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 our very existential discomfort affirms a 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. 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.

(Top image by Callum Shaw via Unsplash.)

Facing It is a podcast about climate grief and eco anxiety. It explores the psychological toll of climate change, and why our emotional responses are key to addressing this existential threat. In each episode of Facing It, I explore a different way we can harness despair to activate meaningful solutions.


Dr. Jennifer Atkinson is an Associate Professor of environmental humanities at the University of Washington, Bothell. Her seminars on Eco-Grief & Climate Anxiety have been featured in the New York TimesWashington Post Magazine, the Los Angeles TimesNBC News, the Seattle Times, Grist, the Washington PostKUOW and many other outlets. Jennifer is currently working on a book titled An Existential Toolkit for the Climate Crisis (co-edited with Sarah Jaquette Ray) that offers strategies to help young people navigate the emotional toll of climate breakdown.

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