From the outside, EngageOn’s “climate cafes” might look like just another friendly gathering in Palo Alto’s Peers Park. But underneath the canopy tent and camping chairs is a space that environmental activists can use to express their feelings on climate change and connect with other activists meaningfully.
Claudia Truesdell, founder of EngageOn and climate cafe facilitator, said that dealing with climate change can be emotionally exhausting for climate activists. Climate cafes are meant to help with this issue by providing spaces where participants can exclusively discuss their feelings on the climate crisis, Truesdell said.
Rather than putting a focus on solving climate change, the climate cafes are meant to encourage participants to dive into their feelings about the issue and serve as a safe space for those emotions. Truesdell said this is because climate activism often requires being optimistic and solution-oriented, which can be taxing for some.
“You need to be hopeful and optimistic because otherwise people aren’t going to take action,” Truesdell said. “But we have to have some places where you can just feel how you’re feeling and not have to put on a face.”
The concept of climate change itself can be difficult to confront mentally, according to Truesdell. One cafe participant, Gerry Gras, found that dealing with climate was tough for him, and talking to others in similar situations during the cafe was beneficial.
“It’s been an emotional roller coaster ride [dealing with climate] for a long time now, and I was hoping that something like the climate cafe would help,” Gras said. “And I think it did, some.”
Cafe attendee David Liguoy, who focuses on fundraising for solar bikes, said that the experience of speaking with others meaningfully about climate was unique.
“It blew my mind,” said Liguoy. “It was a game changer for me. It gave me hope. People spend time just for business, and they’re always busy … [so] it’s good to connect, heart to heart.”
For many attendees, having the opportunity to talk about climate with others who care about the issue is a very unique experience.
Truesdell said that climate cafes are especially effective for people who are already interested in environmental activism but have trouble finding outlets to discuss their thoughts on climate change outside of their work.
“It’s really a different experience to do a cafe with people [who are struggling to discuss climate],” Truesdell said. “Sometimes I get people who have not gotten to talk about it before … [and] I think that’s really who the climate cafe is for.”
Gras said he found the cafe interesting because of the diversity of thoughts and feelings. Liguoy added that felt that talking with other climate activists was helpful for him because it made him feel more connected to others.
“I really liked it because to connect people is so important, and not to connect only about business,” Liguoy said. “Connecting is also about connecting people with a feeling, with what is important for them.”
And it’s forming those connections in order to help others fight against climate change that drove Truesdell to create EngageOn in the first place. She wanted to help people get more involved with climate issues by helping them form connections.
Truesdell utilizes the design process frequently as part of her job, and she described her climate activism as a design process: She identifies an issue and a goal and takes into account needs and values to create solutions.
One of the needs she discovered earliest was the need for people to get more involved with climate change activism.
“Sometimes [people are] so worried about [climate] that they can’t really deal with it, so they kind of push it away and distract themselves. I know that’s where I was at for years,” Truesdell said.
Truesdell had attended virtual climate cafes on her own and said climate cafes helping activists find support stood out to her. Seeing the impact that those cafes had on herself and others inspired Truesdell to bring the idea to the EngageOn team.
“A climate cafe was one of the very early things that I did [with EngageOn] in terms of events, and I did it because … for myself, having a space where I could talk about climate was really important,” Truesdell said.
The impact that the cafes make can help inspire and support people, Truesdell said. Even though the event is not meant for discussing solutions, climate cafes can cause people to take initiative and make change by working through their emotions, which can be a valuable experience.
“Sometimes I get people who have not gotten to talk about [climate] before, and … I think that’s really who the climate cafes are for,” Truesdell said. “They express feelings that they’ve never gotten to express before. They get to have people really listening and giving them a lot of caring attention … [and at the end] they feel like they have connected with the community.”