What exactly is a climate café?

The table set for a climate café

I facilitated a climate café this weekend and it’s prompted me to write down what they are, why I offer them and what it’s like in a climate café.

Perhaps you have recently begun to worry about what is happening to our climate and what this might mean for you, and for your family and friends? Or maybe you are an activist or professional in the climate world, used to feeling the pain of climate grief or anxiety and keeping it at bay by all the great work you do? A climate café is a simple, hospitable, empathetic space where anyone’s fears and uncertainties about our climate crisis can be safely expressed. 

What’s the idea?

I have been facilitating climate cafés in Oxford since the very hot summer of 2018, when I saw people expressing a lot of anxiety about the climate crisis – even who hadn’t previously talked about it much. The idea behind them is that talking about climate change is really important – but our feelings of guilt or frustration often make it more difficult. We might feel guilty that we are not doing enough, or frustrated that others are not doing enough. Once people start talking about something, it becomes possible to think about and act on. So I decided to start providing a space in which we would not talk about what we or others are doing or should be doing. We would just talk about climate change and how it is making us think and feel.

Climate cafés are also hospitable events. If you’re beginning to worry about climate change, you probably don’t want to go to some earnest meeting where you might get bounced into doing work you aren’t ready for yet. A café is friendly, warm, human – and there is a chance to connect with others over food and drink.

Why do we need climate cafés?

We really need the kind of exploration that climate cafés provide as we face the climate crisis. We increasingly need to talk about what our changing climate means for us in terms of impacts at personal, family and societal level. We need to imagine it in some detail so as to be able to think about it constructively and clear-sightedly, and to explore some complex feelings and thoughts which may often be taboo and hard to talk about.

Just to be clear: I am not saying that we shouldn’t talk about what to do about climate change. Just that for many of us, now and again, there is a need to talk about how we feel and what we think, as a way of freeing up our capacity to act.

What happens in a climate café?

The focus of discussion in a climate café is participants’ immediate thoughts and feelings about the climate crisis. There are no guest speakers and no talks – though there is always a facilitator, usually two. It is an advice-free zone, with no pressure to take action, join a group or change your mind on anything.

I’m writing this post in summer 2020, and face-to-face climate cafés aren’t possible because of Covid-19. We’ve been doing them online. This is great in many ways – people have joined the café from all over the world, and there’s an intimacy online that isn’t always possible in a physical space. I do miss sharing cake and pots of tea, though, and people’s chat about the café setting.

But whether or not we have cake, I think there is something really magical about a space where the only task is to think and feel together – especially if you are used to always having climate-related work to do.

Cafés run for an hour and a half and there is always one coming up, either via Low Carbon Oxford North or via Climate Psychology Alliance.