Kylie Martin, Student Life Editor
Students gather to listen to the “All You Can Save” panel discussion. Photo//Kylie Martin
On March 9, over 60 of UM-Dearborn’s students, faculty, and staff gathered in Kochoff Hall to participate in the “All You Can Save: Confronting Eco-Anxiety & Moving Towards Action” panel discussion.
The discussion was centered around UM-Dearborn’s 2022-2023 community read All We Can Save: Truth, Courage, and Solutions for the Climate Crisis, an anthology of 60 essays and poems, edited by Dr. Ayana Elizabeth Johnson and Dr. Katharine Wilkinson.
Aware of the eco-anxiety that the book might raise, the FYE Faculty Senate Committee, Student Government, Counseling and Psychological Services (CAPS), and the Planet Blue Ambassador program co-hosted the event to discuss how to cope with the troubling emotions of eco-anxiety in order to move towards solutions to the climate crisis.
The event opened with an introduction from Grace Maves, the Sustainability Programs Coordinator, who introduced the topic and shared a few quotes from All We Can Save.
She proceeded to give examples of ways in which our local community has been affected by the climate crisis, like increasing average temperatures, flooding, numbers of “heat islands” (urban areas that experience even hotter temperatures from heat-absorbing infrastructure), and more.
Maves also shared the ways in which UM-Dearborn is working on solutions: using renewable energy, helping our buildings be more energy efficient, teaching sustainable development, as well as encouraging our local community to participate in climate justice and taking action.
“Don’t ever feel bad about not doing sustainability and climate justice perfectly; you have an entire room of people that are doing the same and are here to back you up. If you want to be brave, do what you can and play your part as best as you can,” said Maves.
Dr. Natalie Sampson, an Associate Professor of Public Health and the moderator for the panel discussion, took the stand next, sharing a quick story about her experience teaching classes on sustainability and her motivation to help students find solutions.
“...This is something that is already affecting us all and will continue to affect us all both personally and professionally,” said Sampson. “In the back of your mind, be thinking about whatever career path you’re on, I would argue that climate change will affect the work that you do.”
Sampson then introduced the four panelists: Dr. Amy Finley, the Dean of Students; Finn Fell, an Associate Professor of Health and Human Services; Jerrad Wheeler, the Race, Ethnicity, and Intersectional Identities Program Manager; and Wasey Rehman, a sophomore who joined the panel just minutes before its start on behalf of Student Government.
In response to Sampson’s questions, the panelists proceeded to discuss their own anxieties and frustrations concerning the climate crisis...
“I think about this topic a lot for a variety of reasons, but probably the top of the line for me is that I have an 8-year-old, and I think about what the world is going to be like for my son when he’s an adult,” said Finley. “...I have great concerns about what this will be like for him and all the other children in the world that are learning and are fearful of what is ahead.”
“I basically just ignored the whole environment for most of my life. It was a great coping strategy not to think about [the climate crisis] and not deal with it. So, of course when I did, it was very hard because I didn’t have any experience dealing with it, and then I went into total climate despair,” shared Fell.
“[The climate crisis] does become a bit overwhelming for me because it’s like…I’m not the problem here. I’m not the one who’s choosing to pollute water, I’m not the one that profits…that makes it less urgent for me, because it’s like, I’m going to do my part but I’m not going to drive myself crazy when there are bigger powers than me…” said Wheeler.
…Their motivations, focuses, and reasons why they believe climate justice is important…
“I think it’s so important that we’re seeing climate justice from lots of different angles: the metro-Detroit area, also intergenerationally, and also globally. As Americans, our tax dollars do lots of terrible things…but also, as Americans, we can’t escape our responsibility in terms of what is happening globally,” said Fell.
“Sustainability, from the perspective of communities of color, and this isn’t everyone, can seem like a very privileged issue, because we’re trying to pay bills, feed our families, get to work, trying to just live day-to-day,” said Wheeler. “That kinda shifted my focus from environment to more social, like ‘how can we address the needs of people but simultaneously how can we be talking about how we can do more things environmentally conscious?’”
“I do want to be a future physician, like half of this room right now. I have a responsibility towards my future patients, and even though that’s like four years from today, four years is a good amount of time in terms of how many toxins can be put into the environment,” said Rehman. “...How are you thinking about all of the other systematic issues that are affecting your future patients besides the common cold, the common influenza…what are the systematic diseases that are affecting your patients as they grow up that you will face in five years?”
…As well as what gives them hope in these worrisome times…
…Finley shared stories of trying new vegetarian recipes in a world where high meat consumption is destructive to the environment acted as a bonding experience for her family.
…Fell talked about how impactful it is to connect with the Earth in your own way and find beautiful parts of nature, even as an individual living in an urban setting as we do here in Southeast Michigan.
…Rehman talked about the potential that he sees in his peers today and how, using the technologies of the future, he trusts that we will make more of a positive impact than ever before.
…And Wheeler described how younger generations and their no-tolerance attitude for climate destruction have inspired him to try harder in his own climate justice journey, to lift up future generations and help them create a more livable planet.
Following the main panel discussion, Joanna Ransdell, a Licensed Clinical Social Worker from CAPS, gave a presentation on how to cope with the climate crisis.
She opened up her presentation with a question to the audience: Why is mental health a part of the conversation about climate change?
“When we think about climate change we think of the severity of it and see how wide-ranging it is and how devastatingly it can affect our future and the fact that so much of it is out of our hands. Personal responsibility only goes so far,” answered Troy Cera, a junior. “It can feel so hopeless because it feels so out of your control and existentially dreadful.”
Ransdell went on to talk about many of the common emotions associated with the climate crisis - such as fear, grief, anger, and guilt - as well as how to cope with each of them and additional mental health resources provided by CAPS.
“Focus on what you can do rather than what is out of your control,” said Ransdell.
Photo// Kylie Martin
Additional events centered around All We Can Save will continue through the Winter 2023 semester.