Event centers climate anxiety, frames emotional response as tool for action

LAWRENCE — Mental health and climate scholars will discuss approaches to addressing ecological grief and transforming emotions into a force for collaboration at a virtual event at the University of Kansas. Hosted by The Commons and the Institute for Policy & Social Research Center for Compassionate and Sustainable Communities, this event is designed for intergenerational audiences and, in particular, those confronting difficulties coping with the effects and projected impacts of climate change.

“Leveraging Emotions: Climate Change and the Power in Feeling” will take place at 7 p.m. April 19.

The event will feature scholars who have studied and developed tools for responding to the challenges of climate change — whether in response to disaster and infrastructure failings or in examining the ways that mental health across generations is affected by threats of climate change. Joonmo Kang, KU assistant professor of social welfare, will join Susan Clayton, Whitmore-Williams Professor of Psychology at The College of Wooster in Wooster, Ohio, and researcher/author Britt Wray, who is leading an initiative on climate change and mental health at Stanford University, for a discussion moderated by Melinda Lewis, associate director of the Center for Community Engagement & Collaboration in the School of Social Welfare.

“We know that denying the emotional impact of current and looming climate crises not only negatively affects our mental health today, but also forestalls committed and collective action to meet the challenges of tomorrow,” Lewis said. “These scholars’ work reveals how our emotions are affected by anxiety and grief about our changing climate and illuminates how emotions can help us respond to the origins of our distress.”

In higher education, climate anxiety has been a topic of study for many disciplines for about 20 years, as described by a recent Yale study. However, until Clayton developed one in 2020, a measure didn’t exist for how best to understand the severity or degree to which such anxiety was felt.

In 2022, Wray tackled the topic in her book “Generation Dread: Finding Purpose in an Age of Climate Crisis,” a book that blends personal reckoning with generational impact and examines impact across cultures.

“This discussion embodies some of the primary goals of the work of The Commons,” said Emily Ryan, director of The Commons. “It brings together experiences and research from diverse ways of knowing in order to build community and offer ways to find individual and collective agency in responding to global challenges.”

Mon, 04/17/2023


Emily Ryan

Media Contacts

Emily Ryan

The Commons