Mindfulness Practices as a Tool for Climate Change Communication

I’ve practiced nature-based spirituality in one form or another for more than twenty years. But spiritual or religious practices are not something that most scientists, particularly those in the “hard sciences,” talk about. This is perhaps a natural consequence of the idea that science needs to be unbiased.

Personally, however, I feel a strong connection to the ocean generally and the Puget Sound region specifically. This connection goes deeper than the scientific knowledge I have gained about oceans and estuaries.

With this in mind, I wanted to develop a capstone project that communicated climate science in a very non-traditional way. I wanted to step outside traditional forums of communication…museums, classrooms, libraries, etc., and develop a workshop that incorporated the Puget Sound area as a feature of my communication.

I also wanted to utilize mindfulness and meditative practices to develop personal connections and perhaps motivate personal changes around a person’s carbon footprint. Because I have an oceanography background, I wanted to talk about the effects that climate change is having and will continue to have, on the Washington and Puget Sound region.

Through the connections I have made in the Seattle pagan community, I know that there is a high level of interest in both the natural world and the concept of mindfulness. I approached Rev. Judith Laxer (who I have known for many years) at Gaia’s Temple to gauge interest in a workshop combining information about the ocean and climate change with mindfulness practices. I received support from both Rev. Laxer and the board of directors.

There isn’t a ton of research tying together the three threads of mindfulness, education, and personal change. I found some evidence that utilizing mindfulness practices can make people more likely to believe in climate change and increases their feeling of connectedness with nature. I also explored what motivates people to make pro-environmental changes.

I started off the development of the workshop by developing a shorter, five-minute meditation. This meditation was based on the shoreline of Lake Washington. You can find the text here. I then expanded this meditation to the full workshop, which interspersed breathing and mindfulness with information about marine food webs, climate, and ocean acidification. Since we were on the beach, we walked along the shoreline. This was a fantastic opportunity to point out the variety of shelled organisms that might be affected by ocean acidification.

(Note to self: Scheduling an outdoor workshop in Seattle in April is perhaps not the best of ideas. Rain definitely keeps attendance low.)

It’s hard to draw conclusions from only a few rain-soaked participants. I think the workshop was well received. Evaluations were positive. The bigger question is whether or not mindfulness and meditative practices can be effective tools for education, connection to nature/place, and motivation for change. As part of both the five-minute meditation and the longer workshop, I guided participants to visualize a small change they could make in their own life to combat climate change. Nearly all used that visualization to write down at least one change on a card to take home with them.

Combating climate change certainly requires global action. We shouldn’t discount the cumulative impact of personal choices and the paralyzing despair that people feel because they think personal choices have little impact. It’s the same sort of conundrum some people have about voting…my one vote doesn’t matter. The reality is that all of those votes, taken together, do have an impact. We need to combat climate change from multiple perspectives, with multiple actions. Ultimately, I think this tool is one of many we can use.

Julie Ann Koehlinger graduated in June 2018 with a Master of Marine Affairs and Graduate Certificate in Climate Science and looks forward to building on this capstone project through the STEM Ambassadors Program at UW this summer. She can be reached at jkoehl@uw.edu