Compassion for the Environment: UA Wants to Talk About It
Signifying a launch into environmental justice work, the Center for Compassion Studies is presenting a public talk, "Great Tide Rising: Toward Clarity and Moral Courage in a Time of Planetary Change."

By Lori Harwood, UA College of Social and Behavioral Sciences
April 13, 2017


(Photo: Jeremy Goldberg)

During the month of April, it's difficult to avoid talk about the environment. Earth Day is on April 22. And this year — in response to a heightened concern for our environment by many scientists and citizens — there is a March for Science on April 22 and a People’s Climate March on April 29.

The University of Arizona Center for Compassion Studies is making its own contribution to the larger discussion of how to respond to climate change by offering the free public talk "Great Tide Rising: Toward Clarity and Moral Courage in a Time of Planetary Change," on April 28.

The keynote speaker will be philosopher and environmental advocate Kathleen Dean Moore, author of a book with the same title as the lecture. Moore will tackle several questions: Why is it wrong to wreck the world? What is our obligation to the future? What is the transformative power of moral resolve? What ideas will inspire people to move forward with clarity and moral courage?

Moore is the co-editor of "Moral Ground: Ethical Action for a Planet in Peril," which included essays by UA professors Alison Hawthorne Deming and Gary Paul Nabhan in addition to such dignitaries as President Barack Obama, the Dalai Lama and Desmond Tutu.

"The crux of Moore's work is really about the human moral obligation to protect the environment, and that failure to protect the Earth is really a violation of human rights," said Leslie Langbert, director of the Center for Compassion Studies.

So where does compassion fit? According to Langbert, compassion for one another and for future generations helps inspire concern for the environment.

A panel discussion will follow the lecture. Deming, professor in the Department of English and the Agnese Nelms Haury Chair of Environment and Social Justice, and Tracey Osborne, assistant professor in the School of Geography and Development, will join Moore to discuss the impact of climate change on local and regional geographies, as well as the impact on human lives. The panel will focus on how we can defend a livable climate with compassionate action. The discussion will be facilitated by Michael Gill, head of the Department of Philosophy, who is an advisory board member for the center.

"Kathleen Dean Moore has dedicated herself to fighting climate change through the power of literature, art and the moral intelligence. She is a passionate and necessary voice, now more than ever," said Deming, a celebrated writer of poetry and nonfiction on nature and the environment. "I am honored to join the conversation with her, as we look for new ways to inspire compassion and caretaking for our beleaguered planet."

Osborne studies the political economic dimensions of climate change.

"I'm deeply concerned about solving the global problem of climate change," Osborne said. "While the rational and intellectual approach has been important for guiding our actions to date, I think the next phase requires deep engagement with the heart space of compassion, which I believe will give us the motivation and inspiration to transform our society toward one that is more environmentally sustainable and socially just."

The Center for Compassion Studies, housed in the College of Social and Behavioral Sciences, participates in research on the impact of compassion and contemplative practices on well-being and offers training in the cultivation of compassion.

The center has an interdisciplinary advisory board, representing the fields of sociology, natural resources and the environment, philosophy, retailing and consumer science, geography and development, psychology, nursing, family and consumer sciences, and psychiatry.

Currently, the center is involved in a pilot research project with professors Russell Toomey and Michele Walsh, both with the Norton School of Family and Consumer Sciences, to examine the effectiveness of Cognitively-Based Compassion Training with transgender and gender creative youth and their families.

The center also is working with Eyal Oren, an assistant professor in the Mel and Enid Zuckerman College of Public Health, on the connection between stress and asthma in public schools.

Outreach activities include secular compassion training to schools, caregiving institutions, behavioral health organizations and businesses. The center has worked with the Pascua Yaqui Tribe to teach compassion training to elementary school students on the reservation, and with La Frontera to bring compassion training to adolescents living in state foster care.

Langbert said one of the center's goals is to foster self-care and self-compassion for those in the helping fields, to help them "sustain that level of intense work, to be with the suffering of others in very difficult circumstances."

Langbert collaborates with Tucson Medical Center to offer a series of lectures related to compassion. She also has provided training to the Medical Group at Davis-Monthan Air Force Base.

Langbert is committed to serving the student, faculty and staff communities at the UA. Every semester, she teaches the class "Self Care in the Helping Professions." In cooperation with the UA Rec Center, she offers meditation, guided deep relaxation courses and mindful eating workshops.

The "Great Tide Rising" event represents the center's launch into environmental justice work. "There is a real need to begin to turn the compassion lens to the larger environment," Langbert said.

Langbert also sees parallels between those who work in helping fields and people who work for environmental justice.

"The center can help people develop tools so they can sustain their passion and be able to do this work without feeling burned out or desensitized," Langbert said.

The "Great Tide Rising" lecture is sponsored by the Institute of the Environment, the Department of Philosophy and the College of Social and Behavioral Sciences.

Extra info

Free Lecture and Discussion

"Great Tide Rising: Toward Clarity and Morale Courage in a Time of Planetary Change"
April 28 at 7 p.m.
Room N120, ENR2 building, 1064 E. Lowell St.

Workshop With Kathleen Dean Moore

"Keep on Strong Heart – Moral Power in the Climate Fight"
April 29 from 9 a.m. to noon
Room S210, ENR2 Building, 1064 E. Lowell St. 
$40 for general public, $25 for students


Resources for the media

Leslie Langbert

UA Center for Compassion Studies