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Climate cafes offer a safe space to discuss climate change

Let’s face it—climate change is scary. It brings up feelings of uncertainty, stress, anxiety, and even guilt, which are all hard emotions to go through alone. Many of us are struggling to process our feelings and thoughts about climate change, but because it’s such a multi-faceted issue that is woven in with touchy subjects like politics and social justice, it can be a difficult topic to bring up casually in conversation.

That’s why Rebecca Nestor of the Climate Psychology Alliance, an organization that explores the psychological impact of the climate crisis, started hosting a series of regular meetings in her hometown of Oxford where people were welcome to come together to discuss climate change over tea and cake.

She launched the meetings during the summer of 2018, which was the hottest on record in the UK, spurring more conversations surrounding the climate crisis.

“It’s hard to talk about climate change because climate change hurts,” she says, but “we need to talk about what our changing climate means for us. We need to imagine it in some detail so as to be able to think about it constructively and clear-sightedly.”

“There are no guest speakers and no talks,” Nestor adds. “It is an advice-free zone, with no pressure to take action, join a group, or change your mind on anything.”

The get-togethers, dubbed “climate cafes,” were inspired in part by the death cafes that sprung up in the UK, where people could talk openly and honestly about death, and candidly plan their own funeral over a cup of tea. However, Nestor didn’t birth the concept of the climate cafe. The first is likely the Climate Café Birnam and Dunkeld, which launched in Scotland in 2015.

Due to the pandemic, the meetings have been moved online, which also has the advantage of expanding their reach. Other climate-focused organizations in the UK, such as Extinction Rebellion, Aberdeen Climate Action, and Sussex Green Ideas, have started their own online climate salons as well.

On the other side of the pond, Canada and the US have also established similar groups. The founder of Ontario-based Our Climate Café, Keerat Dhami, says “Though there are spaces for activists to engage and empower one another to tackle the climate crisis, few spaces address the adverse effects of the climate crisis on one’s psyche.” Her intention in starting her climate cafe was to offer “a safe and supportive space,” for communities to simply gather and chat freely about the climate crisis.

If you’re happy to chat but are also looking for a call to action, then there are other climate cafes like the ones led by the University of Hull and York city council that offer “potential steps that people can take [to mitigate the effects of climate change,” says Dr. Steven Forrest, a lecturer at the university’s Energy and Environment Institute.

The meetings, which are held in Hull and York, two cities that are becoming increasingly vulnerable to flooding, offer participants “coffee, cake, and quiche,” along with a space where people can talk about the localized impact of climate change and offer strategies to mitigate these impacts.

“Communities and residents are crucial in helping to deal with the climate emergency,” says Forrest. If academics, practitioners, and local residents are all able to share ideas and generate solutions, then it will be more possible for us to create an environment of resilience rather than fear and uncertainty.

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