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Building the Movement Session 8: Preventing Trauma with Climate Change & Environmental Justice

Summary produced by: Leslie Alvarez | Alyssa Besser | Sofia Escalante | Sarah Levine | Thalia Philip (MPH Candidates, Mailman School of Public Health)

Speakers, Organizations, and Contact Information

  • Bob Doppelt | Coordinator, International Transformational Resilience Coalition (ITRC) and Author, Prevent and Healing Climate Trauma: A Guide to Building Resilience and Hope in Communities

  • Dr. James Gordon | Executive Director, Center for Mind Body Medicine

  • Cuco Rodriguez | Chief Equity and Program Officer, Hope and Heal Fund

  • Jacqui Patterson | Executive Director, Chisholm Legacy Project

  • Howard Lawrence | Coordinator, Abundant Alberta, Canada

  • Daniel Homsey | Director, The San Francisco Neighborhood Empowerment Project

  • Jenna Quinn | Environmental Justice Consultant and Manager, PACES Connection

Workshop Agenda

  • 00:05:02 | Bob Doppelt | Building the Movement to Prevent and Heal Climate Traumas and Promote Environmental Justice

  • 00:34:59 | Dr. James Gordon | Transforming Trauma the Path to Hope and Healing

  • 00:56:45 | Cuco Rodriguez | The National Compadres Network Overview

  • 01:25:47 | Jacqui Patterson | The Need for a Just Transition

  • 01:46:14 | Howard Lawrence | Benefits of Neighbouring

  • 02:06:43 | Daniel Homsey | Advancing Equity in Our Pursuit of Resilience

  • 02:25:07 | Jenna Quinn | Paces Connection: Intro to PACES Science and Environmental Justice

Workshop Overview

Climate change has become omnipresent in society. Each year we are seeing more and more impacts of climate change - if it be hurricanes, an epidemic, air pollution or farming. Climate change has an immense impact on everyday life and causes stressors that impact mental health and well-being from the individual to macro-level. The adverse impacts of climate change on the population level - forced migration, water and food insecurity, adverse health effects - most often impact the most vulnerable populations and highlight race and socio-economic disparities.

The workshop has a diverse set of expert speakers who cover different aspects of climate change, resilience, and environmental justice. Throughout the workshop, viewers are educated on the underlying research behind climate change, trauma, and solutions taken from a holistic, community, and equity-based lens. The key takeaway is that there is a need to take a public health approach to address mental health impacts from climate stress. What this means is that we must engage communities (resilience coordinated coalitions) to take action and advocate for mental wellness and transformational resilience that help entire populations. An emphasis is put on groups that are often ignored and most impacted including vulnerable and marginalized groups.

Why is this Workshop Important?

The intersection between climate change, toxic stress, and PTSD is a relatively newer topic that has gained a lot of attention over the last decade. Recent research shows that young people more than ever are having anxiety over climate issues and are feeling immense dread for the future. It is more important than ever to look at ways to address this and take action. When people see efforts being made to minimize the effects of climate change, they maintain hope, which is essential in lowering climate trauma.


00:26:48 - 00:27:11 | Bob Dopplet | “A public health approach to mental health takes a population level approach not merely one that focuses on treating high risk or vulnerable individuals or groups. It addresses problems by strengthening protective factors, skills, strengths and resources to help buffer people to encounter the forces t\hat undermine their capacity for mental health and resilience.”

00:21:50 - 00:22:00 | Bob Dopplet | “If we understand how humans created the climate emergency then it can become humanity's greatest teacher."

00:38:08 - 00:38:45 | Dr. James Gordon | “It is not just about addressing symptoms or even promoting wellness wellbeing or resilience. We are teaching an approach which gives people the opportunities to learn things about themselves and connect with others in a variety of way and share what they learned with their community…….”

01:26:14 - 01:26:19 | Jacqui Patterson | “Just transition is about shifting from an extractive economy to a living economy.”

02:16:48 - 02:16:56 | Daniel Homsey |” What we see in disasters in that is lifeline and service disruptions immediately generate trauma to residents”

02:37:02 - 02:37:09 | Jenna Quinn | “We know that when lower income communities face disasters, recovery is slower, leading to an increased vulnerability to weather events happening during the recovery period.”

