Being engaged in climate action can sometimes feel like a never ending doom scrolling cycle, characterized by images of fire, floods, and destruction. Moments of righteous anger can translate into action, but the overwhelming and emotionally draining nature of the climate crisis often makes that action unsustainable. This burnout can especially be seen among youth organizers, teenagers who should be in one of the most carefree periods of their lives. Climate change’s mind boggling scale, rapid timeline, and existential consequences is understandably difficult to process.
Joy is not something that comes to many people’s minds when they think of climate action; climate is an issue associated with destruction and disaster. However, joy is necessary to a healthy and ultimately successful movement. At the core of a movement is the people—people need fuel, including emotional fuel. We are up against corporations with seemingly endless resources and apathetic governments; they benefit from making us jaded and disillusioned, because that’s when we stop pushing for change. Focusing on joy prevents this. Organizers who are immersed in distressing climate news 24/7 can recharge themselves, people come back to advocacy meetings for food and laughter with a community, and those dealing with climate anxiety can find support in others.
On a strategic side, joy just makes sense for engagement. A 2019 study found that using comedy to discuss climate change left participants feeling more hopeful and empowered to take action. The science behind climate change can also be complex and unapproachable. Humorous ways of sharing information can engage a wider audience, which is a necessary step towards producing change; this follows the rule that only 3.5% of a population needs to be engaged in a movement for its success. Local organizers at Trex Against TMX reflected that their comedic tactics helped garner more positive media coverage, made it harder to criticise their work, and allowed them to reach more people with important information about the fossil fuel transition. This goes to show that traditional doom-and-gloom messaging isn’t always effective, and the anxious emotions that it invokes can be paralyzing.
In addition, people generally don’t want to join a movement that seems to require endless emotional labour; joining a community that is hopeful, fun, and caring is more tempting. The easiness of inaction that people leave for climate organizing can be compensated for through emotional fulfillment and optimism. And with our timeline, we need everyone we can get to obtain the change we need. Instead of using guilt to move people into climate activism, we need to rethink our strategy: how can we invite people in?
It should be recognized that the climate crisis isn’t inherently joyful. Environmental impacts are devastating communities and lives; this isn’t something that should be made light of. We should practice holding both our grief and our joy at once. Intentionally giving organizers the opportunity to process difficult emotions is the foundation for building real joy. This could look like joining a climate emotion-focused group (Good Grief Network), providing decompression rooms at events discussing sensitive climate issues, or subsidizing therapy sessions for those impacted by climate disasters. In comedic activism especially, care should be taken to consult with frontline communities before putting an issue in a humorous light. Not all situations are appropriate for joyful advocacy; anger, grief, and anxiety may be the emotions that resonate the most then.
One significant way to foster joy is by spreading news of climate wins. It’s easy to fall into cynicism, because climate action feels unwinnable. However, there are countless successes that the climate movement has achieved, from healing the hole in the ozone layer to
pushing over 15 insurers to drop TMX. Other climate advocacy groups have started to embrace community-focused, bonding events as a new way to protest. Music is a common tool used to transform marches into giant dance parties in the streets. Theater is another strategy; activists from Banking on a Better Future blew up a giant inflatable version of David McKay, RBC’s CEO, for a mock award ceremony where he won ‘Climate Villain of the Year’, right outside of an award ceremony for him being the ‘Business Leader of the Year’. These methods make actions confusing for authority figures to combat but energizing for participants.
Overall, joy comes from the imagining of new, better worlds—from movements embodying the care and freedom of the world they are fighting for. While larger shifts in messaging and advocacy are representative of climate joy, joy can also manifest in small actions; these include prioritizing bonding activities, providing mutual aid for each other, and spending time immersed in nature. Joy being antithetical to the weight of the climate crisis is what makes it such a powerful tool for organizing.
- Windcall Institute - support for building the capacity of organizers
- Good Grief Network
- How to Find Joy in Climate Action - Ted talk by Ayana Elizabeth Johnson
Look out for our Climate Joy workshop coming this Fall!
To learn more & teach about Public Health, check out our Action Pack on the topic here.
To learn more about Environmental Justice, check out our Action Pack on the topic here.