Researcher, storyteller and author Britt Wray delivers Earth Week keynote address

Wray presented “How to Cope with Climate Anxiety: Saving the Earth and Saving Ourselves,” to students, faculty, staff, and community members in McKinnon Hall on April 24.

In a week full of celebration, appreciation, and education surrounding the planet, members of the Elon gathered to listen and learn from Britt Wray, an accomplished researcher, author and storyteller who delivered the Earth Week keynote address titled “How to Cope with Climate Anxiety: Saving the Earth and Saving Ourselves.”

Researcher, storyteller and author Britt Wray spoke on Wednesday, April 24, in Elon McKinnon’s Hall as part of the university’s Earth Week 2024 events.

Wray’s April 24 talk in McKinnon Hall was open to the public and was one of many Earth Week events hosted by Elon’s Office of Sustainability. Other events this week include Party for the Planet, a plant adoption and a star-gazing event. These events all serve as an opportunity for Elon students, faculty, and staff to examine their own habits as they relate to sustainability.

President Connie Ledoux Book welcomed the audience by sharing her support for Elon’s commitment to sustainability and expressing her excitement about Elon’s new collaboration with eight other colleges and universities to bring an innovative, large-scale solar facility online in western Kentucky.

Wray was introduced by Matthew Flacksenburg ‘24, the intern for Elon’s Office of Sustainability. Flacksenburg talked of Wray’s long list of achievements, which include her current position as director of CIRCLE, a Stanford-based initiative focused on Community-minded Interventions for Resilience, Climate Leadership, and Emotional Wellbeing. Wray’s authored books, including “Generation Dread: Finding Purpose in an Age of Climate Anxiety,” have garnered national acclaim. Wray has spoken at TED and the World Economic Forum, with appearances on BBC, NPR, and CBC. Recognized as a Climate Psychology expert, Wray has received prestigious awards like the Canadian Eco-Hero Award and the National Academies Eric and Wendy Schmidt Awards for Excellence in Science Communications.

Throughout the speech, Wray emphasized the importance of addressing climate anxieties. She urged a holistic approach to the climate crisis, highlighting the importance of addressing mental health consequences alongside political and technological challenges. She also discussed the younger generations’ internal struggles and anxiety towards an uncertain future.

“The fundamental questions in life that are being asked are now centered around this uncertainty,” she said. “How are we going to spend our time? Where are we going to live? What is our family going to look like? What should we train for? What industry will I devote my time to?”

Marykate Hart ’26 attended the event and worries about the “overwhelming pressure on our generation to fix the mistakes of our past generations and the pressure continuing to build up over time is exhausting and gets heavier.”

Wray offered a variety of ways for people to start a virtuous circle within themselves and support both their mental health and the climate crisis. She led the audience through a variety of exercises that allowed them to reflect on their own personal climate anxieties, as well as appreciating their time on Earth so far. She then urged the audience to continue to have conversations surrounding their attitudes toward current events and provided a variety of resources to make those conversations easier.

“There are deep, important lessons about resilience, integrity, continuance, survival, and community strength that can be centered as we move forth in our climate reality,” she said.

After Wray concluded her presentation, Assistant Director of Sustainability for Education and Outreach Kelly Harer invited students and other audience members to ask Wray questions.

The keynote address was sponsored by the Office of Sustainability, Counseling Services, Environmental Studies Department, and the Truitt Center for Religious & Spiritual Life.

Interactive media graduate student Morgan Stankiewicz contributed to this article.