Moderators & Speakers:

  • 0:00: Introduction; 1:06: Review of Agenda and Housekeeping: Dr. Diana (Denni) Fishbein, National Prevention Science Coalition to Improve Lives

  • 2:52:58: Jesse Kohler, Executive Director, CTIPP


  • 5:02: Bob Doppelt, Coordinator, International Transformational Resilience Coalition (ITRC) and author of Prevent and Healing Climate Trauma: A Guide to Building Resilience and Hope in Communities

  • 35:03: Dr. James Gordon, Executive Director, Center for Mind-Body Medicine

  • 57:14: Cuco Rodriguez, National Compadres Network

  • 1:25:48: Jacqui Patterson, Executive Director, Chisholm Legacy Project

  • 1:45:15: Howard Lawrence, Coordinator, Abundant Alberta, Canada

  • 2:06:47: Daniel Homsey, Director, The San Francisco Neighborhood Empowerment Program

  • 2:25:10: Jenna Quinn, Environmental Justice, PACES Connection


0:00: Dr. Diana (Denni) Fishbein, National Prevention Science Coalition to Improve Lives

Denni provides an overview of the workshop

5:02: Bob Doppelt, Coordinator, International Transformational Resilience Coalition (ITRC) and author of Prevent and Healing Climate Trauma: A Guide to Building Resilience and Hope in Communities

5:11: My name is Bob Doppelt, and I coordinate the International Transformational Resilience Coalition…ITRC for short. We are an international coalition of mental health, social service, disaster management, climate change, faith, and other organizations, as well as private members, that are trying to get out front of the mental health and psychosocial spiritual impacts of the climate emergency. And that's what I'm going to talk with you about today. We just completed about two years of research into how we address these issues and I'm going to share the highlights of that research with you.

6:27: Bob leads the Resilience Pause activity

A "presencing skill" - a self-regulation skill; a simple age and culturally-appropriate skill to calm your body, mind, emotions, and behaviors

A "purposing" skill - an adversity-based growth skill; an age and culturally-appropriate skill that allows you to find meaning, the meaning of life, purpose, and healthy hope in the midst of ongoing adversities

10:28: We all know, all of us know, that stress and trauma is epidemic today. The pandemic has made all the stresses and trauma that people experience even worse and added some with health impacts, isolation, loss of jobs, closure of schools, and many other sorts of things. But even before that, there was low wages, high poverty, political polarization, vast economic and social inequalities, fear of violence, many BIPOCs and Indigenous populations experiencing racism and other kinds of inequalities and oppressions, and many kinds of traumatic stresses.

11:14: Many of today's traumatic stresses that we're experiencing are really the result of unresolved past traumas - historic and generational traumas that we don't talk about much, that we don't address. They now are present in the present moment and are aggravating the existing sources of trauma and adding new ones. The past never ends. It's really right here.

11:39: To these stressors, we really now got to add what we call the "wicked climate impacts". What we mean by that is climate change is a wicked problem, meaning that the causes are multiple - from multiple sectors all over the world, although Western nations and the U.S. in particular are significant contributors - 30% of emissions or more come from the U.S. alone.

12:05: But, they are very complex issues. The simple approaches, or the straightforward approaches that we've used in the past to deal with environmental and ecological issues aren't often very helpful. Some have unintended negative consequences, and some often impact one population, one community, one nation in an inequitable way, which makes it very difficult to get consensus or support for moving forward. So, it's a real wicked problem and it's going to get even more wicked.

12:48: There is now a most a zero chance to prevent global temperatures from exceeding the 2.7 Fahrenheit threshold, 1.5C, the threshold above pre-industrial levels, that activates very harmful, and likely irreversible impacts.

13:08: This is going happen this decade now, sometime within the next eight years. If we're wildly lucky, maybe it'll be pushed back into the 2030s. This just came out from a UN governmental panel on climate change.

13:24: Under the current emission pass, in addition to the heat and disrupted climate system, we're seeing abrupt collapses in ecosystems and catastrophic biodiversity losses starting before 2030 in the South and then moving North.

13:42: We really have to understand that's what's actually happening. The dynamics are happening at the global scale, but the impacts are very much local. They happen in our communities, in our regions.

13:59: The bottom line of this is we really have to understand and begin to plan for the fact that we're in the midst of really, technically, is a climate, ecosystem, biodiversity, mega emergency that's going to alter every aspect of society.

14:18: This is something we have to wrap our heads around because if we remain unprepared, we're going to see individual community and societal distresses and traumas like we've never seen before in modern history. I call it "the Trauma Scene" and researchers call it the Trauma Scene also. The geological era we're entering, the Anthropocene, creates the Trauma Scene.

14:45: The most important impact, the most impactful impact of the mega emergency is cascading disruptions to ecological, social, and economic systems that people rely on for food, water, shelter, housing, jobs, income, healthcare, safety, etc.

15:07: All sorts of things are now already appearing…Food and water shortages and other resource disruptions, job losses, income losses…it's caused, much like the pandemic caused these cascading disruptions to different systems, the climate emergency is far, far worse.

