Talking about the climate crisis can be one of the most difficult conversations you will ever have with friends or family. For many, it’s the elephant in the room.
Toronto organization Carbon Conversations are helping to change that as there’s a growing concern about mental health issues tied to climate awareness.
On the evening of November’s first snow, the group held a two-hour workshop at Friends House on how to talk about climate change to loved ones. And, more importantly, how to help others feel that the subject is important to them and do something about it. About 40 people attended.
The evening began with a land acknowledgment before Brianna Aspinall, one of two facilitators, outlined the goals for the workshop: to transform our feelings of despair about the climate crisis into motivation and collective action.
It’s no small task, but Carbon Conversations is up to it.
Carbon Conversations was founded by psychotherapist Rosemary Randall and engineer Andy Brown in the UK in 2006 to study the “psycho-social” effects of climate change.
Over the years the project has developed materials “on the psychology of climate change and the use of small groups to help people overcome their fears and defensiveness in dealing with it.”
Environmental groups around the world have been using the materials ever since.
Today, the project led workshops in Australia, the Netherlands, Canada, Switzerland, France, Finland and Spain
As well as being a safe space for people to discuss the anxiety that comes with climate change, Carbon Conversations is about offering actionable tips for reducing our environmental footprints.
At the workshop I attended, the advice of Aspinall’s colleague Aryne Sheppard, was simple: if you want to save the planet, you need to make peace with yourself first.
Sheppard is an adult educator with an impressive background in environmental advocacy, personal development and counselling.
Sheppard noted that as our communities grow increasingly siloed by politics and class, the tougher the conversations are to have. But so grows the need to have them.
“We need to put primacy on human relationships,” Sheppard says, “otherwise there is no point.”
Some workshop participants shared stories of conversations that didn’t work. Across the board, it was clear that being defensive, accusatory, or emotional did nothing but push peers further away. Conversations that were successful, shared elements of calm, curiosity and compassion.
Halfway through the evening, attendees broke up into small groups to talk about their climate encounters. One woman talked about a family member’s expensive car collection. Another brought up his friend’s refusal to use travel mugs for coffee.
As more people in the groups shared their experiences, a lightbulb seemed to go off. People are attached to their taxing habits, which one man referred to as “the normalization of convenience.” At one point, a man stood up to point out that perhaps we are past the point of kindness, and the situation is too dire for friendly words.
“Humanity has survived incredible hardship before,” a woman replied, “There is hope we will again.”
If you’re interested in joining a workshop or bringing Carbon Conversations to your neighbourhood, the group would love to hear from you. You can sign up for updates on upcoming activities here.