In English, there are no words to describe the existential pain of watching the catastrophic impact of climate change on the world around you. How do we explain how we feel when we hear about rising sea levels, burning forests, tornadoes and tsunamis ravaging coastlines, or animals going extinct?
Fortunately, a retired professor has coined a term for this ecological grief: “solastalgia,” or the feeling of being homesick while still at home and the landscape you love changes, often for the worse.
Glenn A. Albrecht, a self-described “farmosopher” for his love of gardening and philosophy, imagines a post-Anthropocene epoch (Anthropocene is the current geological age of negative human impact on the environment) where human beings live in symbiosis with nature for mutual benefit. In his forthcoming book Earth Emotions: New Words for a New World, Albrecht is creating language not only for the emotional consequences of climate doom, but also for a future world in which we regain harmony with the environment.
Albrecht’s inspiration for his book stems from his childhood. He grew up in Perth, Australia, one of the most isolated major cities in the world. The son of a Sri Lankan immigrant father and white Australian mother, Albrecht faced social isolation from the racism of his childhood peers who nicknamed him “Darky.” He escaped into nature where he formed a deep reverence for and relationship with animals and the environment.
As an adult, Albrecht started thinking about what he calls changing “Earth-health relationships,” such as the emotional impact of watching environmental degradation ensue from rampant open-cut coal mining on surrounding rural communities in the Upper Hunter Valley of New South Wales, Australia.
There were no words in English for those feelings and that’s why he created the word “psychoterratica,” a conceptual framework derived from the root words “psyche” and “terra,” to understand the relationship between mental health and the environment.
“We used to get positive psychoterratic feedback between the Earth and ourselves as a natural part of being alive and human,” Albrecht said over Skype. “But now if you go to the beach or try to breathe in the clean air in Oregon, you’re going to have plastic, rubbish, and smoke from wildfires all around you. It alienates us from our natural connections in a world that is polluted.” Negative psychoterratica, I guess.
Having experienced these emotions himself, Albrecht was compelled to define these specific feelings. Earth Emotions, out in May 2019, envisions new vocabulary to describe the full range of positive and negative eco-emotions and proposes a dramatic shift in the way we think about our relationship with the environment. Here are a few of our favourite words:
The antithesis of the Anthropocene, the future after solastalgia in which human beings are connected to nature in every way imaginable for mutual benefit. Symbiocene is also Albrecht’s favourite word. “It incorporates symbiosis as a foundation for life into everything that we do,” Albrecht said. “We have to replace every single Anthropocene artifact with a Symbiocene sumbiofact (an object from the Symbiocene).”
The generation of the Symbiocene.
It’s not uncommon to feel simultaneously angry and hopeless about the irreversible havoc human beings have rampaged on the Earth. “Terrafurie” is a form of anger explicitly directed at those who maintain the social and political status quo and do nothing to stop the Earth from being destroyed by humans.
Example of terrafurie in a sentence: I feel an insatiable terrafurie at the Alberta government for not doing more to heal the environment from the endless wastes of the Athabasca oil sands.”
Derived from the root words “endemos,” meaning “native in the people” and “philia,” meaning “love of,” the “particular love of that which is locally and regionally distinctive as felt by the people of that place.” Endemophilia is a positive psychoterratic word encompassing a feeling of “homewellness” as opposed to the homesickness of solastalgia.
The ignorance of ecology, a generational detachment from the environment. The need for this word stems from the “idea that the current generation is less ecologically literate, less ecologically attuned, less ecologically aware, and less ecologically emotional than previous generations,” Albrecht wrote.
Albrecht’s neologisms are already being used in transformative work in several countries around the world. He is currently in Sweden where researchers are using the concept of solastalgia as a basis to examine the emotional impact on citizens after a summer of the worst forest fires on record in the country’s modern history.
Solastalgia is also being used by researchers in Canada to understand the emotional impacts on Indigenous communities whose cultural identities, tied to the landscape they inhabit, are being disrupted.
The K’omoks First Nation on Vancouver Island, British Columbia, speak of the emotional distress they experience as their namesake, the Comox Glacier, slowly vanishes due to rising temperatures. In Arctic Canada, Inuit communities describe the psychic pain of having their traditional hunting and fishing rituals and ability to travel to cultural sites diminished by melting sea ice.
As a 65-year-old father and grandfather, Albrecht wants to leave behind the concept of Symbiocene for new generations to reimagine everything from economics to architecture.
“It’s not growth that’s cancerous and parasitic. It’s symbiotic and living growth,” Albrecht said about the altruistic power of the Symbiocene.
Albrecht hopes his work will cause a paradigm shift in how young people and Generation S think about climate change.
“I’m hoping that some of the nice baby boomers will give up their tenure on the Earth and provide expertise, and wealth, and all the other stuff that we might need to get out of this problem,” said Albrecht. “I’ve declared World War III which is the war of the emotions. There has to be a war between the emotions of the Anthropocene and the emotions of the Symbiocene.”
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