Repairing the Social Contract - GTEC Green Technology Education Centre

Introduction by Dr. Arden Henley followed by a video and transcript of an interview of Elisa Echelli, by a former Repairing the Social Contract interviewee, Solé Castaneda.

by Dr. Arden Henley

During the spring of 2020 I taught a graduate course called the Psychology of Aging at City University in Canada at Vancouver. In that class I invited students to imagine themselves as 72 years old. Then, in triads, everyone took turns asking questions and answering as a 72 year old. I had done this exercise a number of times before and found it surprisingly helpful in guiding younger people through the ageism barrier, as well as providing participants with a rich experience of life as a long-term arc of events and experiences.

On this occasion, while de-briefing the class about the exercise, a young woman stood up sobbing to say that though she was in long term relationship and had always looked forward to being married and having a family, she was now doubtful in the light of climate change and the uncertain future it seemed to prescribe,. What was the point of bringing children into such a world? In fact, she went on to say, what was the point of getting a Master’s degree? I was heartbroken as I listened and it led me on a journey that continues to this day.

Part of this journey turned out to be a study of how young people think and feel about the changing climate. I wanted to know more and so did Kiffer Card’s Mental Health Climate Change Alliance. GTEC and MHCCA partnered in a study we called Repairing the Social Contract: Undertaking the Co-Design of Climate Distress Services for Young People in British Columbia. We wanted to know what sort of programs and services young people felt could be helpful and  we wanted to engage youth in the work of making change happen. We referred

to this work as repairing the social contract because one of the major findings was a shattered sense of faith and confidence in the social contract and major institutions of society, a finding that aligns with the results of similar studies worldwide.

Following the completion of Repairing the Social Contract and as a ripple effect of it, GTEC hired a Youth Intern, Solé Castaneda, who was one of the participants in the initial study. This interview flows from the study and in it Solé asks Elisa Echelli many of the same questions that she was asked. It is a privilege and delight for me to introduce this interview.


Solé Castaneda Interviews Elisa Echelli
Introduction by Solé Castaneda

With the doomsday clock ticking closer to “midnight,” it has become second nature to adopt the idea of an uncomfortable, or worse, nonexistent future. The ambiguity of security that the passage of time continues to present to us is an unwanted gift for many. Those of us who supposedly have “our whole lives ahead of us” often wonder: do we really?

British Columbian youth have an advantage, however. With climate action initiatives taking over the scene in cities like Metro Vancouver, young people have access to tools and organizations that can provide solutions, a sense of agency, and much needed relief from uncertainty. Speaking to Elisa Echelli highlighted this general sentiment. Our conversation shed light on a need for unity when it comes to climate action, a desire for more education on an institutional level, and a strong inclination toward creative lifestyle. Here is a brief recap of our interview:

Transcript of the Video

Sole: So Elisa, the first question that I would like to ask you is if someone said to you, what are your thoughts about climate change just off the top of your head? What would you say?

Elisa: So probably off the top of my head, I would say that climate change is obviously a very critical and urgent issue. I think it requires immediate attention, but I feel like it just definitely isn’t discussed enough every day in life or like to the youth. So I think that it needs like collective action because climate change is like obviously happening because of all the human activities like worldwide, not just in one spot. Right?

Sole: Yeah, that makes sense. That’s totally valid. And the second question that I have for you is knowing a bit about climate change from your experience, and what you have heard in the news and learned in the classroom, how do you feel about the future of climate change and what it predicts?

Elisa: Honestly, I think of right now, I think in the future with climate change predicts something quite bleak. And it should be like very concerning. Like even I just read something in the news about like in Antarctica, there was a study and since global temperatures are rising and the sea ice is melting, and researchers found that like flowers are actually blooming in Antarctica, which is probably not the best thing going on.

Sole: Wow.

Elisa: Which I was very shocked. Like usually it’s a good thing the flowers blooming, but definitely not with that. So I think like it depends significantly on like our global efforts to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and like adapt to new changes and maybe transition to like sustainable practices. Otherwise it will not be great.

Sole: Do you know exactly why the Antarctic, flower blooming incident is, is hazardous? Like, what’s the problem with that?

Elisa: Well, it’s hazardous because, like, it’s supposed to be so cold up there that only, like, I guess little mosses are supposed to grow, but since it’s getting so warm and okay, it’s not like hot up there, but like, it’s getting so much warmer and the right flowers are actually able to grow and like way more quickly and more densely, which is something never seen before.

Sole: So I see what you mean. Yeah. It’s like an indication of a complete lack of balance. Everything is out of order.

Elisa: Not supposed to happen. And it’s not like that’s like such a.

Sole: So bizarre. Yeah, it’s kind of poetic actually. In a way. The way the flowers are blooming.

Elisa: And it’s evidence like showing that things are real for those people who don’t think they’re real.

