Chapter 10: Activism and self-care for the long haul

STUDENTS READILY TAKE OWNERSHIP OF CLIMATE AWARENESS PROJECTS THAT ARE INTEREST-DRIVEN AND BUILD IMPORTANT COMMUNICATIVE OR ORGANIZING SKILLS THROUGH PURSUITS THEY PERCEIVE AS RELEVANT. Just as with other climate activists, students benefit from a focus on producing things—creating objects, tools, and designs for performances through iterative cycles of consulting with others and revising plans, and then delivering those works to stakeholder audiences. Students like to play the roles of both teachers and learners, regularly calling on one another as sources of expertise and mentorship. While this description makes activism seem a bit intimidating, we should remember that small efforts often catalyze greater involvement and impact.

Why is climate literacy an important first step in activism?

The first step in activism is establishing a baseline of climate literacy in students—this includes understanding the history of how we got to this point, the social (in)justice considerations of who is most vulnerable to the impacts of CC, what the different regeneration and resilience strategies are, and their trade-offs. This knowledge is positively correlated with climate concern and willingness to take action. When students have a grasp of what the challenges are, they more likely to develop activist strategies that can have a significant impact, to know what their actions will disrupt or energize, to recognize what is feasible for them to put into action, if their efforts are equitable, and they’ll know whom to draw in as community partners.

5 Touchstones for what the work can be based on

1. LITERACY: Cultivate climate literacy among students and their audiences.

2. PATHWAYS: Plan for action and open up pathways for everyone’s participation.

3. COMMUNITY: Start with what the community cares about.

4. SOLUTIONS: Let solutions become the bigger story.

5. JUSTICE: Orient the work around justice and compassion.

Example of community event hosted by school

In Chapter 10 of the book, I describe a high school teacher that organized her peers and her students to put on a “Resiliency Village” community event. Here’s how she provided structure for the students, but at the same time invited participants to use science, their artistic talents, and links to outside organizations.

“But we had a moment where all the teachers were just like standing on the sidelines, watching it happen. And it was very much like, the students were running it. They basically took it over, it was a really cool moment.”

Teachers reflecting on how their students took charge of the community event—Resiliency Village.

Recommendations for reading about self-care and not getting burned out doing this work

Sarah Jaquette Ray
A Field Guide To Climate Anxiety.
Ray focuses on environmental justice, climate change emotions, and youth activism. She also explores the ways that environmental discourse often reinforces existing social hierarchies, drawing on a legacy of nativist, racial, and ableist exclusion in environmental history.

Leah Thomas
The Intersectional Environmentalist.
Thomas’ work emphasizes environmental justice and the intersection between environmentalism, racism, and privilege, and as an acknowledgment of the fundamental truth that we cannot save the planet without protecting all of its people.

What Thomas and Ray write about preserving well-being—this is for us as educators!

• Cultivate relationships and restore energy through sleep, exercise, silence, mindfulness, timely inaction, and the pursuit of activities that generate passion and creativity.

•Avoid self-sabotaging habits like doom-scrolling on social media or perfectionism in creating climate lessons for students.

• Get enough sleep and exercise; try mindfulness practices.

• Focus on tasks you find fulfilling and in line with your priorities; don’t say yes to everything.

• Foster a support network for yourself; seek out family, friends, fellow educators, and community members who share visions of sustainable and just futures.

• Visualize positive outcomes for your work and the local environment.

• Celebrate small successes.

• Seek beauty in your everyday life and get out into nature.

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