Ecoanxiety is the distress related to climate and ecological crises. Ecoanxiety is increasingly recognised in learners themselves, by educators (Hickman et al, 2021), and in media reporting (e.g., BBC Ideas 2021; Rannard, 2022; Patent, 2022). Whilst it is, perhaps, a rational reaction to climate change, biodiversity loss and other environmental issues, ecoanxiety is connected to negative emotions of anger, grief, guilt and hopelessness. But it can also be linked to adaptive or ‘practical’ responses.
Environmental educators teaching content related to climate and ecological crises are therefore seeking to address eco-anxiety, providing safe spaces for support and coping strategies for their students. This is especially important in a distance learning context where students are more isolated and may not have the immediate support of peers.
This eSTEeM-supported project is investigating student experiences of ecoanxiety among Open University students with a view to developing coping strategies.
Project team: Sarah Davies, Fiona Aiken, Elaine McPherson, Volker Patent, Maria Townsend Debra Croft, Harriet Kopinska and Joanna Shelton.
A pilot study (Davies, Keys and McPherson, 2022) of Open University students showed that studying environment modules made students more anxious about the environment and climate change (56% of respondents). Students expressed feelings of fear, worry and overwhelm, but also empowerment and determination to help.
This project is investigating student experiences of ecoanxiety and coping strategies across a range of environment modules, including feedback from tutors supporting those students. The project will also develop a range of resources to support students, and pointers for tutors supporting students. A valuable way of addressing ecoanxiety is to create safe spaces and open conversations (Bauden & Jachens, 2021). This project will use digital storytelling, a powerful method for connecting people and helping them make sense of the world, as a way of opening up conversations.
A further important aspect of dealing with ecoanxiety is taking action; in this project the feedback from students and staff will feed into discussions on how support resources, curriculum and pedagogy can be used to support and empower students' pro-environmental behaviour and actions.
Baudon P, Jachens L. (2021). ‘A Scoping Review of Interventions for the Treatment of Eco-Anxiety’. Int J Environ Res Public Health. 13,18(18), 9636. doi: 10.3390/ijerph18189636.
BBC Ideas (2021). Are you suffering from eco-anxiety? https://www.bbc.co.uk/ideas/videos/are-you-suffering-from-eco-anxiety/p073zgqd.
Davies, S., Keys, M. and E. McPherson (2022). Pathways and Intersections: Investigating awarding gaps on cross-faculty modules and degree programmes. Milton Keynes: Open University.
Hickman, C., Marks, E., Pihkala, P., Clayton, S., Lewandowski, R. E., Mayall, E. E., Wray, B., Mellor, C., &; van Susteren, L. (2021). Climate anxiety in children and young people and their beliefs about government responses to climate change: a global survey. The Lancet Planetary Health, 5(12), e863–e873. doi: 10.1016/S2542-5196(21)00278-3.
Patent, V. (2022) ‘Climate grief: Mourning for a world that might have been’ HRZone', https://www.hrzone.com/lead/change/climate-grief-mourning-for-a-world-that-might-have-been.
Rannard, G. (2021) ‘Climate change: Don't let doom win, project tells worriers BBC’, https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/science-environment-61218933.
On 22 November Professors Clare Warren, Mark Brandon and Richard Holliman, and Dr Barbara Kunz travelled to Manchester for an OU Graduation Ceremony.
An EEES researcher is leading a new Natural Environmental Research Council-funded project to improve our ability to predict climate change using cutting-edge analysis of fossilised algae molecules.