Climate Hope: Turning Angst into Action 

Climate Science on Tap on December 3rd, 2018

In addition to curating a climate-focused Seattle events calendar, Cascadia Climate Action hosts an event of its own: Climate Science on Tap (CSonTap), a seminar-style forum, held monthly at a handful of Seattle’s favorite breweries. Most recently, locals gathered at the Queen Anne Beerhall to learn from a panel of researchers, professors, and activists about staying hopeful as we head into the new year, in the latest installment of the CSonTap series, Climate Hope for the Holidays: Turning Angst into Action. This event took on a slightly different tone than past events, which have tackled mammoth issues like wildfires, the impacts of climate change on marine life in the Puget Sound, and the relentless uncertainty of whether or not we, as a society, will take sufficient action. 

With 2018 coming to a close, the CSonTap organizers sought to offer the audience something to take with them into 2019 – a little bit of hope, and a lot of inspiration. Each panelist brought her own unique perspective to the discussion, making for an intimate, thoughtful conversation about staying hopeful in the face of our greatest challenge yet: global climate change. 

The first panelist, Jennifer Atkinson, is a senior lecturer at the University of Washington Bothell, where she teaches in the field of Environmental Humanities. Atkinson began to notice the frequency with which students and peers were approaching her to discuss the emotional toll of climate change. This toll is not only paid by those who have been directly affected by environmental disasters, but it can also manifest itself in abstract, hard-to-explain ways. Atkinson explained that the word for this feeling is “solastagia,” which she defines as “a longing for a place or time you can’t go back to, except that you’ve never left… like homesickness without ever leaving home.” 

To support her students, Atkinson began teaching a seminar on climate-related distress; providing various tools to help alleviate the persistent weight of climate change. One important take-away from her class, she suggested, is the participation in open dialogue in order to acknowledging one’s feelings, as well as those of one’s peers. She also encouraged her students to stay connected to the places they love; to maintain a relationship with the outdoor places that inspire, motivate, and remind them of what’s at stake. This relationship is an important part of what drives individuals to take action, to volunteer, to vote. And, finally, Atkinson advocated for finding a creative outlet such as music, poetry, or ritual, through which to channel one’s grief. For her, literature provides the contexts and narratives that allow her to understand the world and her place in it. 

Sarah Myhre, the second of the evening’s contributors, is a research associate at the University of Washington in the School of Oceanography. She is also a strong advocate for women and a specialist in science communication. Her advocacy is evidenced by her belief that “the number one global solution for climate change is the stewarding of reproductive rights for women, and the education of women and girls.” Myhre spoke at length about how the effects of climate change are not equally distributed across communities or demographics, on either a local or global scale. She talked about the importance of allowing oneself to be angry, to grieve, to feel joy, and to then use those emotions to fuel a collective stand against the institutions and individuals who are failing to tackle climate change head-on. Myhre’s passion was almost tangible as she captivated the audience with stories of friends who had endured unthinkable tragedies, and yet, carried on to become activists and leaders. These anecdotes were meant to energize the crowd; to remind them of the might of the human heart. She ended by encouraging the audience to “take your broken heart tonight and give it some love, feed it some beer, find your people, kiss them, kiss your babies, hold on to what’s real…” and reminding them that “we are all in this together and that is not negotiable.” 

The final speaker, Meade Krosby, is a climate change biologist and conservation scientist with the University of Washington Climate Impacts Group. In her work, she collaborates with land and wildlife managers, as well as tribes and First Nations, to better understand and respond to the impacts of climate change on species and ecosystems. 

Krosby began with the story of her friend Amelia, a tribal member who often fishes for salmon on the Columbia river. One evening, Amelia, suffering from a recent loss and overwhelmed with grief, asked the salmon, “How do you do it? How do you come back year after year?” And the salmon answered her, “We swim together.” The theme of this story became the thread that ran through the whole of Krosby’s lecture – that the only way to defeat the consequences of global climate change is to do it together. She asked the audience, “How, then, do we swim together?” According to Krosby’s research, people generally agree on issues of climate change more than they may realize. 

Despite the narrative that Americans don’t care about or believe in climate change, there is vast polling evidence to the contrary. In fact, not only do most Americans believe climate change is happening, 77% believe that CO2 should be regulated and 85% believe in funding research into renewable energy technologies. Krosby argued that these shared beliefs are communicated poorly, if at all, and went on to insist that an important way to combat climate change is to simply talk about it with anyone who will listen. She recommended understanding one’s own personal reason for caring, and to “lead with your heart.” Additionally, Krosby advised against intimidating listeners away with heavy-hitting jargon or facts, as this may only exacerbate pre-existing tensions. And, finally, she encouraged the audience to tell anyone who is concerned but feels helpless that, “Its real, it’s bad, it’s us, and there’s hope.” 

Each panelist offered her own understanding of what it means and looks like to process and respond to the emotional toll of climate change. In her own way, each speaker energized the audience, acknowledged their feelings, and encouraged them to turn those emotions into real, tangible change. By the end of the evening, the audience had heard three unique, impassioned perspectives and, with any luck, left feeling a little more hopeful about the future than when they’d arrived.