Climate anxiety, “eco-grief,” and despair are common maladies in contemporary society. Scholar Elin Kelsey is concerned about how they impact our ability to act with courage, creativity, and energy to solve the existential problems facing us.

Her March 18 keynote address, to be delivered at 8 p.m. at the Moss Arts Center, is titled "Hope Matters: Why Overcoming Doom and Gloom is Essential to Achieving Climate Justice."

Part of Communicating Science Week at Virginia Tech, the talk will offer examples of what Kelsey calls “evidence-based hope”: stories of ecosystem resilience, ocean conservation successes, species recovery, and communities coming together to effect positive change.

"Hope lies in the capacity of stories to transform," says Kelsey.

The author of the 2021 book "Hope Matters: Why Changing the Way We Think Is Critical to Solving the Environmental Crisis," Kelsey is a leading spokesperson, scholar, and educator in the area of evidence-based hope. Her work focuses on the reciprocal relationship between humans and the rest of nature, and she has a particular interest in the emotional implications of the narrative of environmental doom and gloom on children and adults.

Doom and gloom news stories about climate change and biodiversity loss may serve to get people’s attention, Kelsey acknowledges. But they can also result in paralyzing grief and anxiety, leaving people feeling helpless and powerless at a time when it is essential we all act.

With collaborators, Kelsey has created An Existential Toolkit for Climate Justice Educators, a collection of resources for educators working to help students develop emotional resiliency in the face of the climate crisis.

In her book "Hope Matters," Kelsey lays out many environmental success stories and explains that information about environmental problems can paralyze or motivate us. She points out that while our planet is struggling, it’s also true that change is afoot — and that we often don’t notice it.

Kelsey wants to help people learn to see the progress that is occurring and to feel hope for the future. “If we don’t think to look for change,” she explains, “we fail to see the shifts occurring all around us.” And when we don’t see those shifts and signs of progress, we sink into despair.

Feeling hope is not an acceptance of a bleak future, Kelsey says: “Hope is not complacent. It is a powerful political act.”

Passionate about bringing science-based stories of hope and multi-species resilience to the public, Kelsey has worked with the Monterey Bay Aquarium, the Rachel Carson Center for Environment and Society, and the Rockefeller Foundation. As an adjunct faculty member of the University of Victoria School of Environmental Studies, she is spearheading the development of a solutions-oriented paradigm for educating environmental scientists and social scientists.

Kelsey is also the author of "Watching Giants: The Secret Lives of Whales" and of several children’s picture books, including "You Are Stardust" and "A Last Goodbye."

Kelsey will participate in other Communicating Science Week events while she is visiting Virginia Tech.

On March 18, she and illustrator Soyeon Kim will discuss their collaboration on picture books and a short film as part of the "Friday Friends" series from the Creativity and Innovation District Living-Learning Community. On March 19, she will lead a workshop titled “From Climate Grief to Evidence-Based Hope: Tools for Self Care and Meaningful Action” for graduate students participating in this year's ComSciCon.

She will also serve on the judges’ panel for the Nutshell Games, the Center for Communicating Science’s annual event where graduate students compete for the distinction of delivering the best 90-second summary of their research. The competition is scheduled for 4 p.m. March 19 at the Moss Arts Center. 

Kelsey’s March 18 keynote is open to the public free of charge. Please check the Moss Arts Center website to learn about current COVID-19 requirements.

The full slate of events for Communicating Science Week is available at the center’s website.

Written by Carrie Kroehler

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