Different approaches to education that acknowledge complexity, value conflicts, and uncertainty in learning about sustainable development and global problems such as climate change have become popular in recent years. These models have however been criticized for lacking a deeper insight into how emotions influence the learning process. This is unfortunate, since many studies have shown that when it comes to global problems, learning about them can trigger worry and anxiety. Quite often worry is seen as something only negative; worry displaces reason, distracts people from what really is important, makes people resistant to outside information, and traps people in self-absorption that promotes self-interest, thereby paralyzing social change. In this presentation I, however, take a radically different approach to worry and the possibility of social change by taking my starting point in newer theories of emotions and empirical studies, mostly within political psychology, that have identified anxiety and worry as necessary preconditions for deliberation, critical thinking and the shaking of habits. Thus, these emotions could be seen as a first step towards becoming interested in and engaging with larger societal issues.
Worry and anxiety are unpleasant feelings, however, and may be dealt with by means of coping that are more or less constructive, seen from the perspective of social engagement. Given that society on a global scale to a large extent lacks political structures to deal with climate change, and because the problem’s inherent complexity leads to uncertainty about the right actions to take, it may be difficult for people to cope with their climate worries. In addition, Zygmunt Bauman has argued that people today find it hard to face moral emotions in relation to societal problems and to do something constructive with their moral pain. He claims that this inability is to a large extent due to our living in a neoliberal society that only allows people to feel pleasurable emotions, emotions that most easily can be increased through consumption. In this presentation, I through different empirical studies with young people show that although they cope with climate change related emotions in different ways; some do have the capacity to bear their worries, face the problem behind them and do something constructive about them. In this regard, the concept of meaning-focused coping is used. Meaning-focused coping is not about getting rid of negative emotions but about promoting positive emotions such as hope. These can then co-exist side by side with negative emotions giving people the strength to confront their worries and thereby promote problem-solving efforts. In this study I am going to present different meaning-focused efforts, of both an individual and collective kind, that young people use to promote hope concerning climate change. How these meaning-focused efforts relate to communication patterns with parents, friends, and teachers are also presented. The paper ends by arguing for the importance of “emotional awareness” in education about a sustainable future. Meaning that being aware of emotions is not enough. It is also vital to take into account different emotion regulation strategies at individual, group and cultural levels if wanting to promote transformative learning around these issues.
First International Conference on Anticipation, 5-7 November 2015, Trento, Italy