15:37: Added to that, mixed in with that, are more frequent, extreme, and prolonged disasters that traumatize millions. The cascading disruptions to core systems are stressful, and then we have these disasters and traumas.

15:53: Last year, a report came out in assessment that found 40% of Americans live in a county that was impacted by climate change or disaster last year. That's likely to double, that is to say, the annual number of percentage of Americans, is likely to double by midcentury.

16:12: 20-40% of people who are directly impacted can experience mental health problems, as can those who know someone impacted or even just watch from afar.

16:26: Black, Indigenous, and People of Color, low-income and other marginalized populations are hit the hardest, at least now, but everybody is hit by these impacts.

16:52: Left unaddressed, what we're going to see is a pandemic of wicked individual community and societal distresses and traumas. What we mean by this is they're caused by multiple sources, just like the climate emergency is, so are the traumas and distresses. They're caused by multiple interacting issues or factors. That means it's not simple. There's no simple, easy way to prevent or heal them. We have to think and act in different ways.

17:31: We pretty much understand what an individual stress or trauma is. "Stress" you can call an understandable or normal response associated with stressors or demands that are difficult to cope with that result from witnessing or being involved with harmful situations or result from fantasizing about a future impact. An individual trauma…is a blow to the psyche that breaks through one's defenses with such brute force that one cannot react to it effectively, as so often happens in catastrophes, people withdraw into themselves, feeling afraid, vulnerable, and very alone, and that's what we're seeing with the climate emergency.

18:18: What is not well understood is what community-level traumas and societal traumas are...Community trauma is an event or series of events that create a blow to the base of tissue of social life that damages the attachments that people have together and impairs their prevailing sense of community. It is the gradual realization that the community no longer exists as an effective source of support, and that an important part of the self has disappeared. Community trauma can be a specific geographic area called the community, or it can be people with shared identities, such as religious or spiritual groups, refugee groups, or even Internet based groups. And societal trauma takes that, also called collective trauma, takes that to another level. And it goes beyond a specific geographic area or group of shared identity to affect entire cultures or nations or humanity as a whole.

19:19: The pandemic is a classic example of a societal trauma, a collective trauma. When the community near where I lived burned down, that created that community trauma, but there's also other kinds of traumas.

19:36: These individual, community and societal traumas can feed on themselves and really produce very harmful effects. We all know that if you're in this field, that unaddressed trauma becomes buried in our nervous system and it causes people to deny or dissociate, blame, self sabotage, and reenact the very same thing that caused trauma, leading to distorted facts and truths and perceptions, harmful social norms, institution, and policies, we versus them, tribalism, abuse and aggression and violence, including more ACEs, Adverse Childhood Experiences, and more, often surfaces and re-intensifies unresolved past historic racism, genocide, and other forms of injustices and violence. And it creates many new forms of injustice and violence, including injustices in climate solutions.

20:34: Many solutions, as I said before, to the climate emergency, actually adversely affect people of color, poor communities, low-income communities, etc., and this is what this unaddressed trauma can lead to, unless we're very aware what's happening.

20:50: And the combo of this can not only unravel families, communities and society, but it makes resolving the wicked problem, like the climate crisis, all but impossible to achieve. That's sort of where we're at with this thing.

21:07: In many ways, the climate emergency is the ultimate symbol and symptom of unaddressed historic and intergenerational trauma. That's because traumatized people cannot see things very clearly. We all know that, and they can't respond necessarily with safe, healthy and just ways. So our refusal to see and meaningfully address the climate emergency, that is many people, especially in the US, is one outcome of this unaddressed historic and intergenerational trauma. But these outcomes are not inevitable. That's what I want to focus on.

21:50: If we understand how this came about, how humans created the climate emergency, our activities, it can become humanity's greatest teacher and we can then adopt new thinking and approaches that produce healthy, just, equitable and restorative systems. And again, we need new thinking and approaches to do that.

22:14: First of all, we must respond now at this scale of the problem. And this requires thinking and acting through a population lens, not an individual or family lens - very different. And we must shift from our deficit-based and pathology-focused programs to focusing on strengthening protective factors that increase everyone's capacity for mental wellness and resilience.

22:43: So what do I mean by this? And we call it the capacity for transformational resilience. So we use that term to differentiate resilience from bouncing back to where we were before a disaster or crisis. We don't want to bounce. Many people don't want to bounce back to where they were after a crisis, it wasn't a great place in the first place. We really need to use these adversities and the climate emergency as a whole to really transform our personal lives, our families, our communities and society as a whole to make it more restorative and address and eventually overtime, reduce the climate emergency to manageable levels.

23:29: And to do that, when distress is caused by external forces that have no endpoint, no resolution, no cure, that's what the climate impacts are going to be for the next millennium or more.

