Sunderland Public Library to host climate café

  • The Sunderland Public Library at 20 School St. STAFF FILE PHOTO/CHRIS LARABEE

Staff Writer
Published: 10/12/2023 2:21:49 PM
Modified: 10/12/2023 2:20:42 PM

SUNDERLAND — Feeling anxious about the state of the climate and want to talk about it? The Sunderland Public Library may have the event for you.

On Saturday, from 2 to 3:30 p.m., the public is invited to participate in a “climate café,” where attendees can share feelings regarding climate change in an informal setting. Library Director Katherine Umstot said the event is a good opportunity for the library to expand its offerings to the community.

“A lot of people have really strong emotions about climate change and there are few spaces where people can talk about how they’re feeling about it,” Umstot said. “I think it’s really important at our library that we talk about difficult topics.”

The event is co-hosted by Amherst-based therapist Sadie Forsythe and Conway artist Hannah Harvester, who launched an eco-grief support group of her own in January. Both have completed climate café training led by the Climate Psychology Alliance of North America.

Climate cafés — an offshoot of death cafés — are named as such because the discussion is designed to be informal and open. Forsythe emphasized that it’s not a therapy session or lecture, as folks are invited to speak or not as they feel comfortable.

“This is really focused on emotional processing of our climate crisis … hoping to reduce isolation and help people process better,” Forsythe said. “There’s a lot of research that speaks to how many people are feeling distressing emotions about the climate right now, but are not speaking to friends and family about it.”

Climate anxiety — or distress relating to the climate and ecological crises — is a rapidly growing feeling spreading across the globe as the effects of climate change become more evident in everyday life or show up on social media.

In a study spanning 10 countries, researchers have found 59% of children and people ages 16 to 25 are “very or extremely worried” about the climate, and 84% were “at least moderately worried” about climate change, according to a December 2021 study published in the scientific journal The Lancet.

Forsythe said the climate café is not a time to think about taking climate action or weatherizing homes, but rather to address these emotions with the hope of easing the negative effects. She said these feelings can “really impact our well-being if we let them be stagnant.” Instead, naming or identifying feelings, like anxiety, can reduce their overwhelming impact.

And doing it in a group setting can further help people address these feelings, according to an August 2021 study published in the British Journal of Psychiatry and the National Institutes of Health. The study explains a way to address climate anxiety is to acknowledge loss “collectively and publicly” because “community is crucial for collective resilience, as we are seeing in the COVID-19 pandemic.”

If this climate café in Sunderland is successful, Forsythe said she and Harvester would like to reach out to other libraries and community organizations to host more such discussions on a monthly basis. Umstot said the session is a one-off, but the Sunderland Public Library would be willing to host more if it proves to be popular.

Chris Larabee can be reached at clarabee@recorder.com or 413-930-4081.
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