Although I like to think that taking my Climate Change Communication class is a rewarding journey, I know that can also be emotionally taxing. We spend the entire semester talking about climate change, obviously, so that can wear anyone down. We are focused on how to talk about it to diverse audiences, but also we spend a great deal of time learning about all of the things that haven’t worked in communicating about climate change in the last 40 years. Many students’ and communicators’ first instincts, like to give people more information, increase education, appeal to them with apocalyptic rhetoric, are turned on their head as we explore the plethora of real-world and scientifically verified examples of these techniques not working (and even backfiring). Of course, we try to find all of the things that do work to break past politically motivated reasoning and polarization, but it’s admittedly hard work.
At the end of the semester, I always check in with my class. We take a day to talk about our own eco-anxiety and depression, to debrief, and to create some space and time for ourselves to try to move through our own worry and grief about the natural world around us and our own futures. This was particularly important this semester, I think, given the uncertainty of our lives in this global pandemic.
Enter Radical Joy for Hard Times and the Global Earth Exchange. RadJoy is an “organization, practice, and worldwide community” dedicated to helping people heal both the places they love and their relationships to those places. In my class, participating in an earth exchange, which entails spending time in nature, reflecting or meditating, and creating a piece of art (however rudimentary) with found objects to honor that place, also acts as a way to help honor our own feelings of despair surrounding climate so that we may allow ourselves to move past them and act. The ritual helps us to acknowledge what is making us sad and channel our energy, while also pausing to share a lived experience with the world.
This semester my students made some beautiful pieces, and several sent short reflections on what they experienced and thought about during their Earth exchange. I’m collecting these thoughts and images here so that they might inspire others as well.