Expert on youth climate change anxiety to talk about solutions

With research showing that young people are increasingly stressed by the effects of climate change, an expert on how to ease that anxiety will speak at the UO as this year’s Kritikos Lecturer.

Author and researcher Britt Wray will share practical tips and strategies for productively dealing with emotions, living with climate trauma, and strengthening communities in her talk “How to Cope with Climate Anxiety: Saving the Earth and Saving Ourselves.” The Oregon Humanities Center event is Wednesday, March 8, at 5:30 p.m. in Erb Memorial Union’s Redwood Auditorium. Register online.

A 2021 survey of 10,000 16- to 25-year-olds from 10 countries found that most respondents were concerned about climate change and government responses to it, with nearly 60 percent saying they felt ‘very worried’ or ‘extremely worried.’ The survey was conducted by Elizabeth Marks and Caroline Hickman at the University of Bath in Great Britain.

Many associated negative emotions with climate change. The most commonly identified feelings were ‘sad,’ ‘afraid,’ ‘anxious,’ ‘angry’ and ‘powerless,’ This ‘eco-anxiety’ has a negative impact on respondents’ daily lives, the researchers said, and is partly caused by the feeling that governments aren’t doing enough to avoid a climate catastrophe. 

Wray looks at the emotional and existential effects of living in a warming world and how people can get through them together. Although anxieties surrounding the climate crisis can cause some to burn out, give up, and question important decisions like whether to have children, working through such anxieties can unlock a deep capacity to care for and act on climate issues, she says.

According to Wray, people need to look at the climate crisis as a whole, not only the political or technological issues but also the mental health consequences. Those effects can be severe, even leading people affected by climate events to experience PTSD and a loss of identity.  

Wray is a human and planetary health postdoctoral fellow at the Stanford Center for Innovation in Global Health, Stanford Woods Institute for the Environment, and London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine Centre on Climate Change and Planetary Health. Her research focuses on the mental health impacts of the ecological crisis.

She is the creator of the weekly newsletter about “staying sane in the climate crisis,” Gen Dread, and author of ”Generation Dread: Finding Purpose in an Age of Climate Crisis.” Her first book is ”Rise of the Necrofauna: The Science, Ethics and Risks of De-Extinction.” She has hosted several podcasts, radio and TV programs with the BBC and CBC, and is a TED speaker. 

Wray’s talk, part of the 2022-23 Belonging series, is free and open to the public. It will be livestreamed and ASL interpreted.