Urgently Needed: A Safe Space for Youth to Voice their Worst Climate Fears Amid a Global Rise in Eco-anxiety and Eco-grief

Actualité
15 mai 2022

Eco-grief researcher Madison Cooper among leading line-up of speakers at Congress 2022, Canada’s largest humanities and social sciences conference, taking place virtually May 12-20 

Edmonton, AB, May 5, 2022 – Climate anxiety among young people is not only a real phenomenon, it’s on the rise globally with three out of every four children aged 16 to 25 reporting that the future is frightening and nearly 60 per cent expressing extreme worry about the looming climate crisis. 

That’s why Madison Cooper, a Master’s student in the Department of Health Promotion and Socio-Behavioural Sciences at the University of Alberta is on a mission to raise the alarm bell, calling for urgent action to address the mental health impact of climate change on youth, including wider spread adoption of climate cafés as safe spaces for them to share and process their feelings related to ecological anxiety (eco-anxiety) and ecological grief (eco-grief).  

Cooper will be sharing her message as a featured speaker at the upcoming Congress of the Humanities and Social Sciences (Congress 2022), Canada’s largest academic gathering and one of the most comprehensive in the world, taking place virtually this year from May 12-20.  

Billed as a leading conference on the critical conversations of our time, Congress 2022 serves as a platform for the unveiling of thousands of research papers and presentations from social sciences and humanities experts worldwide. With more than 6,000 visitors expected to log in, the event focuses on reimagining the future following two years of the COVID-19 pandemic and other life-altering world events, with the goal of inspiring ideas, dialogue and action that create a more diverse, sustainable, democratic and just future. Cooper’s session is part of the Environmental Studies Association of Canada track of the conference. 

“We’re very aware of the vast physical impacts that climate change has on human health, but there’s also a wide range of psychological, emotional and social impacts that affect our mental health, and not enough people are talking about it,” said Cooper, who experienced her own feelings of helplessness while earning her undergraduate degree in Environmental Studies at Laurentian University in Ontario. 

The more Cooper learned about climate change, the more hopeless she felt, so when she discovered climate cafés — an initiative originally led by the U.K.-based Climate Psychology Alliance (CPA) to create simple, hospitable and empathetic spaces where fears and uncertainties about climate change can be safely expressed — her interest was piqued.  

“The idea is that it’s not meant to be a place where you discuss solutions or come up with answers. Rather, it’s a chance to practice active listening as a way to help people process the emotions they’re feeling,” explained Cooper, who attended the meetings virtually for more than a year to help deal with her own eco-grief, and is now focusing her research on eco-grief, interviewing both participants and facilitators of climate cafés in Canada and the U.K. to learn how the model can help.  

Cooper is building her Master’s research on diverse global research on the mental health impacts of climate change among young people, including staggering statistics from a recent study on climate anxiety in children led by Caroline Hickman, a CPA member and psychotherapist who lectures at the University of Bath in the U.K. Ten thousand children from Australia, Brazil, Finland, France, India, Nigeria, Philippines, Portugal, the U.K. and U.S. were surveyed (1,000 participants per country) and 59 per cent were very or extremely worried about climate change, with 84 per cent saying they were moderately worried. More than half reported feelings of sadness, anxiety, anger, powerlessness, helplessness and guilt, and just under half said their feelings about climate change negatively affected their daily life. Seventy-five per cent called the future “frightening.” 

Cooper’s goal is to shift the climate change conversation from focusing on “external activism” — characterized by protests and technological solutions — to “internal activism,” the need to build people’s emotional resilience to the effects of climate change. 

“Instead of telling young people everything is going to be okay, we need to be telling them the truth, that we don’t know if the future is going to be okay, but we’re here to support them and help process the wide range of big emotions they’re feeling about it,” she said. “If we’re going to solve the world’s climate crisis, we need to start doing the emotional work as well as the physical work.” 

Organized by the Federation for the Humanities and Social Sciences, Congress 2022 is sponsored by the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council of Canada, Mitacs, SAGE Publishing, Universities Canada, the Canada Foundation for Innovation, and University Affairs. 

Registration – which includes 100+ keynote and open Congress 2022 sessions (with recordings available until June 3, 2022) – is $55. Visit www.congress2022.ca to register for a community pass and access the program of events open to the public. Use code TRANSITIONS2022 for 10% off registration. 

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