Long reads


For Elin Kelsey, Lauttasaari Manor resident, hope matters in climate action

Elin Kelsey stands under a tree.

According to Kelsey, recognising your interdependence and concern for other living things is vital for feelings of hopefulness. “I am a we,” as Kelsey puts it. Photo: Suvi Korhonen

Research into climate anxiety in Finland was one of the reasons Elin Kelsey, a specialist in climate communication and education, came to work at Lauttasaari Manor. Kelsey’s aim is to replace the media’s doom-and-gloom narrative with evidence-based hope.

Concerns and uncertainty over the coronavirus pandemic, the IPCC’s alarming report on the climate change, Russia’s attack on Ukraine… In a world undergoing multiple crises, those browsing the web cannot escape gloomy news.

Worse, many can’t stop themselves from streaming the news, even as their anxiety builds. In English, this has come to be known as “doomscrolling”, the habit of endless browsing of negative news articles and social media posts.

Doomsrolling became prevalent during the coronavirus pandemic, Elin Kelsey, a scholar on climate education and communication, educator and author, said at a climate communication webinar held in February.

Canadian-born Kelsey, however, would like to replace the doom-and-gloom narrative of the climate and environmental crisis, largely painted by the media, with hope. Blindly following the bad news easily leads to just ruminating on potential catastrophes, Kelsey argues.

“A gloomy narrative becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy: if you only know and hear what is broken, then you believe it is broken,” Kelsey says.

Why talk about emotions when action is needed?

The webinar, like the rest of Kelsey’s residency programme, has been coordinated by the newly established Finnish Association for Climate and Environmental Communication Research, Ilvies. The association also invited Kelsey to Lauttasaari Manor, where Finnish art and research communities and various working groups can invite a specialist who works outside Finland.

The founding member of the association, Panu Pihkala, known for his research on climate anxiety, got acquainted with Kelsey during his participation in a project aimed at climate educators, which is compiling an online data bank on emotions related to climate issues known as the Existential Toolkit for Climate Justice Educators.

“With Panu, we were brought together by a concern on how climate-related emotions affect people,” Kelsey sums up. “It wasn’t long ago that emotions were not recognised as being part of any of this.”

Instead of emotions, the focus was on what could be done or how one thinks about environmental issues. However, emotions directly affect people’s well-being and thus their ability and willingness to act.

When studying emotions related to climate change, both Pihkala and Kelsey are convinced that all emotions are multifaceted in nature. Both also avoid labelling any emotion with an unambiguous categorisation, such as exclusively positive or negative.

“It is important not to pathologize any emotions and instead to create safe spaces where it is possible to take care of those,” Kelsey emphasises.

When talking to the Lauttasaari Manor resident, it is clear how happy she is about the network created during her visit. Climate researchers, journalists and educators have gathered around a series of webinars, and experts in climate education, climate communication and psychology, as well as art researchers focusing on animal or climate issues, have been involved.

“I have been able to immerse myself in this extraordinary network that exists here in a way that I don’t know of in any other place,” Kelsey says, praising the Finnish multidisciplinary field of climate and sustainability studies.

From Helsinki it has been easy to travel to Oulu to get acquainted with the web-based climate communication course (, which is open to everyone as part of the Climate University. During her stay, Kelsey has also visited Tampere to meet climate educators and Stavanger in Norway to conduct workshops for early childhood educators.

Evidence-based hopefulness instead of doom and gloom 

Like Kelsey, the newly established Climate and Environmental Communication Research Association, Ilvies, focuses on communication as its name implies.

Climate communication does not exist in Finland as a separate discipline, and Pihkala says that this is why people from both the Climate Panel and various fields of research are involved.

Communication has an important role to play in climate issues, and Kelsey says that the state of the climate and the environment is conveyed primarily through the media. In her view, the media tends to focus on problems rather than solutions.

Kelsey considers it important to identify problems, because it allows the culprits, such as big corporations, to be held accountable. The role of the media, she says, is to act as a watchdog for power.

Yet instead of problems, Kelsey herself talks about evidence-based hope and the narratives that reinforce it.

She ties hope to the shifts that are already occurring and on which future climate actions can be built upon.

Indeed, she wants to distinguish hope based on evidence from naïve whistfulness. Highlighting well-researched solutions shows in which direction we should head and reinforces the sense that one’s own actions matter.

If everything we have to do lies ahead, and nothing has yet been accomplished, this can immobilise many from taking the action needed to address the crisis. It is a different matter to continue an action that has already been shown to support the desired change than to feel powerless in the face of all that has not yet been accomplished.

Instead of threatening what would happen “if we don’t act now”, Kelsey says, we would benefit from a narrative of what has already been done and what is known to help in curbing climate change and biodiversity loss. That would encourage action.

An example illustrating Kelsey’s argument can be found nearby: the residency guest waves her hand, now encased in plaster. During the residency, the weather in Helsinki was exceptionally slippery, and Kelsey broke her wrist.

However, Kelsey soon underwent surgery, and the hand has recovered as expected. Kelsey notes that it is easy to be hopeful that an operation performed by an experienced surgeon will heal the hand. However, the same way of thinking is hardly encountered in climate matters. Why can’t hope in climate issues be based on the fact that the knowledge and skills accumulated by decades of experience could still alter the course of our ecological emergency?

Elin Kelsey’s keynote at the Climate Communication and Emotions webinar on February 10, 2022 is on view on the University of Helsinki Unitube. The follow-up discussion to the webinar on February 17, 2022 can also be watched on Unitube. In addition to the two webinars, the recording of the third webinar Alarming News, Ecological Issues, and Self-care on March 14, 2022 is also available online.

The Existential Toolkit – A Growing Hub of Resources for Climate Justice Educators provides resources to help students develop the emotional resilience to stay engaged in the work of climate justice.

Kelsey’s book Hope Matters: Why Changing the Way We Think Is Critical to Solving the Environmental Crisis was published in 2020 by Greystone Books.

This spring, the Lauttasaari Manor Residency programme hosts Ukrainian artists. There will be no open call for the Lauttasaari Manor Residency in 2022.