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Elin Kelsey

Communicating Hope in an Age of Despair

Date:June 2016
Location:Canada
Topic:Education

Elin Kelsey, a science communicator who specializes in hope and wonder. A PhD and a brilliant teacher, she’s also an internationally-renowned author especially of children’s books like You Are Stardust, and Watching Giants: The Secret Lives of Whales.

Elin Kelsey, author and science communicator, speaks with Silver Donald Cameron in this exclusive Green Interview about the profound and often overlooked relationship between humans and the non-human world. As the narrative of doom and gloom permeates environmental stories, Kelsey is interested in shifting the dominant narrative to one of optimism and hope by communicating remarkable stories of environmental resilience, ideas that work, and people who make a difference.

Communicating Hope 

Elin Kelsey has written: “There is ample evidence to support environmental despair but it rings so loudly we grow deaf to other more inspiring possibilities.” Kelsey argues that when we accept doom and gloom as a truth, “we extinguish not only our own agency, but the agency of more than five million other species that live on the planet.” As children we are now taught to see the environment “as if it is on a one-way journey from utopia to ruin,” which Kelsey argues is a huge mistake. She believes that seeing the living world as fragile and broken leads to despair, while there is also a much bigger untold story of strength and resilience: “Things get horribly broken. That is true. But the remarkable capacity for renewal is true too.”

Conservation Psychology

Kelsey is interested in the field of conservation psychology: the study of the reciprocal relationship between humans and the rest of nature, particularly as it tries to understand the emotional implications of the environmental crisis on children and adults. She argues that focusing on the doom and gloom in environmental education fuels a sense of fear of the world and the future and that this has psychological implications. Alternately, narratives of hope and engagement as well as encouraging connective encounters with nature can help create meaningful responses to the environmental degradation we face.

#oceanoptimism

On World Oceans Day in 2014 Kelsey was involved, with two other women—Nancy Knowlton from the Smithsonian Institution and Heather Koldewey from the Zoological Society of London—in creating a hashtag called #oceanoptimism. They were interested in changing the narrative “beyond doom and gloom,” she says. Two years later there have been 59 million tweets of people submitting conservation success stories from all over the world.

Educational Background

Kelsey has a Bachelor of Science degree in Zoology from the University of Guelph and a Master of Arts in Science Learning in Informal Settings from the University of British Columbia. She received her doctoral degree at King’s College, London (2001), where she pursued a multi-disciplinary research program in science communication and international environmental policy. 

Current Work

Currently, Kelsey holds an adjunct faculty position with the School of Sustainability at Royal Roads University in British Columbia, Canada, where she has been teaching courses in environmental communication and environmental education at the graduate level for ten years. She has been recognized for her brilliant teaching ability and nominated three times for the “Kelly Outstanding Teaching Award.” Kelsey also runs a consulting business called Elin Kelsey and Company, where she develops communication strategies for her clients. Kelsey has worked on the public participation aspects of the creation of marine reserves in Britain, Australia, Canada, and the U.S. and wrote the scientific brief for Pew Global Oceans that led to the dedication in 2009 of one of the world’s largest marine reserves, the Mariana Trench National Monument. Over the past decade she has become a leading spokesperson for “hope and the environment,” a movement that is trying to shift the narrative surrounding environmental issues from one of doom and gloom to one of hope. She is also the co-founder of oceanoptimism – a twitter campaign launched for World Oceans Day in June 2014, which went “viral” and reached 59 million tweets two years later.

Books 

Elin is an award-winning author of more than a dozen books for children and adults including:

  • You are Stardust
  • Wild Ideas: Let Nature Inspire Your Thinking
  • Watching Giants: The Secret Lives of Whales
  • Not Your Typical Book About the Environment
  • Strange New Species
  • Finding Out About Whales