Sole: Exactly. There we go. And my third question for you is how have you and the people you know,  been handling the feelings that come up when you think about the future, the impacts of climate change, things like that, and the kind of problems that are likely to bring about.

Elisa: If I’m being honest, it’s not a topic that I hear discussed often, and I think that really just stems from the fact that our generation feels so much like, concern, like a mix of concern, anxiety and frustration when it comes to the topic. So like the thing to do when you’re nervous about something, right, is to push it to the back of your mind and not deal with it, right? But like, it can have such a huge impact on our planet and future generations, so it probably just seems like an overwhelming problem. For myself, like, I try to continuously, like, educate myself on the topic because it makes me feel calmer because, like, when you know something, then, you know, there’s not much fear behind it.

Sole: Yeah, 100%. I completely agree.

Elisa: With anything, not even just this, but like, with anything, if you know something about it, you’re usually less scared of the facts or whatever. So, like, I kind of encourage my friends to do the same and like, when it does come up, to do that because, like, it just alleviates a bit of the fear and anxiety. And then maybe you can figure out little things that you can do to help or to prevent.

Sole: I completely share that sentiment. I feel like when you have an understanding of what the consequences are, what the problems are, it’s so much more relieving, it’s so much more easy to navigate it without being, like overwhelmed with not knowing what to do. And also just the the feeling of being burdened by something that you know is going wrong.

Elisa: 100%, like with anything, even like an assignment in school when the professor’s talking about it, I get all nervous. But then when I open up the like the PDF, like, okay, I understand this or that, it makes you makes it feel better instead of that unknown.

Sole: And that brings me to my fourth question, which is who and or what forces have resulted in our being subject to the impact of climate change?

Elisa: I think, the biggest forces that have been resulted in and are subject to the impacts of climate change, especially in our generation. I’m not sure how old you are, but you look young. So like in our generation, one would be fast fashion. Definitely inefficient transportation because, like, even going to school, like, everyone just drives their own car when you should be taking public transport or carpooling or something. Single use plastics, for sure like at the food courts. I think fast fashion though is a really big one. It’s like, grown so much in popularity over the years. And, like, why would you go to Aritzia and pay $100 for a t shirt when you can get 15 t shirts from one of those other places?

Sole: Value Village.

Elisa: Value Village, exactly. Anything like that. Right. So, but yeah. What else did I put down here? Oh, I think also like, companies involved in, like, the burning of big fossil fuels have a huge contribution to climate change. Like, even just now, I’m not sure where you live, but I live in Burnaby, and there’s, like, this terrible smell a week ago.

Sole: Oh, I heard about that. Yeah.

Elisa: Oh my God, like that. And like, there’s flames coming out of the factory and it’s like you’re just thinking, like, this is just one factory and in, like, a small city, like in Burnaby. So imagine what’s going on around the world.

Sole: I live in Coquitlam, but I heard about it. I work in Burnaby, so I know exactly what you mean. It’s insane. Yeah. Okay.

Elisa: It’s the same area, so, you know. So. Yeah, I think it’s always on, like, you can see, like, little flames coming out from it, usually from the pipes or whatever, but like, it was, like on fire.

Sole: Yeah. Okay. Yeah. Very scary, very scary. The fifth question is what can be done about climate change as you see it?

Elisa: Well, I you know, for most of us, we don’t have control over those big companies or the government or anything. But I think, like, even really small things can be done to like help alleviate the issue. Like even just like simply like shutting off the lights when you leave the room, not using excessive water. Trying not to use so many single plastics. I know that, like, grocery stores are now implementing like only paper bags or bring their own, which I think is really, really good. And definitely recycling properly my first hand experience, like at school, I don’t know if people just aren’t looking or paying attention. They do have the different bins, but people just throw things in the garbage instead of the recycling or something, which I think would.

Sole: You know.

Elisa: Even, like, like trying to use a more fuel efficient car or carpooling to school or to work, I think is really important. I know some businesses are trying to encourage people to do that by giving like free parking spaces to those who carpool, and the rest of the people have to, like, park far away from the building or something. So I think that’s a really cool initiative by businesses, but it’s definitely a collective issue. So even like little things would help.

Sole: Yes, I think that’s actually a very good point, how you talk a lot about the collectiveness of it. It’s so important to work everyone together and do even a small part or a big part, and it adds up. It totally adds up.

Elisa: It totally does, like even when you think like, oh, I’m one person, I can’t do anything. But, you know, if everybody does a little something.

Sole: Yeah, if everyone’s on the same page, it definitely helps. I think that’s a really good point collectively. And now we’re going to shift gears a little bit and do some other more intricate questions. And one of them being, in looking at climate change so far, what ideas, projects or approaches have you heard about that have invited you to feel the most curious or optimistic?

Elisa: I think the main one. I don’t know why this was such a shock for me, but I really think that electric vehicles are making me feel like pretty optimistic, just because it’s such a promising, solution to reduce carbon emissions. Like, and now people are trying to develop, like, more affordable and longer range electric vehicles, which would entice people even more. Like even a personal example like my dad was like, so against electric vehicles, he has to drive really far for work.

