Jennifer Atkinson presents “Environmental Grief and Hope in an Age of Climate Consequences”


IAS faculty member Jennifer Atkinson presented on “Environmental Grief and Hope in an Age of Climate Consequences” at the Washington & Oregon Higher Education Sustainability Conference in Portland. The session aimed to help students, faculty, and climate activists directly address their anxiety and grief, and build the resilience to navigate climate issues without becoming overwhelmed.  The seminar drew on the humanities, environmental philosophy, contemplative practice, and creative writing to help participants develop capacities to stay engaged in this difficult work over the long term.

The session examined not only the anxiety that is our own, but also the psychological toll of climate change on communities in different parts of the world. Questions of equity and environmental justice are central to this inquiry. The most severe climate impacts will increasingly be felt in regions with the poorest and most vulnerable populations – populations that already suffer from inadequate access to food, shelter, healthcare and safe drinking water. Research has also connected extreme weather events (floods, super-storms, drought-triggered agricultural failures) to long-term effects among disaster survivors, including chronic depression, PTSD, anxiety, substance abuse, and even suicide. Indigenous communities with cultural, religious or identity-based roots in the natural world are at particularly high risk of experiencing psychological trauma from environmental decline or dramatic change in the local landscape. Yet many of these same social groups also have poor access to mental health care, with fewer than 1 mental health worker for every 100,000 people in low-income countries.