“Good Grief?”: Moving from climate anxiety to action

Feature image: Climate change science has been distorted in mainstream media. Students need sophisticated media literacy

By Tania Leimbach and Jennifer Kent

Join the session, Futureproofing environmental pedagogy: emotional resilience, mental health and action in the climate emergency, at 3:00 pm Brisbane time on Sunday June 13, 2021.

Can we remain clear headed, engaged and passionate about our work as climate educators when the news is often bleak? How can we attune to our students’ wellbeing, while focusing on the critical realities that inform our teaching?

If you’re involved in climate education, you may be aware of concerns about the mental health impacts related to teaching and learning, such as climate anxiety, eco-depression and climate grief. As university educators working in the field of Environmental Communication, we know our undergraduate students are exposed to a complex array of information that they may not be emotionally or psychologically prepared for.

More people are grappling with heavy emotions associated with climate change. This climate toolkit offers ways to get support.

In our teaching, we pay close attention to communication in the public sphere, as well as debates and decision making on issues of environmental significance. Environmental Communication as a subject provides opportunities for critiques of power, vested interest and inaction in response to the existential threats of our time; and the exploration of a highly contested and increasingly politicised media landscape. As academics teaching a “crisis” subject we are compelled to ask: 1) what do our students need to know about the realities of anthropogenic climate change, 2) what of the mainstream professional cultures they will operate in, and 3) what 21st C skills do our students need to navigate and envision the future with a sense of urgency, empowerment and agency?

A lot of young people feel strongly about climate change and related environmental threats. In Deloitte’s 2019 survey of millennials and Gen Z in Australia, climate change rates as the number one concern. The #Fridaysforfuture movement is an indicator of the commitment many young people have for climate action. With more people awakening to the science of anthropogenic climate change, climate anxiety and eco-depression are on the rise (Pihkala 2020).

Individual and collective action can help alleviate anxiety.

The purpose of our work is to inform the development of research-led strategies and resources that support students to transform feelings of fear, abandonment, isolation and despair into action & empowerment as professional communicators, citizens and leaders. In 2020 our research team (Dr Tania Leimbach, Dr Jenny Kent and Dr Jeremy Walker) developed a “toolkit” that seeks to have a positive impact by taking account of wellbeing and resilience during the teaching semester. It is called Staying Sane in the Face of Climate Change, and it aims to equip educators, students and future graduates of the ‘Climate Generation’ with resources, recommendations and guidance to:

  • negotiate their emotional responses to crises and help address climate anxiety/eco-depression
  • participate in meaningful collective action and engaged citizenship
  • actively translate educational experiences into empowered decisions regarding prospective careers and professional roles

In this SRI2021 session, we will be sharing insights from our research journey and engaging with participants in the session around their own experiences in this space.