I learned a new term this past year: solastalgia. Based on the Latin terms solacium (comfort) and algia or algos (pain), solastalgia is the anxiety or despair one experiences due to losing the comforts of one’s surroundings because of environmental degradation. Akin to the term nostalgia, which describes the sad or sentimental longing for a past time or place, solastalgia is the feeling of loss and hopelessness associated with changes in one’s environment or ecosystem as a result of climate change, extreme weather events, fire or other environmental disruptions. The website Verywell Mind describes it as “a unique form of distress that specifically results from upsetting, unstoppable, often abrupt changes to a person’s home and/or larger environment. These changes are becoming all the more common as climate change escalates.”
Also referred to as “climatic anxiety” and similar to “eco-grief,” solastalgia draws a meaningful connection between human and ecological health. It’s not surprising that psychologists would note an increasing trend in people’s dismay related to the earth’s status – whether the dismay is caused by extreme flooding in your own neighborhood, or by images of plastic refuse piled on faraway beaches. To many, an unhealthy earth causes an upwelling of internal turmoil.
So, what can be done? Similar to other forms of anxiety, experts recommend a few coping mechanisms:
- Giving this affliction a name is one of the first things we can do. We have Australian philosopher Glenn Albrecht to thank for the term “solastalgia.” And this is important because, according to writer and researcher, Panu Pihkala, “when things have a name, they can be more easily encountered, and experiences about them can be more easily shared.”
- Next, as we share our thoughts and worries, sociologists like Kari Norgaard believe that talking about and normalizing our solastagic feelings can work to affect change on a larger scale. She notes: “one can imagine how if the conversation continues along these lines that over time (and perhaps in repeated conversations), community members can generate ideas about taking some action…They can use these local impacts as a springboard to draw national attention.” Indeed, several scientists and environmentalists note in this 2020 BBC article that they are doing just that: talking about their eco-grief and acknowledging that sadness is a normal way to respond to environmental harms.
- Lastly, we can take care of ourselves. Author and environmental studies professor, Sarah Jaquette Ray – who wrote A Field Guide to Climate Anxiety (which I highly recommend) – says “anybody who wants to work on climate justice for the long haul will need…resilience-building skills in order to do the external work of climate advocacy and community engagement.” Building our own personal and collective emotional resilience is useful not only because it helps us do away with apathy and hopelessness, but it also gives us the emotional capacity needed to address climate injustices.
For more on how we might move climate anxiety to meaningful action, check out this TED Talk from Climate Psychologist, Renee Lertzman.
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Betsy Parker, Nature Net Director
Karissa Niederkorn, Nature Net Intern