|Sunday, June 21|
Ecological grief and mental health: impacts and experiences of undergraduate students
* Madison Cooper, Laurentian University, Canada
Climate change has been identified as the biggest threat to human health in the 21st century. The impact of climate-related stress on mental health is evident in the psychological reactions of people to current or imminent changes to the natural environment, either transpiring naturally or by human action. The National Wildlife Federation estimates that 200 million Americans will experience psychological distress due to climate change. This emotional response has been named ecological grief. As climate change becomes an ever present reality it is essential to study these mental health impacts. To date this has mainly been studied amongst those working or conducting research in the environmental field, and those particularly vulnerable such as Indigenous communities in Northern Canada. A small number of internet sites that discussed ecological grief in the classroom and personal discussions with students in Environmental Studies informed the thesis research. A search of the literature revealed no existing study examining ecological grief in undergraduate students. This undergraduate Environmental Studies thesis, completed in October 2019, examined whether post-secondary students, at Laurentian University, Sudbury, Ontario, specializing in studies focused on the environment were experiencing heightened levels of ecological grief. This study looked at psychological responses associated with climate-related stress, specifically, eco-anxiety, subclinical depressive emotions, and hopelessness, as determinants of ecological grief. Data were collected from undergraduate students in the School of the Environment and History during the 2019 academic year using an on-line questionnaire. Comparison of the symptoms and frequency were calculated using Chi-Square, descriptive statistics and graphical displays. Results showed that while both groups experienced ecological grief, that those in SOTE experienced more significant symptoms and at a greater frequency. There was a small but concerning number of students who admitted to self-medicating to deal with the symptoms of ecological grief. Students were asked about their preferences for different types of support. Unlike recommendations from other researchers Laurentian University students did not want to be part of an in-person support group. A main limitation of the study was the small overall sample size and disproportionate sample sizes of the two comparison groups. Advice on how to manage this and improve the rigour of the study would be welcome. Results clearly show that undergraduate students are experiencing ecological grief and it is essential to develop supports to help undergraduate students cope with ecological grief. Other possibilities include using social media, having professors allow for time for journaling and other reflective activities, and a peer mentor program. This is an important step in helping them acknowledge their grief and mourning and remain hopeful and willing to study and work to address climate change.
Identity Development in the Ghanaian Digital Afterworld: An Exploration of Intersectional Inequality and Emerging Adulthood
* Gyamfuah Sarfo-Mensah, University of Chicago, United States
The electronic waste (e-waste) phenomenon in Ghana provides a pathway to examine how intersecting global and national inequalities embedded in the proximal and distal developmental contexts of youth produce challenges and opportunities meaningful to psychosocial life course development. Emerging adulthood extends adolescence as a critical period for psychosocial and cognitive development (Labouvie-Vief, 2006). The process of identity development that initiates in adolescence intensifies as youth develop greater capacity for self-reflection (Arnett, 2008) and increased awareness of societal perspectives and expectations (Spencer et al., 2006). Given the social and relational nature of personal identity, inequality has significant implications for identity formation processes (Pieterse, Chung, Khan and Bissram, 2013). Rapid technological advancement and the ever-increasing consumption of electronics have introduced an unprecedented amount of electronics into the international waste stream. Though these electronics are largely consumed in the Global North, over 70% are disposed in the Global South in order to evade waste management costs and as a means of bridging the global ‘digital divide.’ This occurs despite the lack of infrastructural and technological resources to support safe disposal in recipient countries. In Ghana, e-waste management has emerged as one of many livelihood strategies for economically marginalized youth. The industry is sustained by regional inequalities that give impetus to internal migration from northern Ghana to Agbogbloshie, a neighborhood that hosts the country’s main repository for domestic and imported e-waste (Oteng-Ababio 2010). Young workers here rely on manual recycling and scavenging practices that disproportionately expose them to health-threatening environmental hazards. Guided by phenomenological, development psychological, and social ecological systems frameworks, this study investigates how intersecting inequalities shape psychosocial developmental trajectories. Data was generated through participant observation, semi-structured ethnographic interviews, focus groups, a participatory action community-based photography activity, and analysis of secondary sources (e.g., news articles, magazines, social media). I am currently in the initial phases of data analysis and look forward to valuable feedback on how to effectively triangulate findings across data collection methods. My line of inquiry may help to extend theory on psychosocial youth development in urban Africa and the subjectivities that arise from systematic environmental degradation. As government agencies and non-governmental development partners in Africa’s water, sanitation, and hygiene development sector are increasingly striving to promote equity and inclusion in policy and practice, this line of inquiry may be useful in helping to assess some of the less apparent impacts of unregulated waste facilities on local communities. A thorough understanding of how social systems and the environment jointly condition the life course is fundamental for the creation of programs and policies aimed at improving public health and human capital. Though my findings are specific to the Ghanaian context, they may be relevant to other parts of the world, as many of the contextual issues surrounding waste dumping and processing are not unique to West Africa. Waste collection and scavenging are economic activities conducted by over 64 million people in the developing world (Medina, 2007).
People's' Responses to Renewable Energy Projects and Their Historical Roots
* Sophia Kuepers, ISCTE, Portugal
Large scale renewable energy projects with their renewable energy technology (RET) are seen by many as essential to the current transition towards a low carbon energy system (EWEA, 2016; Ellis & Ferraro 2016). While it has been recognized that they bring along social change (Batel & Devine-Wright, 2015), most existing research on social acceptance of RET is lacking a critical perspective that interrupts ‘business as usual’ (Batel, 2018:365) and does not include a deeper analysis of the historical roots of current responses (Batel, 2018). I therefore make the case for integrating an explicit socio-historical dimension in social acceptance of RET research. Including a thorough “consideration of past injustices” (Jenkins et al. 2016:180) has the potential to not only improve future projects but to contribute to better understanding and integrating historical knowledge in this research field. In a cross cultural approach, selected communities’ interactions with RET in Portugal and Northern Ireland will be examined. If and how peoples’ everyday practices and discourses around RET may be shaped by individual and collective memory is the question at the heart of my project. In order to approach possible answers, I will base my project on both a plural time approach that captures current responses to RET projects in a long term perspective from individual to social and geohistorical dimensions of time (Braudel, 1949), and a critical energy justice framework (Jenkins et al., 2016; Jenkins, 2018; Sovacool, 2017; Pellow, 2016). Accounts of everyday life are especially well captured with ethnographic methods. I will thus highlight the importance of participant observation, ethnographic interviews, historical interviews and archival work for historical ethnographic research. These are all oriented towards a co-production of knowledge on the historical roots of peoples’ responses to large-scale renewable energy projects. What I would like to discuss in the Young Researchers Workshop are the conceptual challenges of applying a socio-historical approach to social acceptance and energy justice research and the challenges of integrating historical and new empirical data.