Elisa: And it was just like, I feel like I can’t have that. I don’t want to be stopping every two hours to charge my car. And what if I get stuck in the snow somewhere, right? But now they have been like making these improvements and everything. Our next car is going to be electric, he already said that. So I thought that was pretty interesting because he usually doesn’t change his mind. So that say a lot about other people as well, right?

Sole: Yeah. Upgrading the technology.

Elisa: Right. So much upgrading technology. I also think I read some studies I can’t remember where, but like about projects involving, like reforestation and conservation efforts of like marine, habitats. And I think that’s great ways of like restoring ecosystems and preserving the environment and contributing to climate resilience. Like I think that’ll be a good start to bring things back to how they were, maybe not exactly how they were before we were here, but it can help reduce the carbon footprints that we have left on earth.

Sole: Yeah, I like that. And what kind of things could universities, communities and businesses do that would be actually helpful to young people, specifically in responding to the impacts of climate change?

Elisa: For young people? For sure. I think like universities could do a lot to help students become more educated on the matter. And like maybe more if it was just, just a part of everyday life, like, not even not even big things, but just like constant reminders because I feel like, like I said before, like, kind of slips the minds of a lot of people. And then you realize, oh my God, there’s flowers blooming in Antarctica. Like something’s really, really wrong. Like for example, it could be through like climate change education programs or just like mentioned in classes or maybe posters or, because like, if we’re young people, especially if we’re not continuously reminded of something, you know, it. What do they say? Like out of sight, out of mind. Yeah.

Sole: That’s so true.

Elisa: So I think that should definitely be something like, I don’t know if it’s people are in a rush or they just don’t care. But like I said before, putting recycling in the garbage bins or just even little things like that.

Sole: Right, right, right.

Elisa: Like I think it was taught at a young age. I remember in like grade 1 or 2, but then after that it kind of stopped everything about Earth and like Earth Day.

Sole: That’s actually true. That’s a good point. Yeah, I remember I, I don’t think we’re too far in terms of generational gap. And I remember.

Elisa: I’m 22

Sole: I’m 26.

Elisa: So you know, same thing in same thing.

Sole: And yeah, I remember there were a lot of efforts, like a lot of campaigning in schools and stuff to do a lot of like the three R’s were a big thing.  And yeah, there were, there were a lot of things but it kind of faded out. You’re right. Yeah. Once I got into like high school, for example, like I think in the past maybe 15 years, it fizzled out of the school base and it kind of became a trend almost. So instead of it being this like, public school thing. It’s just. Yeah, please go green and that’s like the cool thing to do.

Elisa: On trend. That’s a good way to put it you know definitely.

Elisa: We need more trends. That’s a good one.

Sole: What do you think about slow living now that you mention things that are a little bit like, you know, how people are really fast paced and they forget about things and they’re really in a rush. Have you ever heard about the slow living lifestyle?

Elisa: Like more. I mean, I feel like they always say that North America or maybe not in California, but the rest is, like, really fast paced living. Yeah.

Sole: Yeah.

Elisa: Which is why we don’t stop and think about these things. And, like, when I was in Europe, it definitely was this slow living. Like, I was very uncomfortable with how different it was. Very nice. Like, very, very nice. And it’s funny you mention that actually, because in Europe I did notice that they do put a lot more emphasis on that. Like even I was renting an apartment and like the landlord must have told me about three times, like, here’s the green bin. Like, don’t put that in the garbage, the recycling you take to this place right here. You bring all your stuff, it’s there around the city, it’s outside there, like big cans that, like, go into the ground, into these massive boxes. I’ve never seen anything like this. And you bring, like, recycling your paper, like, everything like that to this outside area. And then you shove it down these holes and like, different trucks come and collect each one, and people are happy to do it. And I think that I guess maybe they have more time or like, I don’t love this. Yeah. Concept. So it’s definitely a bit more emphasized over there to do that.

Sole: That’s interesting. Yeah, I like the cultural contrast. I know Europe has a way different like mode of operation and they take things a little bit more relaxed.

Elisa: People are having coffee like 11 a.m. instead of at work. Or maybe they are working doing that, I don’t know, but it seems to work.

Sole: Yeah, I know it seems to work. Like things don’t look like they’re, you know, falling apart. No they.

Elisa: No they don’t. Everything’s good over there. It’s like falling apart here.

Sole: There we go. Okay, well, that brings the interview to a close. That was pretty efficient. 20 minutes maybe.

Elisa: I hope I helped with something.

Sole: Yeah. You definitely did. Thank you so, so much Elisa.

Dr. Arden Henley is well-known in the Lower Mainland for his family therapy work and his development of programs for youth as well as his service as Vice President of City University of Canada. He is widely published and is currently the CEO of the Green Technology Education Centre (GTEC).