Contemplating the Future: Building Student Resilience in Climate Change Education

Monday, 14 December 2015: 11:05
303 (Moscone South)
Elizabeth Allison, California Institute of Integral Studies, Philosophy and Religion, San Francisco, CA, United States
Climate change research has largely focused on the biophysical, economic, and political aspects of the phenomenon, its projected impacts, and the possibilities for adaptation (Carey et al. 2014; Castree et al. 2014). In the classroom, too, climate change is generally presented as a scientific, technological, political, and economic challenge. However, defining climate change as physical challenge, divorced from its cultural causes and responses, forecloses some pathways of inquiry and limits the possibilities for adaptation (Adger et al. 2013). Recent perspectives by the environmental historian Mark Carey and colleagues (2014) and by the geographer Noel Castree and colleagues (2014) contend that ethnographic, narrative, social scientific, and humanistic insights are necessary additions to the climate change policy process and can contribute to deliberate, resilient responses to climate change. Among the humanistic insights needed are strategies and practices to maintain fortitude and persistence in the midst of dispiriting ecological trends. Students facing the “gloom and doom” of climate change data in environmental studies courses can experience negative states of mind such as denial, despair, burnout, and grief. Emerging research, however, demonstrates how contemplative practice can shift consciousness and promote resilience. Contemplative practices are those that consciously direct calm, focused attention. Such practices can build internal resilience, by promoting a greater sense of calm and well-being, decreasing stress, and sharpening focus and concentration. In addition, contemplative practices improve relationships with other people, through increasing compassion and flexibility in thinking. They also strengthen relationships with the surrounding world by increasing our ability to question, explore, and cope with rapid change and complexity. This presentation provides a context for incorporating contemplative practices, including mindfulness exercises, creative expression, and meditation, into the environmental studies classroom, and discusses how these practices can cultivate well-being and resilience in the face of climate change.