Episode 6: Embracing Uncertainty
Eco-anxiety and climate grief are sometimes framed as “disorders,” but in fact these feelings typically arise from an accurate perception of our ecological crisis. It may be more appropriate to identify eco-anxiety as a “moral emotion” -- a sign of compassion, attachment to life, and desire for justice. And so paradoxically, we can take some encouragement from the global increase in eco-anxiety and climate grief, since that very existential discomfort affirms our desire to live in a more just and sustainable world.
Because the fight for climate solutions is filled with such contradictions, this episode explores some ways we are strengthened by challenging easy assumptions about climate distress. Our future remains unwritten, and by embracing the unknown we are better able to reframe our thinking in empowering ways. So-called “negative” feelings that arise in response to ecological disruption (grief, anxiety, anger) can be seen as signs of emotional health, while “undesirable” states like uncertainty are potential doorways to transformation. Climate anxiety might even be seen as a kind of superpower -- a signal that alerts us when something's wrong and needs to be addressed, especially while others are sleepwalking through the crisis because their alarm isn't tuned as well. As Martin Luther King Jr. once said, "the salvation of the world lies in the hands of the maladjusted." The time has come for the maladjusted to rise.
*This episode includes extended excerpts from Rebecca Solnit and Clarissa Pinkola Estés
“It is no measure of health to be well adjusted to a profoundly sick society.”
- Jiddu Krishnamurti
Written and narrated by Jennifer Atkinson
Music by Roberto David Rusconi
Produced by Intrasonus UK
Supported using public funding by the National Lottery through Arts Council England
Dr. Jennifer Atkinson is a professor of environmental humanities at the University of Washington, where she leads seminars that help students cope with the despair, anger, and anxiety that arise from environmental loss and mass extinction. Her teaching and research have helped activists, scientists, and students build resilience to stay engaged in climate solutions and avoid burnout. She has also spoken to audiences across the U.S. about the global mental health crisis arising from climate disruption, and advocated for addressing emotional impacts in the fight for environmental justice. This episode introduces some of the experiences and insights behind that work, and explores how we can move the public to action by addressing the psychological roots of our unprecedented ecological loss.
References and Further Reading:
Joseph Winters. Denial is out, alarm is in. Oct 13, 2020.
Yale Program on Climate Communication. Global Warming’s Six Americas in 2020. Oct 10, 2020.
Elin Kelsey. Hope Matters. 2020.
Alex Steffan. The Politics of Optimism. Apr 28, 2015.
James Baldwin. The Price of the Ticket. 1985.
Rebecca Solnit. Hope in the Dark (2016) and The impossible has already happened: what coronavirus can teach us about hope. 2020
Emanuele Coccia. The Life of Plants: A Metaphysics of Mixture. 2018.
Kate Brown. The Pandemic Is Not a Natural Disaster. Apr 13, 2020.
Brooke Jarvis. The Teenagers at the End of the World. July 21, 2020.
Nyla Burton. Meet the young activists of color who are leading the charge against climate disaster. Oct 11, 2019.
Anna Lucente Sterling. This Teen Climate Activist is Fighting to Ensure Indigenous and Marginalized Voices are Being Heard. Sept 25, 2019.
Jillian Ambrose. 'Hijacked by anxiety': how climate dread is hindering climate action. Oct 8, 2020.
Panu Pinkala. Anxiety and the Ecological Crisis: An Analysis of Eco-Anxiety and Climate Anxiety. Aug 2020.
Clarissa Pinkola Estés. Letter to a Young Activist During Troubled Times