Event led by environmental studies students aimed to support students processing climate catastrophe
What do we do in the face of climate catastrophe? For the students in the Radical Responses to the Climate Crisis course, the answer is come together with others who care about the planet.
Despite the late-November crunch of term papers and exams, over 100 UVic students packed into Vertigo on Nov. 29 for food, live music, resources, and mutual aid efforts tied to the climate crisis. The Climate Support and Community Showcase was put on by a group of students in Environmental Studies (ES) 480, with the goal of helping students process climate grief.
Hannah Gentes, one of the event organizers, describes climate grief as dealing with the prospect of a difficult future — or of no future at all. Sage Blumstengel, another organizer, agrees, adding that climate grief can also include mourning for the billions of non-human lives being lost to the climate crisis.
“If I’m going on a hike, or if I go on a trip, and I see how the world has changed even in my own lifetime, I grieve what could have been and what was,” said Blumstengel.
The event had tables located around the upper level of Vertigo with different resources and activities. One had information about mutual aid and the option to sign up for a contact list to request or offer help; another was running a clothing swap. Near the doors, two organizers sat at a table with brightly coloured thread for people to practice “visible mending,” which is intended to attract attention to people’s efforts to repair their clothing rather than replacing it.
Mostly, students sat at tables, ate the available food, talked to each other, and listened to the four musical performers.
“With the floods, with this past year, with the pandemic, there’s been so much going on that it’s kind of hard to grasp onto hope, but coming to an event like this … [It was] very heartwarming to come here,” said Katrina Laube, a geography student who attended the event.
Nick Montgomery, who facilitated ES 480, structured the course to be ungraded — the students who organized it were there because they wanted to be.
The idea for the event came out of break out group discussions in that class about final projects. When Kate Assenheimer raised her hand to share her idea for a community-building climate grief event, the group on the other side of the room started getting excited — Gentes had shared the same idea in their discussion.
Assenheimer thought of an event because she was struggling with climate anxiety and wanted to process that alongside others.
“That was why I had started shifting into an idea of creating an event, because I knew that I had even peers and friends that were going through the same thing,” she said. “So I’m like ‘well, there have got to be even more people that I haven’t met that are going through the same thing too.’”
While Assenheimer found the event itself quite busy, she found the process of working together to plan it helped her work through her climate grief and anxiety.
Working on the event changed Gentes’s perspective on responding to the climate crisis.
“One of the biggest takeaways … is focusing on the people, not the problem,” she said. “Let’s just focus on the now, that’s all we can do, so let’s take care of each other. And taking care of each other can also look like taking care of the land and animal kin.”
Blumstengel agreed, saying the process has shifted her focus from making change through her career to what she can do directly through mutual aid and restoration.
Confronting the climate crisis through direct action as an individual used to feel intimidating, says Assenheimer.
“Focusing on each other and taking care of each other and creating those bonds makes direct action less daunting, and you almost feel more powerful,” she said.