Given the most recent IPCC report, and as the effects of climate change are being felt by more and more people around the world, it’s no surprise that the climate generation is experiencing increased anxiety about the future.
Most ESS educators have not been trained to address their students’ emotional lives in this age of climate anxiety. Moreover, some teaching approaches can exacerbate students’ spiraling nihilistic emotions.
For example, by framing climate change as the fault of a generic “humanity” rather than extractive structures that exacerbate human inequality too, by teaching students to eliminate their impacts on the planet (through ecological footprint exercises, for example), and by pressing the “urgency” of the problems, ESS instructors can inadvertently fuel students’ sense of guilt, fear, and misanthropy.
Our challenge is instead to ensure that students have the emotional resilience to engage the work that it will require of us for the long haul.
Without affective tools to cultivate emotional and existential tenacity, students struggle to do the work of college, much less the work of “saving the planet” that some of them may have come came to college to become trained to do.
How can educators help students navigate the emotional impacts of ecological degradation and social injustice in the age of climate disruption?
This page offers resources for educators to implement strategies in their teaching to help students address the emotional challenge of thinking about, living through, and even thriving in, a climate-changed world.
We can work with students’ emotional encounters with the material we teach by:
1. integrating the most current research on emotional intelligence into pedagogy,
2. through readings and exercises, helping students cultivate resilience and build a sense of efficacy, rather than just feel apathy or despair,
3. acknowledging the emotional undercurrents of our syllabi and curricula,
4. bringing students’ emotional lives into the classroom in discussion, journaling, contemplative practices, and assignments, so they take them seriously and realize they are not alone
5. providing resources for more support, such as contact information for counseling services or faith-based support,
6. including activities, from creative expression to experiential learning projects, that explicitly transform despair into empowerment.
Addressing students’ interior lives is one way we can employ inclusive pedagogy, as California students become increasingly diverse, both ethnically and socio-economically.
However, it is critical that we recognize that not all students will emotionally experience the content of our classes the same, and that their emotional responses to the material will very much depend on their positionality.
Not only are more of our students coming to college having experienced various sources of trauma (sexualized violence, war, intergenerational trauma, colonialism, etc), but they are also increasingly experience climate change as a form of trauma, especially in California.
They are not just learning about impacts happening to other people and other species, happening somewhere else.
This page also provides resources to help students think about the roles of affects less often associated with environmentalism, like humor, pleasure, desire, and irreverence.
In addition to cultivating resilience and a sense of efficacy in students, our classes can teach them about the wide palette of emotions that shape politics and our environmental identities.
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