in college classrooms, they can worsen if the topic of climate change is not discussed by teachers.
“That’s why these workshops work; they’re kind of like therapy,” Smith said.
While emphasis was put on individual emotions that the climate crisis has produced, Smith pivoted to speak on how attendees can understand people who downplay or deny the situation. She first encouraged them to notice their own tendencies in the face of hard news.
“It’s okay to take a break from the news, [and] it’s okay not to pay attention sometimes; that’s self-care,” Smith said. “Full denial? That’s just ignorance.”
Furthermore, she addressed the assumptions one can have that people “don’t get it” or “don’t care” about the matter at hand, which can be turned into opportunities to invite them to share what they know, or help them move past the fear that may cause their inaction.
“Most people actually care,” Smith said. “They care about many things; you just have to unpack that.”
Smith then moved to reiterate how one must address their own internal process before helping others with theirs, saying that sustainability begins in some manners with sustaining yourself. She described “ecological grief” as another emotional response to the climate situation alongside climate anxiety, but more in line with the five stages many go through during significant loss.
The third part, “Seeing With New Eyes,” focused on the mindsets that can dictate our “versions of reality” and how they relate to optimizing your headspace to work toward sustainability.
With information derived from the teachings of Joanna Macy, Smith broke this point down into three scenarios representing a healthy transition of mindset: “Business As Usual” (a state of complacent belief in industrial society), “The Great Unraveling” (a state of passiveness from fear of environmental disaster) and “The Great Turning” (a state of proactivity in order to transition to working toward a life-sustaining society).
The presentation’s final part, “Going Forth,” consisted of parting thoughts for attendees to continue the conversation outside of the workshop room. Smith began with a question for attendees to think about (“if you knew you wouldn’t fail, what would you want to do to heal the world?”). She then transitioned to important reminders, including that you’re not alone and it’s normal to feel emotional about the current climate situation. The workshop ended with a small list of self-care resources.
“You don’t have to be a hero, and you also don’t have to be a victim or a martyr,” Smith said. “You can look at things and go, ‘That’s not right.’”
OGSI plans to host similar events related to different aspects of global education throughout the year. For more information, stop by their office at Bradley Hall 248 or reach out at email@example.com.