23:43: The priority must be to build resilience to help people push back against those stressors, not just try to fix deficits or treat symptoms of pathology. So, building universal capacity for transformational resilience…By doing that, the stresses and traumas generated by the climate emergency can be prevented and healed when they do occur, and they will occur, and the crisis can be a turning point in history for us.

24:16: And two of the core elements of building universal capacity for transformational resilience is what I talk about when we first started. First is helping everyone develop presencing skills, self-regulation skills, using simple age and culturally-accountable self-regulation skills to calm their mind, body and emotions, and behaviors, when they're in the midst of adversity, when they're upset, and it's often connected with spirituality. A lot of us don't like to talk about spirituality- could be a religious component, it can just be a connection with nature, connection with a higher calling or higher spirit. But that's a really important part of it, a presencing for many people.

25:01: But equally important with the long climate emergency, because the impacts are going to go on for a century or more until humanity does what is necessary to reduce greenhouse gas emissions to the levels that bring temperatures back down to manageable levels, people have to find their calling. How do you want to live your life in the midst of that kind of ongoing adversities? It's called adversity based growth in psychology, and it's really about turning towards and learning about ourselves and others and the world around us in adversity, and then find new meaning, direction and healthy hope in that. And that's also often very closely connected with spirituality. Sometimes it's religious, sometimes it's not for different people, but it's very important.

25:52: And to build…widespread capacity for transformational resilience, we really have to address not just the individual and family levels, that's very important, but also the social, economic, physical, built, and ecological conditions in which people live around it. This is the social ecological model. Many of you know this,…but we're sort of focused on the bottom two, and we forget or don't address the community, the structural, the environmental issues that all influence mental wellness and resilience within an individual or family.

26:33: Addressing these multisystemic factors really requires a public health approach to mental health. A public health approach to mental health. So what does that mean? A public health approach to mental health takes a population level approach, not one that merely focuses on treating high risk or vulnerable individuals or groups. It addresses problems by strengthening protective factors, skills, strengths and resources that help buffer people from encountering the forces that undermine their capacity for mental health resilience. Many times, people have those skills and don't realize it. Other times, those skills have existed historically in their culture, but they have been forgotten or they've been eliminated, so you need to help people remember what they were or rebuild those skills. And at the same time, a public health approach prioritizes preventing problems, not merely treating them after they emerge, which is what almost all of our behavioral health programs do, and it integrates healing methods with the prevention methods by building resilience.

27:48: And research shows that mental health and psychosocial spiritual problems can be prevented and mental wellness and resilience can be enhanced. We know how to do this.

28:01: And research also shows that consensus is the most effective way to address widespread mental health and psychosocial spiritual problems is to establish the social infrastructure in communities. We call it a Resilience Coordinating Coalition, an RCC. But there are many out there. They use whatever term they want. That's just our term for it. Lots of ACEs programs have community based coalitions, etc. that engage a wide and diverse broad diversity of residents, civic groups and public, private and nonprofit organizations that jointly plan, implement and continually improve equitable, just, age and culturally accountable actions that build the capacity for transformational resilience within all adults and children, not just those who seem to be having problems.

28:53: The Whole Community Initiatives must also now engage residents and actions to reduce local greenhouse gas emissions, restore local ecosystems, and prepare for and adapt to climate impacts. And what we have found in the communities we looked at doing this kind of work is when people see visible signs of progress, they see local emissions going down, they see other changes being made, positive changes, it builds healthy hope. So this is not just about the ecological issue. This is about helping people maintain wellness and resilience by building hope.

29:31: And so we're calling for disaster preparedness, ACEs, behavioral health and many other prevention and treatment programs. They remain important, but we believe they now need to be integrated into multisystemic whole community-based initiatives like the ACEs program that many of you are involved with are already doing some of that. We need to scale those up and include more people and focus on the entire population.

29:56: I talked about forming a Resilience Coordinating Coalition. Here's an example of what this looks like. And again, many of you are part of something like this. We didn't make this up, we're just using what's out there.

30:49: A Resilience Coordinating Coalition really is about- is getting people from faith leaders, neighborhood leaders, private sector leaders, civic leaders, youth leaders, public sector leaders, mental health leaders, nonprofits, all together in a coalition that jointly works on these kinds of issues. And again, we didn't make this up. There's many of these programs already happening,

31:12: And there's five foundational areas that these Resilience Coordinating Coalitions need to focus on. This is the sense of our two years of extensive research and we're going to hear from speakers now to talk about each one of these.

31:30: The first one is to establish ongoing age and cultural economic opportunities for residents to heal their trauma. And this is not clinical treatment, that could be part of it, but the bigger part is offering healing circles or other group healing methods