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The Sustainability Institute at Penn State’s Sustainability Blog

Becoming a Creative Climate Warrior

By Ava Blansfield

A Note from Dr. Lucy R. McClain, Associate Teaching Professor of Sust 200: Foundations of Leadership in Sustainability:

When I first began teaching SUST 200 at Penn State in the fall of 2018, the weight of the climate crisis was something I truthfully hadn’t acknowledged or felt on a personal level–or maybe I did. Still, because it feels so amplified in my current state, I could be minimizing how I felt six years ago. Regardless, as I went through the course topics each week of that first semester, muddling my way through teaching about issues outside of my comfort zone, like mass transportation, food waste, and soil degradation, the heaviness of the climate crisis began to seep inward and root itself in the core of my being. Over the next few years, I did my best to tamp down these feelings of dread, helplessness, and anxiety so that I could teach the course with an air of confidence and control. The evolution of the course and a growing awareness of the students’ own feelings of anxiety led me to make an important addition to the class content. 

Spring 2022 was the first semester that I, with significant support and guidance from my TA for the course and PhD Candidate in Science Education, Emily Olsen, created space to openly acknowledge and discuss eco-anxiety alongside tips for managing this anxiety. I was validated in this decision when I attended a webinar in late April 2022 that emphasized the importance of validating climate emotions in education. Being vulnerable and sharing my personal feelings, fears, and concerns for the future while also cultivating a safe space for students to either listen or share their own emotions related to the changing climate is now a core feature of SUST 200. I am hopeful that this class and its approach not only motivate students to take action in their future careers and livelihoods but also contribute to their emotional resiliency through healthy conversation, self-care, and empathy for others. 

The joy of getting to teach and work with students like Ava–the author of the below blog post – is the remedy for my eco-anxiety. I am inspired by her motivation and energy to not only explore her creative side but also to share her emotional processing with others in a very vulnerable and public space so that readers may benefit from it. She, alongside all of the other students I have been fortunate to meet over the years, reminds me that this generation is full of creative, motivated, and educated climate warriors who can and WILL make a difference. Without further ado, I hope you will enjoy Ava’s blog titled “Becoming a Creative Climate Warrior”.

Becoming a Creative Climate Warrior

The path to becoming a climate warrior seems daunting. The wicked problem of climate change is all around you, and it seems like too much. Being a climate warrior is hard. It takes grit, resilience, and strength. Luckily, you’re not alone… anyone who lives on Earth can do it. 

As a student in a climate change-intensive curriculum and involved with numerous sustainability-related organizations, I have felt the struggle of being a climate warrior firsthand. I’m not a perfect climate warrior–no one is–but I developed somewhat of a toolkit along the way that I’d like to share to help you on your own path.  

Climate Warrior definition:

Before we get too far into this, let’s talk about what it means to be a “climate warrior.” Climate warriors are people who work on lessening their impact on the planet in some form or another. It’s a loose definition and includes everybody from major climate activists to the Average Joe/Jane who recycles. 

Being a climate warrior is not a one-size-fits-all practice, nor is caring about the Earth and the living things that call it home. These things are intentionally flexible to include as many people as possible. To combat climate change, we need an army… an army of people who care and are ready to chip away at this wicked problem. 

Talkin’ ‘bout climate change 

The greatest hurdle I’ve had to overcome as a climate warrior is the battle within. Climate change is one of the problems that is great at making us feel powerless. This is seen in the rise of eco-anxiety, climate anxiety, and a general increase in alarm within Global Warming’s Six Americas. As a student, I’m constantly bombarded with facts about a problem I didn’t create but must be solved. Intensive curriculum and sustainability clubs inadvertently pushed climate dread, which I felt firsthand. It’s easy to get engulfed in negative feelings (it’s our psychology!), but instead of losing hope, I found motivation in the negatives. I reframed climate change as a purpose instead of an undue responsibility. 

(poem — “have to” vs “get to”) 

Responsibility Purpose
I have to



I have to

Reduce, reuse, recycle


I have to

Speak up


I have to

Fix the planet

I get to



I get to

Reduce, reuse, recycle!


I get to

Speak up!


I get to

Fix the planet!

If you have feelings about something, it means that you care. Feeling nervous, worried, or anxious are markers of your underlying passion. Being a climate warrior is accepting that you can feel nervous and worried and still be strong and resilient.  

My relief from climate dread comes from getting creative. Creativity allows me to clear my mind productively. I have been journaling since 5th grade, and that has taught me the benefits of getting thoughts and concerns out of my head onto a piece of paper. Things on paper don’t seem as big as in my head. I started a type of climate-anxiety-driven journaling practice during my first encounter with climate change issues, and I have continued it since. The result is some funny doodles, a couple of pages full of ramblings, many to-do lists, and poems. Some of my journal entries are included in this post, and I hope to share a few more with you this spring. I encourage you to give it a try!


I’m not a perfect climate change warrior, but honestly, no one is. Hopefully, sharing my experience with managing climate anxiety inspires you to find your own way of reframing and motivating yourself. Remember: you must take care of yourself before you can take care of others. 

Airplane Face Mask Graphic. Source: http://www.being50.com/2016/06/top-priority.html

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